- Being a fan can bring a sense of belonging and community.
- A new book written by sports fans has found that while 61% of Americans say they feel lonely, non-fans are lonelier than fans.
- Whether it’s sports, music, cosplay, comics, video games, or more, finding your community of fans can improve your mental well-being.
Donning your team jersey, inviting friends over to watch the game, cheering and shouting in unison on TV – the bond that sports fans share is undeniable.
“[Sports] are a pervasive connection facilitator. Sport is the reason to bring people together, the reason to send that text message, the reason to check in with your parents, etc. Sport anchors and galvanizes relationships; they facilitate social interactions,” David Sikorjak, co-author of Fans Have More Friends, told Healthline.
But sport can also be more than that.
“It’s good for you, good for others and good for society,” Sikorjak said.
In the book he co-authored with Ben Valenta, senior vice president of Fox Sports, the authors argue that fandom is a social good with the potential to alleviate the loneliness epidemic in the United States.
While the authors suspected sports fans feel some degree of belonging, they were surprised to find a more lonely and polarized population than expected, and through research they discovered that fandom can provide benefits more meaningful and impactful.
For example, they found that while 61% of Americans report feeling lonely, non-fans may be lonelier than fans.
“To examine this idea, we developed a more testable hypothesis: if being a sports fan is about community, then more engaged fans will have more friends than non-fans/less engaged fans. And through multiple surveys of tens of thousands of Americans, we’ve proven it,” Sikorjak said.
If fans have more friends, it stands to reason they would feel less alone, Valenta added. The authors tested this proposition using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a 20-item scale designed to measure subjective feelings of loneliness as well as feelings of social isolation.
To understand how fandom helps with loneliness, Valenta said to think of a Fan Flywheel, which is a positive feedback loop where there are two variables: X and Y.
X influences Y and Y, in turn, influences X, which creates a positive feedback loop that maintains momentum and creates energy.
“Essentially, you lean into your fandom, you engage in fan activities, you engage as a fan; it’s the X in this example. And that creates the positive feedback of social interactions, the Y variable, that makes you lean into more fan activity, more fan engagement, which then only leads to more social interactions,” said Valenta told Healthline. “Once it starts spinning, it takes over.”
The book’s findings suggest that sports fandom can create greater belonging in one’s life.
“And it might not come right away, but as you go into your fantasy football leagues, and you go to games with your friends, and you invite the family over for the game, etc., you will start to feel more belonging in your life,” he said..
Other key findings they found include:
- The more engaged the sports fan, the stronger their family ties
- Fans say they are more satisfied with their careers and relationships
- Fans are more likely to vote and trust cultural institutions more
- Fans are more likely to report feelings of happiness and gratitude
- Fandom Increases Identity Complexity and Expands Perspectives
For those who aren’t into sports but find fans in other forms of entertainment like cosplay, conventions, comics, movies, video games and beyond, Paul Booth PhD, Professor of media and film studies at DePaul University, said you could still reap similar feelings of belonging and community.
“Being part of any group helps people feel connected, which is a major part of our mental health. When you’re not as alone, you tend to have better positive mental health,” he told Healthline. “Fandom is about being part of something bigger than yourself. In some ways, it’s also about feeling important.
Over the past decade, he said, fans have become an integral part of the media landscape through social media, allowing them to talk to producers, influence decisions and, in some cases, find jobs in industry.
“[And] maybe in some ways feeling productive helps people,” he said.
It distinguishes being a fan, who loves something and reacting to it emotionally, from fandom, who shares that affinity with a group of people. Additionally, he added that the fandom is often a smaller group within a larger circle of fans.
“There is no fandom for Star Trek or Marvel; it’s a lot of little pockets of fandom that collectively look different from each other,” Booth said.
The internet has made it possible for more people to become part of a variety of fandoms. However, Booth notes that some fandom groups can be toxic.
“They can be very angry and misogynistic, racist in some ways, and the fans might not feel welcome in that kind of group,” he said.
Valenta agreed that a myriad of shared interests can anchor and galvanize a relationship, and he promotes a healthy connection in all its forms.
However, he believes sport is uniquely positioned to generate connections.
“Sport is the gateway to discussions about life. Yes, you will talk about the ins and outs of the game, and that is fine in itself, but with the strengthening of the bonds formed through sport, the opportunities for deeper and more meaningful conversations arise,” he said. .
This is the case with other forms of fandom, Booth noted.
However, he pointed out that sport is community driven, so people tend to be fans of the sports teams where they live, go to school or have some kind of connection to. He said that’s often not the case with media fandom.
“Also, sports fans tend to be not just fans of their team, but anti-fans of other teams, so part of showing your Chicago Bears allegiance or fandom is being an anti-fan. Packers fan,” Booth said.
Although it happens a bit in the media fandom, it’s not such a strong requirement, he added.
“I could be a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars; it’s not like they were pitted against each other,” Booth said.
The biggest difference he noted between sports fandom and other forms of fandom is that sports are easily accepted as fandom in our culture, while media fandom is not.
For example, it’s not considered weird for people to wear team shirts on the street or for someone to say they miss a social outing to watch a game.
Also, if you’re paying for a cable plan, part of what you’re paying for is access to sports viewing without the ability to unsubscribe.
“Although all fandoms bring a similar feeling and sense of affinity, if I said, ‘I can’t go out, I have to stay home and watch the latest episode of Doctor Who,’ people wouldn’t accept If I’m wearing my Star Trek t-shirts, people might give me a weird look. things are not valued by our culture,” Booth said.
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