How football fandom is a social powerhouse

For example, the Netherlands knocked the US out of the World Cup group stage, but the party is not over for American football fans. We still have a lot to celebrate.

We have the joy of watching the remaining superstars and rising stars duke it out on the pitch. And who doesn’t love the multicultural pageantry of fans wrapped in all sorts of feathers, face paint and crowns as they sing, drum and cheer? Not to mention the balm of international pluralism seen all over the world, all too rare in our polarized world.

The power of fandom

But more important for football fans living on American soil is this: in a country where American football and basketball usually predominate, world football is in the spotlight until the final whistle on December 18. And you, dear football fan, hold the power.

What power, you ask? The power of fandom.

Five years ago, my friend Dave Sikorjak and I embarked on a quest to understand how sports fandom works, the results of which appear in our new book Fans have more friends.

What drives a person to wake up at 5am on a workday to watch a game on the other side of the world? Team loyalty? Could be. Passion for the game? To a certain extent. Connection with other fans? Absolute.

The number one drive of fandom is belonging. It is every fan’s incentive to participate.

What the research shows

According to our research, sports fandom acts as a social superconductor, allowing fans to make meaningful connections and deepen existing bonds with others. These connections span across team loyalties and social categories such as age, race, nationality, class, religion and gender.

Nowhere do we see this more clearly than with world football fans. Put a football fan in a taxi in Sao Paulo, St. Louis or Stockholm and mentioning the name Leo Messi once will spark a passionate conversation. Walk into a sports bar where a World Cup match is being played and you’ll meet a real United Nations of fans.

What does this connection mean for fans? For starters, fans have more friends. On average, a non-fan has 21.1 friends, while devoted sports fans have an average of 35.6 friends. Fans also report that they “value” these friendships “much more” than non-fans. Sports also give fans more options to interact with these friends; non-fans have an average of 204 social interactions per month, while the most active fans have an average of 454 interactions.

Positive effects of fandom

All of these interactions have a powerful impact on fans’ lives.

Of highly engaged sports fans, 61% strongly agree that they “feel close to people”, compared to 37% of non-fans. In fact, people’s overall well-being scores on five well-being markers — happiness, contentment, optimism, gratitude and confidence — rise as their involvement in sports fandom increases.

Most fans recognize that sports knowledge is social capital waiting to be spent. Usually in the US, a reasonably interesting look at an NFL game will have a greater social return on the company’s party than your most impressive Premier League analysis.

But not during the World Cup season. This, my friends, is our time to shine.

Colleagues dragged into World Cup mania? Share what you know about the upcoming match. Do you see your neighbor wearing a Brazilian shirt? Start a conversation and see where it goes. Friends taking a new interest in the game? Invite them to a viewing party and grow your soccer tribe.

However you activate it, your fandom is your social superpower. And that’s something to celebrate, even after your team’s World Cup dream is over.

Photo credit: IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

Ben Valentina is the co-author of Fans have more friends and the SVP of Strategy & Analytics for FOX Sports. In his previous life as a consultant, he advised an incredible array of clients including: Nike, the NFL, Anheuser-Busch InBev, YouTube, ESPN, National Geographic, MSNBC, NBC News, Livestrong, the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers. He enjoys surfing, biking and wrestling with his kids in Venice, California.

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