Sports Science

How Royals fans can cope if things turn bad

Updated: 2011-05-08T03:38:57Z

By PETE GRATHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Who in their right mind would be a Royals fan?

That may sound harsh, particularly given the nice start the team has had this year, but the franchise has suffered through some lean years with just one winning season since 1994.

Yet the Royals likely will draw more than 1.5 million fans and continue to have a loyal following in the blogosphere.

“Loyalty in the face of hard times is a long held Midwestern value, and dealing with hard times is a regular challenge for anyone whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and related businesses,” said Jay Coakley, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “However, we must go deeper than this value to explain the loyalty of Royals fans over the past decade.”

The last 10 years have been the worst in Kansas City baseball history. The team has lost 100 or more games in a season four times since 2000. Believe it or not, the Royals inability to get into a pennant race actually makes the fans stronger.

“The fans’ connection with a team becomes a part of their identity,” said Coakley, the author of the text book “Sports in Society.” “Fans everywhere reaffirm those identities for each other so that they feel special — and they often make a special point of doing this when teams are unsuccessful and they need extra reaffirmation to justify their support in the face of regular losses. Over time this pattern of identity reaffirmation becomes regularized and the fan identity serves as an important basis for their sense of self as well as their social lives and everyday conversations with fans and nonfans alike.

“Losses and losing seasons become topics of conversations much like the last hailstorm or dry season that ruined crops. Of course, some people eventually become weary of predictable bad times and leave their farms or fan identities behind. But many stick it out year after year because it is who they are, and giving up on your self is a hard thing to do.”

Is there any advice for a long-suffering fan to get through another summer?

Chris Carr, a sports psychologist with St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis, said fans need to stop themselves from becoming caught up in the moment. Fixating on a botched double play or a 14-1 loss can be draining, particularly in baseball where there is nearly a game a day.

And that lucky George Brett T-shirt in the closet? It really doesn’t help the Royals when you wear it.

“The key to fans is once you accept you don’t have control, then you make the decision that you are going to support their efforts … and you have to give it the support to the extent you are willing or capable, regardless of the outcome,” Carr said. “It’s unique to find a fan base that truly through thick or thin supports their organization.”


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