For sports fans, the story—not the victor—makes the difference in enjoyment

Jan 15, 2013
Colleen Bee is an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University.

A new study has concluded that sports fans love to root for a hero and against a villain, but if the game is exciting, they'll enjoy it no matter who wins.

The research, recently published in the Journal of Media Psychology, examines , outcome satisfaction, and enjoyment of athletic events, particularly ones featuring individual athletes rather than .

Lead author Colleen Bee, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University, said the Olympics are a good example of an event where fans often cheer for little-known athletes competing in little-watched sports. The allure for these casual fans is not necessarily the sport itself. The spectacle and inherent drama associated with an athletic event is enough to make fans watch.

"Knowing something about the personal lives and personalities of these athletes gives the casual fan a reason to root for or against someone," Bee said. "The stories matter here. It magnifies the experience of watching the , and gives people a reason to watch."

In the study, Bee had participants watch speed skating competitions. She confirmed that none of the participants were familiar with the athletes before watching the event. Then she provided participants with one of two fictitious scenarios. In one scenario, an athlete was given heroic qualities such as working with ill children, a commitment to the cause of , dedicating his performance to his mother, and being gracious and considerate. In the second scenario, the athlete was imbued with unfavorable qualities, such as testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, being arrested for public intoxication, and being ungracious and inconsiderate.

She found that viewers of the game rooted for the heroic athlete and of course hoped that the "villain" would lose. Yet, she found that all the reported enjoying the game regardless of the moral qualities of the winning athlete.

"There are people who enjoy watching famous athletes compete even though they may not like them personally, or feel like they aren't good people," Bee said. "Yet, because they are exciting to watch, and in many cases because they have an exciting story, still enjoy watching them compete."

While the participants felt disappointed when the "villainous" athlete won, and similarly relieved when the heroic athlete won, they all reported enjoying the game despite the outcome.

"Casual sport fans often enjoy the experience of a highly competitive event even when the outcome is not desirable, due to the entertaining and exciting nature of suspense," Bee said, pointing to her last study which found that winning or losing games did not matter so much as whether or not the game was close.

Bee is an expert on sports marketing, particularly in the areas of sports and emotions and gender/consumer responses.

Robert Madrigal, associate professor of marketing at the University of Oregon, is co-author of the study.

Explore further: Less privileged kids shine at university, according to study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why women watch the Olympics

Jul 06, 2012

Forty years into the Title IX era, female athletes have risen to prominence and populate the sports landscape. Female viewership, however, has not witnessed the same rise. What sports are women watching (or not), and why? ...

Reverse inclusion and the question of disability

Jan 17, 2012

Wheelchair basketball: It's a fast, skillful game, dazzling to watch, gruelling to play. It's also a sport that in Canada has become one of the most inclusive, welcoming athletes with disability and able-bodied athletes alike ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

that_guy
not rated yet Jan 15, 2013
FIRST. I win.

Now let me tell you the story of how I did it...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.