Sports are able to provide some truly intoxicating moments. Having said that, I find the relationship between the fan and the professional athlete or team an interesting one. It is hugely one-sided, yet you will find no shortage of folks that don the jersey or memento of their favourite team on the streets. So what makes it so?
My current hypothesis starts with the inherent drama contained within sports, and how they hook viewers in. In basketball, there is the 24 second shot clock ensuring a rapid pace at which action will occur. In football, there is the anticipation at any moment, a team could pick apart their opponents with a silky transition from the defense, midfield, and to offense. In tennis or even table tennis, the action is so fast-paced that it’s hard to keep up. For anyone looking to consume some action or drama, sports offers a great outlet to do so. There is an inherent carrot in a sporting event, from the grassroots level to world-class play.
Athletes and teams are then able to capitalise on this attention. The beauty of it is that most of the time, they don’t necessarily have to do anything extra outside of playing the game and giving maximum effort. For me, Kobe Bryant is a perfect example. He didn’t do much outside of playing basketball, but his approach and mentality to the game is now legend. He never took a play off and was never afraid to take the big shot, he had mindset of a black mamba. As I watched him play more over the years, my level of investment in him increased dramatically. The same could be said of Tom Brady or Lionel Messi, people stuck around being fans because of the way they play their respective games.
A level of investment or even attachment is inevitable if you are watching a sport regularly. Narratives will emerge and drama will unfold, it becomes almost like watching a film or reading a book, but it is real life. The sports matches themselves almost become secondary to the narrative that the fan is beholden to. In New Zealand, given the All Blacks are considered the best in the world, many fans watch their games in the hopes that this narrative will be prolonged, not necessarily to watch the specific game itself.