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Sports: A Spectator’s and a Fan’s Perspective

Community Building


By Elaine Guerrazzi | September 9, 2019

A person who watches sports is a “spectator” and/or a “fan”. A spectator is an active observer of the event.  A fan is an admirer or aficionado of the sport and often links identity to a team. Both have emotional significance, value and connectedness derived from group membership.  When watching a sport, a spectator typically refers to “the team” while a fan uses the word “we” when referring to the team.  

I became a spectator and a fan of sports
during high school. 
I was an active observer and
an admirer of these guys!!

My perspective of “watching” sports during high school was narrower than it is today. At the time, I watched as a social event and to support my classmates who were playing.  It enhanced my psychological wellbeing through the social connection with others. Identity formed from talking about the games, sharing experiences and bonding with a group. The videos produced by the Power of Football share the broader perspective of “tradition; brotherhood; moments; community. Football’s positive impact transcends communities across the U.S. — both on and off the field.” 

“There’s something special about high school football.” 
Video (1:52)

There is much written about the value of sports from the players perspective.  The literature lacks content on how spectators and fans perceive sports. Brown (2017) wrote about the influence of identity development through any level of watching sports.  Those watching sport (in person or through the media) consistently mention sense of belonging and feeling part of a group as outcomes of the experience.  Camaraderie, upholding tradition, and community pride are results when friends, neighbors and other members of the community support a sport team.

Almendraia (2017), senior reporter for Huffington Post, interviewed sports psychology professor Daniel Wann of Murray State University. Wann is the author of the book Sport Fans: The Psychology And Social Impact Of Spectators. He explains that there are two routes to feeling good through watching sports.

“One would be following a successful team, and the second would simply be identifying with them. You can get well-being benefits even if your team doesn’t succeed.  It all comes down to how community lifts our spirits and the sense of belonging-ness that increases with a group of like-minded individuals.”

Gau & James (2013) share a value-type framework associated with spectator sports. The goal of the study was to fill the gap in the literature since prior research focused on the participant rather than the spectator. In addition, the literature review found that much of the prior research investigated motivation for watching rather than personal values.

A summary of how the study participants describe
values of spectatorship

EnjoymentExperience success & failure, relaxing, distraction for daily routine, drama of unpredictability
SociabilityInteraction focused on a common goal with friends and strangers
IdentityTeam and player identification, nationalism, parental and peer pride, and hero admiration
StatusSport is important to society so being knowledgeable and able to discuss sports improves self esteem
SpiritualFulfilling, self-satisfying, self-acceptance, vicarious sense of achievement, quest for perfection
MoralSense of fairness and integrity, empathy, discipline, courage
CognitiveStrategies, techniques, tactics, statistics and records, team history
AestheticBeauty and grace of movement, sport is an art form
RitualCeremonial aspects of sport such as tailgating and booster events, observation of athlete rituals

“It is pure escape—it provides me something to just plain enjoy or get mad at, it connects me to my friends, my neighbors, and to random strangers who feel the same pull and passion of the game.”   Becky Simon-Burton

Becoming a spectator and a fan of sports started during high school.  Today I don’t follow high school sports as much as a fan but I do embrace high school sports as a spectator by “keeping up with” local school results.  

Now I’m an avid spectator and fan of college football.  The power of football for me is that my community is across the U.S.  whether I am directly in contact with others or not. The feeling of community exists (a sense of belonging with like-minded people).

I particularly enjoy rival games (Army-Navy, Ohio State-Michigan, Oklahoma-Texas, Alabama-Auburn…to name a few) because of the tradition and camaraderie shared by players on each team and by the spectators/fans in the stands.

The values of spectatorship listed above connect with me. In most every game I watch I can easily point out examples of each value. I’m definitely a college football fan and spend a lot of time watching games…this enthusiasm to “watch” sports began in high school watching MY team play the game.  When I think back on those years…”There is no other place I’d rather be.”

I hope you enjoy the video below.

No Other Place I’d Rather Be  
(Video 2:47)

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2 thoughts on “Sports: A Spectator’s and a Fan’s Perspective

  1. Would you agree that the higher the level of sports, the less passionate the spectator becomes ? There is something special about small towns and the support they give their local high school team.

    1. Hmmm, seems there are quite a few spectators and fans at all levels of sports who would fit the term passionate (compelled by, or ruled by intense emotion or strong feeling)…some, at times, to the extreme. I think there is more of a personal connection driving spectatorship and fandom for high schools (and especially small town high schools). As a spectator/fan (me for instance) grows to enjoy college sports, pro sports, etc. there is less of a direct personal connection so the passion is driven by other elements (the competition, the tradition, the affiliation, etc).

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