Real sports lovers have a number of teams they follow, for a myriad of different reasons. “Fan” is an overused term with no set meaning. Let’s try to break down the different levels of fandom, and see what we find.
Levels of Fandom
Level 1: You root for ‘them’ over other teams in that division.
In this level of fandom, you never seek out the team on television during the regular season, but you watch if it’s on and it’s convenient (an exception might be made for Monday or Thursday night football, where you might watch any random team). Still, if you look at the scoreboard at the end of the day, you are happy they won.
You might join this level of fandom because a specific player that you love is on the team, I got this way with Clemson and Deshuan Watson. His story is just so good I couldn’t help but like him, and by extension the Clemson Tigers as a whole. When he leaves, I am not sure how much I’ll still root for the Tigers, probably not as much.
In general, this level of fandom can be fleeting: I went big for Wisconsin in the 2015 March Madness – they seemed like they were having fun in addition to being really good – but I don’t really care enough about them right now. That was a short term relationship, like a girl you met at a concert: a couple of hot nights and a few quick dates, but no one was too sad when it ended.
Hallmarks of level 1:
- You don’t own an article of paraphernalia for the team, and you probably wouldn’t buy one unless the team was really good.
- You can name a few of the main players on the team and maybe the coach.
- How much you like the team is directly correlated with how well the team is playing, see my anecdote about Wisconsin Basketball.
Level 2: Favorite Team in that Sport
This makes up the majority of fans for a team. They make sure to watch every playoff game, but will skip a regular season game when it’s inconvenient (in the case of baseball, they watch when they can); a level 2 fan isn’t going to come up with an emergency plan to catch the game while on vacation, for example. Their interest in the team is higher when the team is doing well, and thus they often get called “bandwagon fans”.
Bandwagoneers often get a bad rap. Not everyone grew up in an NFL/NBA/MLB, etc. city. Maybe their first real touch with the culture is when a team gets good where they live now and everyone gets into it. Still, bandwagoneering is also why Mumford and Sons sell out arenas and people pretend like they never heard of them two years later.
The level 2 ranks are also comprised of people who don’t have a hometown team in that sport. I live in Seattle, and we’ve never had a hockey team except that one time we were the first American city to win the Stanley cup. I decided some time ago to go with the Chicago Blackhawks after going to a Canucks-Blackhawks game in Vancouver, and deciding Canucks definitely weren’t for me. (I like Vancouver and Canada as much as anyone living beneath the 49th, but Canucks fans are some of the worst). Go Hawks!
Hallmarks of level 2:
- You may own a piece of gear, maybe from the last time they won a championship or a jersey of a player you really liked.
- You can name not just the stars, but many of the role-players on the team.
- You go out of your way to watch regular season games, especially if they are winning.
- You’re disappointed when they lose big games.
Level 3: Die Hard Fan
Die-hards are the kind of fans who will watch to the end of a game at the end of the season, even when their team was eliminated months ago. Even when they have no chance at the first round draft pick and aren’t even going for the tank.
Die-hard fans are the guys who will leave a family event, say, a family reunion at Disneyland (true story). Level 3 fans will decline any event where they might miss a game. There was a time in my twenties, after college, but before I got good at meeting women, when I was perpetually single it seemed. I had a group of friends who started a singles hiking club on Sundays and within a few months, they all had girl friends. They were begging me to come on the hikes, but it was football season. I could get a girlfriend in February. That’s a diehard (also maybe a sad story).
Die-hard fans know all the best news sources for their team, and which ones to check at what time. For example, maybe they know ESPN is best for cool-headed analysis, the local paper best for up-to-date info, and the local fan blog is the best place for comments.
Die-hard fans know they have an irrational bias toward their team, and thus don’t get into heated conversations about them. If a whack-job in the bar starts telling me the Denver Broncos are awesome and the ‘Hawks suck, I just tell him to walk it off. I don’t even bother teaching him about the one true religion of football.
Diehard fans have a hard time watching devastating highlights against their teams. Above is a video of the deciding play of Superbowl 49 (“the pick”). At least I assume it is. I’m still not able to watch that play without getting a little sick to my stomach.
For me, the Seahawks fall right here.
Hallmarks of level 3:
- You know the names of all the players on the team, even players on the bench, and you know when players are picked up or added to the IR. You know the name of all the coaches as well.
- You have embarrassing gear for this team, either embarrassing items or an embarrassing amount.
- You watch every regular season game (and some preseason games), even when it’s not reasonable to.
- You’re upset when they lose and in a funk for a while.
Level 4: Bleed the colors
This is the tiniest portion of fans, and generally people who are way over-invested in it. You really can only have one team like this, across all sports. You might have many teams you are a diehard for, but you can only have one color-bleeding team. The distinction between level 3 and level 4 isn’t huge, it’s just in the margins between being a die hard fan and someone who takes it way too freaking seriously. For example, you might have named your dog “Don James“, or “John Wooden“, or “Timmy“. You might have stopped talking to someone, even if just for a few days, if they insulted your team. You might have a team related tattoo. You might have season tickets, and would rather give up your car than those. You may have even done that (another true story).
In this case, you don’t just know all the main team’s sites and places to get data, but you know all the fan sites, all the fan podcasts. You look out for any mention of your team, even on sites that don’t seem to know much about it. You watch replays of games, and you know – or think you do – the strengths and weaknesses of every player on the team. You check every prediction post on the internet before each game.
You try to convince your friends who don’t care a lot to root for your team. Sometimes it even works. Your team’s stadium is the best one. You feel sick when something bad happens, not just when it’s something horrible (see the above “Pick”). Big losses linger not just for days, or weeks, or months, but for years. Many wounds never quite heal.
The emptiness after your team plays its last game of the season is huge. The sadness after a loss is massive. You remember the name of every player most every season, and you don’t just have a few favorite players from past teams, you could make an entire top 100 list. You could fill rosters.
One hallmark of level 4 is the addition of level -3 teams (see below) for rivals. If you really, I mean, really freaking hate your team’s rivals, you might be a level 4 fan.
There’s no known cure.
Hallmarks of level 4:
- Same as level 3, but taken too far.
Levels of Anti-fandom
Anti-fandom is different from fandom, and the levels are just less intense in general. That’s why there’s no level -4. If you hate a team as much as I hate the Oregon Ducks, you may have a serious mental condition. Seek professional help.
Level 0: You don’t care
Most teams in most sports fall into this level of fandom for most people. If there’s an article about this team, you won’t read it. If the score rolls by the bottom of the tv screen, your brain doesn’t even register it. This team is nothing to do you, you are completely indifferent. The only time you care whether these teams win or lose is when it directly affects your teams chances: for example, if they beat a team in the playoff race with your team.
The ratio of these go up immensely with the number of teams in the sport. In the NFL, with 32 teams, for a serious fan, maybe half fall into this pot. In college football, with 132 teams, maybe 90+ teams fall here.
Hallmarks of level 0:
- General indifference
- You only care when their games have an impact on your team’s chances, eg, playoff seeding, etc.
Level -1: You root for whoever’s playing them.
This is a pretty standard place for division rivals. I don’t want any NFL West team to win other than the Seahawks. I don’t want any Pac-12 north team to win, unless it’s the UW Huskies.
Hallmarks of level -1:
- You automatically root against them if a game is on, even if you don’t particularly care for the team they are playing.
- You might know their best player, and hate that guy (or girl).
Level -2: Your least favorite team in that sport.
This is a special level of hatred, usually reserved for specific rivalries. Ohio State-Michigan, Giants-Dodgers, Inter Milan-AC Milan, USA-Mexico, the AFC North (especially Steelers-Bengals, or Steelers-Ravens, or Browns-Ravens, or … you get the idea). These rivalries are usually built around a mutual dislike and a relatively similar level of quality.
In this case, the less-winning (or just less self-respecting) team will make ridiculous strides to undermine your team.
Hallmarks of level -2:
- You can’t root for these teams when the game is on, even if it’s in your team’s interest. You just always find yourself going for the other guys.
- You root against these guys, even when they are playing another team you don’t like (a level-1 team for example). I find myself rooting against the (now) LA Rams, even when them winning would benefit the Seahawks playoff seeding.
Level -3: A special hatred.
This isn’t really a rivalry. This is an uprising. In this case, you have a special hatred for your opponents.
You may be a Washington Huskies fan who hates the Oregon Ducks so much, that your favorite Heisman winner of the last 10 years is Cam Newton.
In most cases, you have to be a level 4 fan of a team to be a level -3 fan of their rival. This is especially true in college football.
If this video makes you happy, you might be a level -3 fan of Kentucky basketball.
Hallmarks of level -3:
- A dark spot in your heart.
- Disgust of all things related to this team.
- You wouldn’t root for this team even if this team were playing the Al-Qaeda/ISIS All Stars.