College football is one of, if not the definitive event of American athletics. Like the National Football League, the entire world is familiar with at this point; college football features bitter rivalries between teams, intense gameplay, and of course — fans that planned their whole day around watching a game.
And that’s what we’re going to be looking at today — the people that make this entire industry viable. Like the NFL, college football fans pack stadiums, often decked out just as much as the team mascots are. However, these fans have a unique bond with the teams they follow here. Only by flying the same colors and attending the same universities, fans feel a passionate connection with the teams they love.
Considering this, perhaps it’s no surprise that TV ratings for college football are steadily increasing, while ratings for NFL games have plummeted over the past three years.
But, do college football franchises command this level of undying loyalty? Or, like the NFL, are fans known to jump from ship to ship — perhaps after years of being disappointed with their performance? Does that university bond even play that big of a role for fans in deciding which team to pledge loyalty to?
These are a few of the questions we asked college football fans around the country — and we learned a whole lot more than that in this study.
As it turns out, there are a ton of “fake fans” out there — at least that’s what the more loyal respondents would say. While our research shows that an overwhelming majority of college football fans seem to stay committed until the very end, a significant amount do not. Just over 26 percent of fans admit to dropping their fandom if their team fails to perform. Its not only the Big Ten that have these fans.
The Navy tops the list for having the most “fairweather fans” — perhaps because it is tied with the Army for having the most losses in its division.
While college football is undoubtedly a great way to appreciate athletic prowess, it is a business more than anything else — and fans seem perfectly happy to oblige with that. And while fans certainly can’t make it to every game, there’s a much easier way for them to support their team — buying merchandise.
Merch sales are a massive part of how college football teams bring in revenue. Our respondents spend over $100 on average, supporting their fandom on average each year. Oregon State University fans are bigger spenders than anyone else, shelling out over $344 on average annually. Who knew that beavers could be such a marketable creature?
Overpaid Coaches vs. Underpaid Athletes
The question of whether or not college athletes should be paid for their time is one of the most controversial topics in modern sports. Both sides of the issue bring up pretty great points. Proponents of students being paid point out the value they bring to their campuses — which is substantial. Opponents, however, counter by saying athletes are already getting a pretty good deal with athletic scholarships. Many of these rising stars are getting access to a high-quality education they otherwise wouldn’t if not for their athletic skill.
Our study shows that the public is mainly on the side of the students — with almost two-thirds saying they should be paid for their work. Roughly the same amount believes that the coaches are overpaid.
Considering that Alabama football players are worth over $545,000 to the school each year, it’s easy to see where they are coming from.
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that college sports fans follow the teams they share a history with. After all, if you spent all of your years in undergrad supporting a team, it would make sense for you to continue doing just that after graduating, right?
Our research shows that the opposite is true. Over 62 percent of our responders said that they did not attend the university they are a fan of. Family connections don’t even seem to play a huge role here. Nearly the same amount said that no one in their families attended the university they are a fan of.
People who are less familiar with sports, in general, may assume that fandom is based purely on geographic proximity. This plays a role, but psychological studies have also shown that fans gravitate to teams based on family bonds, simple color preferences — or even moral standards.
Addicted to The Game
As you might have known already, the word “fan” comes from the word “fanatic” — and the connection is often pretty obvious. Unruly behavior, including verbal disputes or even tribal brawls, are not uncommon at sporting events or during tailgating. College athletics is not immune to this.
Our research uncovered pretty surprising details about what fans are willing to sacrifice just to put themselves in front of a screen while the big football game is on. Almost 8 out of 10 respondents admitted to calling off from work. Over 16 percent have lied to a loved one about watching a game on gameday.
Habits like this aren’t different from how substance abusers behave. Addiction doesn’t have to include drugs — behavioral addictions can be just as destructive. A University of Alabama at Birmingham professor issued a warning in 2011 that excessive consumption of sports media can damage personal relationships. Let’s all forget that during the NCAA Playoffs and National Championship.
As we just mentioned, fandom can sometimes have a dark side. Tensions are high at sporting events, and this can often result in very risky or outright criminal behavior. Thankfully, our research shows that the vast majority of college sports fans don’t damage property while enjoying a game.
But, the number that do is not zero. Almost ten percent of fans admitted to damaging property while a game was going on.
Finding real-life examples of high-profile sporting events coinciding with vandalism isn’t hard. Just in 2018, Philadelphia Eagles fans famously set fires around their city following the team’s Super Bowl win.
If there’s any undeniable truth in the data, it’s that people love their sports. It doesn’t seem to matter how people feel connected to the teams that they like: Michigan, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Clemson, Texas A&M, Auburn, Oklahoma, Tennessee, LSU Tigers, Georgia, Penn State, Ohio State, Florida State, USC, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa Texas Longhorns, Alabama Crimson Tide, South Carolina, Michigan Wolverines, etc — Fan base manifests in very powerful ways, which can sometimes turn ugly.
This shouldn’t be meant to suggest that sports fandom is a negative in and of itself. For many, a game is a great way to unwind, socialize with friends and family, and appreciate quality athletics. It can even inspire younger fans to take up the sport — hardly an unhealthy activity.
At the end of the day, watching sports is supposed to be fun. From kickoff, fans can admire the athleticism, as well as the creative aesthetic of the other fans who are there — and the stadium itself. The field is often just as decorated as anything else at the location, with the grass cut and painted to perfection. Believe it or not, your lawn could be just like this.
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All participants were screened using a two-pronged approach: (1) description of selection criteria with a requirement for self-acknowledgment and acceptance, and (2) directly asking each participant to confirm each criterion, namely “Fan” The term “Fan” was defined as “a person who has a strong interest in or admiration for SEC football.” A total of 1,102 attempts were made to take the online study, with 65 eliminated for: (1) not being a ‘fan’, (2) failing captcha, (3) not completing the survey, or (4) a mixture of these. Additionally, 27 response sets were eliminated for having duplicate IP addresses, for a total of 92 eliminations, yielding a completion rate of 91.65%, and a final n = 1,010. This study employed an online survey using a convenience sampling methodology via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, with a subsequent posteriori exploratory, correlational data analysis methodology employed after completion of data scrubbing via Microsoft Excel and data visualization via Tableau.
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