On Fandom

I have written numerous times about sports, most specifically about Minnesota sports and most recently about the Green Bay Packers/Minnesota sports rivalries. There is no doubt that the Packers have a storied history, and it is possible that the 2011 season may be the most storied of all. You really can’t take anything away from this team. In 20 years of being a diehard football fans, this is already a Top 5 team competing only with the 1984-1988 49ers, the 1993-1997 Cowboys, the 1998-2004 Vikings, and the 2002-2008 Patriots. This is only year two, but we are seeing a dynasty, there can be no doubt.

That being said, the Packer fan base is consistently one of the most annoying, insulting, smug, arrogant, and crazy fan bases in all of sports. They are able to make fun rivalries a test of stress and blood pressure. However, the difference is all in semantics. “Rabid” could just as easily be defined as “passionate”,  “annoying” can be defined as “dedicated”, and “mean” could be defined as “devoted”, or any mix-and-match in between. It is admittedly about terminology, that could be the biggest (and only) real flaw in the following arguments.

I figured the best way to conduct a discussion about fandom would be a meta analysis of numerous different types of searches. In the interest of full disclosure, the searches were:
“most rabid sports fans”
“most dedicated sports fans”
“most annoying sports fans”
“most loyal sports fans”
“most devoted sports fans”

Definitions
“Fan”
A fan is “a person with a liking and enthusiasm for something“. Fans “usually have a strong enough interest that some changes in their lifestyles are made to accommodate devotion to the focal object.”

“Fandom”
A fandom is easily defined as a group of fans, or “a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest.

“Fanbase”
Similarly, fanbase is defined as “the regular supporters and enthusiasts of a team.” On Wikipedia, “Fandom” and “Fanbase” link to the same page, thus are defined as the same thing.

“Success”
This definition should not be under dispute, but knowing sports fans like I do, it might be: Success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” or “the attainment of popularity or profit.”

“Rabid”
It was almost like this was created for Packer fans, as they define “having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something.” The argument should end here.

“Stock”
Finally, I include this definition, as most Packer fans have no idea what business, stock, profit, non-profit, and financial interest mean as they truly believe that the fans “own” the team. There needs to be a financial interest, a par value, a traded stock market, and it must be issued by a business. I expand on this later.

The Expert Lists
The best list I found was, of course, conducted by ESPN in 2008. They had a division analyst from each division rank every team in six categories that truly hit at the core of this discussion. The categories were stadium atmosphere and advantage (St.), the Live & Die Factor (LDF) or how hard fans take a loss, the presence of fans in opposing teams’ stadiums (Travel), the loyalty of fans when the team sucks (Loyal), how much other teams hate your fans (Hate), the experience of tailgating (TG), and the creativity (CF) of fans to cheer on their team. While the creativity and tailgating rankings are not as important for this debate, the “LDF”, loyalty, and hate factor are all relevant here. This list is simply, well, why I am obsessed with lists. I love it all day long.

Here. A Forbes list ranks all NFL teams for the “most rabid fans” on an equation based on overall popularity and market size. The Packers rank 1st (and it’s not even close) overall because they tie for 4th (ironically, with the Bears and Vikings) in popularity. That number gets divided with the market size, which the Packers get a 3, where no other team have a single digit number.

You’ll never be able to compile any list of sports lists without including at least one from Bleacher Report.com. They had a Top 10 list of passionate fan bases in the NFL with the Packers taking the #1 spot. The difference between passionate and crazy insane is total perception. Fans, especially ones in the media, are all above promoting the positive end of perception, just ask Jon Gruden.

Finally, SI.com did a list that they called the Hateability Index, but it was written by one guy and was more of an editorial than an objective analysis of a fan base. Either way, SI.com is reputable source and deserves to be recognized — and with the exception of a few anomalies, this list verifies all the other ones online.

Non-Expert Lists
I felt the need to distinguish between lists created by sports analysts and, say, sports fans or just some dudes at, say, SPIKE TV. That being said, I thought ignoring them would not be right, as fans are fans and their arguments deserve to be heard, too.

The Daily Beast looked into the “most dedicated football fans” based on attendance by capacity, cost of attendance, and joy of tailgating. This was an interesting list, but was slightly baffling, in that the rankings seemed quite random and no explanation was given as to how they came up with it. All they give us is that they are trying to measure “which team has the most dedicated, die-hard fans year after year” and they do this by ranking “a team’s fans according to their dedication and enthusiasm” through “who shows up to most home games with the greatest consistency and who comes ready to rally their team no matter the record”.

There are absolutely dozens and dozens of lists that discuss the Top 5 or the Top 10 “most _____ NFL fans” and it is quite evident that the Steelers, Packers, Cowboys, Patriots, Bears, Browns, Eagles, and Raiders are consistently the most popular. The rankings were generally based on the writers geographic region and own fandom that determined the order of rankings.

Devoted = Success?
Many fans of these teams, especially the Packers, will simply excuse any behavior by saying that they are simply devoted or loyal to their team of choice. This may very well be true, but the problem is that most of these fans were born onto the bandwagon.

There have been 111 World Series in the history of baseball and the New York Yankees have won 27 of them. They have won a quarter of all championships played in the history of North American professional baseball. Is that really loyalty? Or is it simply human nature to support a champion?

The Yankees are the easy team to make this argument for, but what are some of the other teams sitting on the top of these lists? Other non-NFL teams that were consistently on these lists were the Montreal Canadians, Ohio State Buckeyes, Duke Blue Devil basketball, Laker fans, and Celtic fans. If you know anything about sports, you know that I don’t need to state the dozens of championships that these teams have won.

On the flip side, teams likes the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Browns are also consistently on these lists. If we want to talk about loyalty (positive), these teams deserve to be at the top of the list. These are franchises with a rich history in their sport, but a complete lack of championships (in the modern era) simply make it more difficult to stand by their team year in and year out. If we want to talk about annoying (negative), having to listen to fans remind others about their own superiority because a team located in the same general geographic region has won so many championships is just annoying, not to mention arrogant.

Media Perception
One of the most popular articles I found was during the follow up to last year’s Super Bowl, when every media outlet talked about how the Packers and Steelers have the “most rabid” fans. The original article was written by the Associated Press, and was picked up by Fox News, ABC News, and local outlets like Lex18 in Kentucky, DFW Tribune, and the Macomb Daily. This does not directly prove anything, but it does reinforce that these two teams are assumed to be at the top of these lists.

Internalization & Ownership
All sports fans commit the Cardinal Sin of “saying we when referring to their team“. As this hilarious list states, you are not part of the team and have no connection to their success. It would be the equivalent of someone referring to a big business in their community as “we” when they are in the news. When Target Corp. had the controversy last year about donating to a GLBT-hating organization, had I said “we are experienced quite the negative press right now” simply because it’s the only place I shop would be considered ludicrous so so should this.

What they don’t understand, it seems, is the historical context of their championships. Since so many of their championships happened in an entirely different era, they commit a very annoying error. The game was different in 1921, the competition clearly was not the same, to have to make that argument degrades the game and the fan base.

This is where I start to divert from the popular consensus on the Packer organization — but I stand by this claim. Take a look at what I’m saying, because you cannot refute this argument logically from the brain, people only refute it from their heart — which is not where logical arguments exist. The supposed Green Bay Packer stock ownership is the biggest ruse since The War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

First, for an individual to own stock in a company, it has to be a business and there has to be a financial interest. Second, non-profit organizations do not sell stock. Third, according to Wisconsin law, non-profits cannot sell stock so the Green Bay Packers are on paper a for-profit organization that apparently doesn’t make profit. Fourth, stock needs to be traded on some sort of stock exchange to be considered stock.

The entire reason why this structure has been allowed is because had the franchise been forced to operate as a business, like every other professional sports franchise on the planet, the franchise would have moved — at least 5 times, by now. NFL rules prohibit this type of system, but the NFL grandfathered in the system. Is that fair? Would the Houston Oilers liked the chance to save their franchise before they simply moved like any other business. How about the Cleveland Browns — one of the most historic franchises in the sport? The fans would always save their team, even if it is a fake stock system, just like the Packers have done. There is no way to argue that this is a level playing field.

There is no owner of the Green Bay Packers. If there was an owner, then it would have to operate like a private business and operate for profit. If it operates like a non-profit, then it would have no owner, and have no stock. It is pretty simple to see the conflicting duality that exists for this franchise. However, just like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or Jesus, the rabid Packer fandom (and the promotional mainstream “media”) just pretends that it’s the greatest thing ever.

Other Interesting Information
In searching for anything I could find, I came up with a lot of interesting finds that I didn’t include overall, as it didn’t fit into the fandom discussion. One site has the most rabid fans blogs, but the listing in no way correlates to other lists that I found. I would assume mainly because it only takes one (or a few) rabid fans to make this list, and they don’t always represent a fanbase. However, some of these blogs are fun (or funny) and have some good posts. It’s worth checking out.

There seems to be a link between rabid sports fans and heart attacks. I’ve heard about that with Packers fans and an increase to depression after losses. Someone should study that. The study shows a tripled increase in cardiac arrests during the 2006 World Cup.

The hilarity of this list knows no bounds and does not correlate to any fan base, even though I did use two of them in references above. It is merely a list of the most annoying things that all fans do, I found five that I still commit — so I have to work on my fandom, too. Great list!

Interestingly though, the difference in terminology rests entirely on the type of website you visit. The major media sites usually phrased it in positive terms, while fan sites or blogs used negatives terms. This reinforced the theory that the mainstream media is promoting the sport, while the fan is simply being honest: Insane dedication is simply annoying.

Conclusion
There is no way to denote one fan base as the worst (or best, depending on your perspective) in sports. Especially in the NFL. In many ways, it depends on where you live and the rivalries of the teams you follow. On the East Coast, so many fans and analysts love the Packers, but despise the Cowboys, Steelers, and the Eagles. In the Midwest, anyone who doesn’t wear that ugly G-emblem cannot stand the arrogance of a Packer fan. For some reason, despite all their championships, Packer fans cannot stand anyone, especially Bears and Vikings fans.
As someone who has spent his entire life in Minnesota, and never even been away for longer than a week, I have never met nor can I even imagine fans worse than Packer fans. I see so comparison in the stands on TV, I read no comparison in comment threads online, and I have yet to meet anyone who deifies their team like Wisconsinites. I think much of it is due to market size, as discussed on the Forbes study — and in a way I can relate, as there is truly shit to do in the Midwest, especially a city the size of Duluth, Minnesota.

There is a responsibility of all fans to put their fandom in perspective. As the ESPN.com study tries to quantify, the “Live or Die Factor” is a truly absurd way to live and while some teams (like the Steelers and Packers) have a much higher percentage of their fan base who live or die by their team, all teams have these fans. It is not until life truly kicks you square in the sack that you realize that caring about sports at all is about as trivial as possible.

You will never convince these types of fans that they have lost touch with reality. I used to be one of these fans. Anyone who has watched a game with me where Randy Moss in it can attest to that. I almost killed people after the 2008 Super Bowl — and to this day, if anyone tries to tell me that David Tyree actually caught that ball or that Eli Manning genuinely wasn’t sacked, I cannot be held accountable for my actions. But now, my ability to actually care about sports at the center of my life would be impossible.

If the Minnesota Vikings every do win a Super Bowl, they won’t win it with my son cheering with me. I still have to wake up the following Monday with the reality that I lost my child.
If the Twins ever win another World Series, I still have to go back to my same job, paying my same bills, dealing with the same stresses I did the day before.

I do not receive a championship ring, or a playoff bonus.
I do not get my name on a trophy or become a local legend.
I did not contribute at all to any of the wins and I have nothing to do with the team.

This holds true for every fan.
Whether you want to admit it or not.
Even with a piece of meaningless, worthless stock.

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About Creed

I often ramble. What some people can eloquently say in 10 words, when most people would take 25, I will intentionally take 100. It's always been this way. This blog is mainly to spare my friends, family, and co-workers from my epic long rants.
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