Sports are a social phenomenon and from time immemorial, the spectators are as important a part of the game as the players themselves. Sports have news value. It’s a discussion point, it’s entertainment, it’s something to think about for the average working person, it helps them to unwind and it certainly creates patriotic feelings. Sport marketers know that extensive promotion can increase TV audience sizes and attendance at sports venues and the business aspect of sports takes over.

Spectator behavior can unnerve players. Fans can be a blessing and fans can be a hindrance, too. Some fans get emotionally involved-their interest becomes intense and leads to crazy behavior. But, by and large every player secretly enjoys having fans, and fans add to a player’s confidence levels. Fans make a sports professional feel valued. Teams always perform better on home turf, when are egged on by adoring fans.

Let’s take a look at spectator behavior and its implications.

Psychology of Fans and Spectator

  • Fans get caught up in the competitive aspects of the game and the excitement of for their chosen player.
  • For some, it is an escape from the daily humdrum of life and work/family pressures.
  • The need to identify with a winner creates the intense interest in a few key performers.
  • Spectators get into a state of exuberance when they go a sports event. They mean to fun and enjoy themselves. When they scream out their favorite player’s name, for them it is all part of having fun and enjoying the moment. There is rarely any other ulterior motive involved.
  • When fans scream and shout out their favorite names, they are not consciously putting down any other player.
  • Spectators sometimes seem to taunt or heckle a player for mistakes and slip-ups. You have to learn to take it in stride. They just want to see a good game.
  • The sense of association that they create for themselves around lead performers is linked to their own identity and self-image.
  • They have a sense of heightened expectation from their favorite players. Fans expect more  from the players they support and root for.
  • You have to go out there and do your best. If fans approve and enjoy your approach to Game, they will let you know of their appreciation by cheering you.
  • Fans choose their heroes for various reasons. Their choice revolves around perceptions and sometimes fantasies. For example, a fan might think

I like “xyz” because he played very well in a previous match, and he was responsible for the winning goal.

I like “xyz” because he looks so cute.

Among teenagers, it is quite often based on the looks of the player. English Soccer player David Beckham has a huge fan following because of his movie-star looks. He is also a fashion icon and has a youth following all around the world. Wrestler A. J. Styles has quite a fan following reportedly because of his boyish good looks.

  • Fans can be fickle as well and shift their focus when new players enter the scene and make their mark in a sport.

Here’s an interesting example of fickle fan behavior. Grappler Bas Rutten is Dutch. His initial training is in the martial arts of Karate and Tae Kwon Do and later in Thai boxing. He became Dutch Champion, won just about everything, and had a huge adoring fan following. He however lost one match after a long spell of wins, and to his shocked surprise, fans turned their backs on him. After this incident, Bas decided never to play in Holland again.

What kind of approach should a player have toward fans and spectators?

It is easy for you to get disheartened when fans keep yelling out an opponent’s name more often than yours. Fans are an important and integral part of sports events, but they have a peripheral role in the overall scheme of things. What they think, say, or yell out should have no bearing on your performance and should be treated as amusing background noise.

The point to remember is that their behavior is entirely personal and is based on the need to identify with someone who they perceive to be special. It’s their personal choice; it’s an individual thing. The game and your contribution to it are more important than concerning yourself with fan behavior.

Given here is the case of three high-profile players. Each of them reacts quite differently to fans.

  • Wrestling Champion A. J. Styles (Alan Jones) is always willing to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. Let’s take a look at his views on fans:
  • Athletics distance-running legend Haile Gebrselassie won a decisive victory at the Boston Indoor Games in early 2004 in the 3000-meter track event. The event attracted a sell out crowd of 4000 spectators. Though the crowd was delighted, Gebrselassie felt that he I disappointed the crowd because he did not break the world record on that day.
  • On the other hand, boxing legend Lennox Lewis remained aloof for much of his celebrated career, and this did not go down well with fans in America. He did not spend time prompting himself and his reclusive behavior is reported to have hurt his popularity. Tickets for matches were never sold out unless another well-known player was involved in the match.

All these players have different approaches to fans. Styles feels fans are important and that they car when they come to his matches. Gebrselassie is concerned with pleasing spectators, while Lewis just wants to be left alone.

The 2500 fans of NASCAR legend racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. were taken on a cruise, and every so often such events are planned for his fans. So, it’s each to his or her ways.

It’s really up to you; whether you choose to take into account the views of fans and spectators. Pay attention to your fan following, or stay away from it all. The key issue is to play your game in line with your goals and objectives. Fans matter, but only in a superficial way. Your decisionsyou’re your career track are your own choice.

Lloyd Irvin is a martial arts coach. He holds the rank of 7th degree black belt in Thai Jitsu, 2nd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 1st degree black belt in judo. In 2002 he was named The United States Judo Federation International Coach of the year. Lloyd’s coaching experience includes having taught Secret Service, FBI & SWAT. Read more on:

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