Daniel Wann feels great, thanks.
He is happy, bursting with self-esteem, feeling validated and connected. And he’s an expert at knowing why.
Wann grew up a Royals fan, and today from his Murray State University laboratory in Kentucky, he is among the nation’s leading researchers in the field of sports fan psychology.
“In Kansas City right now, the sun is shining a little brighter for sports fans. The birds are chirping a little louder,” said Wann, 51, a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission North High School. “There’s a lot of research that’s been done that goes to all that.”
For starters: When a sports team goes from losing to winning, according to a study published last year in Psychological Science, chances are decent that its fans eat healthier.
Another curiosity cited by a University of Southern California cardiologist followed the Pittsburgh Steelers’ triumph in the 2009 Super Bowl. Pittsburgh-area doctors over the next eight days saw circulatory heart-related deaths drop 25 percent below the usual number, he reported.
Or think about a study last year in the British Medical Journal. It linked a spike in births in a region of Spain nine months after Barcelona celebrated a euphoric soccer victory.
Some research papers merely perplex:
An Ohio State University communications professor polled 113 college students to conclude that fans tend to find more pleasure in experiencing a down-to-the-wire loss than a blowout victory. (Experts say the excitement of a close game might drench the nervous system with testosterone and pleasure-stirring dopamine.)
Just saying, Royals fans. You’re at liberty to disagee if the Oakland A’s eek out a thrilling win tonight, ending your team’s first postseason appearance since 1985.
Many of the surveys and clinical studies — almost all done in the 29 years of the Royals’ playoff drought — agree that sports fans in a variety of ways benefit emotionally and perhaps even physically when a franchise’s fortunes improve.
The fans apt to benefit the most, said Wann, are those die-hards that have stuck with their team during the leanest times.
“Well-being in sports fandom takes two routes,” he said. “Route 1 is going to be a function of a team’s success. We internalize the success in the teams we follow so that when they do well, we feel better and even more important ourselves.”
Route 2, he said, involves fans who find community and a sense of purpose despite the years of heading to sparsely attended games.
“When the Royals struggled with 10,000 or 12,000 people in the seats, those were still 10,000 or 12,000 fellow fans considered to be your friends,” Wann said.
“Now with the team doing well, those die-hards get the best of both worlds — the success and that sense of connection.”
Academics who study such things tend to be sports fans themselves, said economist Michael Davis, a Chicago Cubs booster at the Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla.
Having entered economics, psychology, sociology or other fields that crave measurable numbers, he said, they can’t resist tapping a ton of available sports data that they can use to test against questions about human behavior and real-world issues.
For example, Davis and Xavier University professor Christain End have found a possible relationship between success in sports and a winning city’s workplace productivity, measured in roughly a $200 bump in per-capita income. That’s the average a resident would pocket above expected in cities that win the Super Bowl, but no such increase in per-capita earnings was found in cities with baseball champs.
Other research suggests it’s not winning that makes fans feel great — it’s the absence of constant losing. As with people reluctant to gamble, said Davis, many fans may be “loss averse” in that their support is dictated more by the fear of losing than by what they stand to gain.
By one measure, winning may even be riskier to your health, said Stacy Wood, a North Carolina State University marketing professor.
She wondered if patterns existed in traffic fatalities following nail-biting sports contests within the rival cities. Her research found more deadly crashes following games in the winning city than in the losing city.
“The silver lining for the losing fan may be a safer drive home” from sports venues and bars, she said.
To Jeremy Burd, a psychiatrist at St. Luke’s Health Systems, the published studies about sports and fans’ well-being make for interesting conversation, though cause-and-effect is hard to prove.
The Royals’ happy season likely hasn’t helped his patients who are clinically depressed, Burd said, “but if you look around a typical Kansas City office, it’s definitely more upbeat.
“It’s good news. And there’s not a lot of good news around the world these days.”
Can victory really improve our diets, as a pair of European business-school researchers have found with NFL fans on the day after a win? (Calorie and fat consumption, they determined, both drop by 5 to 9 percent on Mondays for the winning fans.)
Why not believe it? What psychiatrist Burd is seeing around town is happiness — euphoria, even, and “after 29 years, ecstacy for the die-hard.”
How could any of that hurt? Said Burd: “It gives you a nice vibe about where you’re living.”
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