Thursday, April 24, 2014

What makes Cascadian sports fans different?

Back mid-winter, when Seahawk fandom was hitting a fever pitch, there was a general lament among more hardened sports followers that many of the new-found fans lacked gravity. They were bandwagon fans, only interested in following a team after success has been found.

This is a common enough thing that happens when teams start to win, borderline fans start buying t-shirts, start tuning in and start learning players' names.

But, the accusation up here was that in particular Cascadian bandwagon fans are inauthentic because of the automatic seriousness and put-on gravity they bring to their fandom. They aren't just normal borderline fans showing a renewed and healthy interest, they are suddenly the most intense fans of a team 18 months ago they couldn't have cared less about.

I won't deny this. It does seem to me that most people who are interested in sports, or could be interested in sports in Cascadia, float around the surface of interest, only taking the plunge when there is enough social acceptance to do so. Like, especially, when there is a winning team to support.

But, I would argue that this isn't an unhealthy thing. But, I'll get to that in a little bit.

First, just a few observations about the special state of Cascadian sports.

1. We have a very short history of being major league. While most East Coast and Midwest cities have over a century of major league professional heritage, our history starts with the NBA (then not a very significant league) in the late 1960s. Seattle didn't enter football or baseball until the 70s. So, college sports not-withstanding, we've been a minor league region for most of our sporting history. So while we can complain that we haven't won much, in the grand scheme, we haven't played for much either.

2. So, college sports still dominate our sporting culture and history. And, Husky football dominates the college sports world. The UW football program is the only tradition that even tries to reach as far back as other fan cultures around here. But, it is one program in one portion of Cascadia. Deep, but thin.

3. East coast/California bias. Our teams exist in a continental world. So, not only are we punished by being out of the mainstream of North America, we're a second thought on our own coast. So, in terms of cutting through the noise across the continent, sporting companies from two mid-sized cities in a mostly empty corner of the country hardly stand a chance.

So, that's what we have going against us.

Here's what I'd argue what we have going for us. The thing that makes Cascadian sports fandom good is the exact thing that I described hardened sports fans complaining about above.

In terms of religions and politics, Cascadians are hardly joiners. Much less joiners than the rest of the country. We stand out on our own, isolated from organizations and groups. So, the loose ties of sports fandom makes a lot of sense in this way. We don't grow strong ties to community of faith or politics, so why would the majority of us do so with sports?

But, how does that explain the intense band-wagoning when a team is good?

Well, it shows that we put our sports fandom into a decent perspective. Only the most hardened and short sighted fan would argue that sports is more important than other civic needs, like education, health care or the general economic well-being of a community.

Sports is fun, it is entertainment and it should be enjoyed. So, why agonize when your team sucks? Its better to just take your focus of it the Mariners now (or the Seahawks in the 1990s) and go climb a mountain or play ultimate.

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