What makes fans loyal? | Magic Basketball

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Jan 24

What makes fans loyal?

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Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s been five years since the Magic went to the NBA finals. That year, there was a marked energy around the city; the excitement and camaraderie between fans then is something many won’t forget.

Five years doesn’t feel like a long time, but you only have to think back to middle school to see that it is. You’re usually around 14 when you leave those gossipy halls. Then, five years later, you’re 19. Anybody feel like they were the same person at 19 as 14?

So a lot can change in that span of time, and even the most cohesive sports rosters won’t look the same after it. But it’s even worse for a rebuilding team. Just about every current Magic player would look at the Eastern Conference Championship banner from 2009 set up in the rafters at Amway Center and say, “Oh, that’s pretty cool,” feeling no real connection or personal pride about it.

It’s like going back to the ol’ middle school as your 19-year-old self to see all your former teachers and administrators, then finding out only Mr. Gladstone is still teaching there. Only he can laugh about the ruckus you used to cause, so you really hope he remembers you.

Today, when you compare the roster with 2009’s, Jameer Nelson is Orlando’s Mr. Gladstone. He remembers. But it’s only a matter of time before there is no thread left connected to that year.

Every team goes through it. Their identity evolves as talent ebbs and flows, superstars emerge, devastating injuries swoop in, and players leave unexpectedly. This is always happening.

It’s just interesting to sit back and think about what ties fans to their teams. There are a few possibilities.

The players
Like most kids my age, I was a huge Jordan fan growing up. I didn’t really understand what following a team meant, but I rooted for the Bulls to win. When he left Chicago for the last time, I stopped cheering for them. Even today, I don’t feel any special interest whatsoever in the Chicago Bulls’ success.

Later, the same scenario occurred. I was an Indianapolis Colts fan, and when Peyton Manning — the man who made me a Colts fan to begin with — was released, I had to decide whether I was truly a fan of the team or just Manning himself. But this time was different: I was sticking with one team, no matter who came or went.

Those who shift their loyalty and follow single players wherever they go seem to be kids, family members, or more casual sports fans. It’s obviously not the type of loyalty that teams are looking for.

The location
This one is tricky. It’s common to root for the professional franchises that are closest to you. This is a very understandable occurrence.

But I wonder if there isn’t an unspoken law discouraging the above practice. I know I often hesitate to tell people I’m a Colts and UNC Tar Heels basketball fan from Central Florida. Many people ask why those are my teams. The simple answer is, “I just liked them a lot, and I picked them.” But that isn’t always a welcome answer.

Another thing I’ve wondered is how fans react when their local team leaves. For the Seattle fans that loved their Supersonics, what do they do now? I suppose most don’t follow the Thunder, given how the Supersonics left, but I don’t know.

There have been a lot of tiny whispers, such as this one, over the years about the Magic leaving Orlando. If they did, some Magic fans would probably follow them to their next location. But if it had happened last year, and the fan base didn’t know anyone on the roster, would they really be all that excited to do so?

Then, what if a few years later, a new franchise started up here. What would people do? Oh my. What a mess.

Success
Fans expect success from their teams, but some even go so far as to abandon a team that doesn’t perform well. There is no loyalty of real substance there. Rather than stick out the bumps in the road, you leap to the bandwagon with the smoothest ride at every chance.

However you are drawn to a team, the “staying” is key to getting the most out of the fan experience. A team like the Magic of this year (or the poor Cleveland Browns of every year) tests its fans. There will be fair-weather casualties. But when things start brightening up again, it will that much sweeter for those who stuck by the players and organization every step of the way.

In a way, this test of dedication makes us competitors. How about that?

2 comments
CarloSimone
CarloSimone

Interesting article, Ryan.  I have a little bit of a mixed experience with this.  I grew up in Central Florida and the Orlando Magic were formed when I was 5 years old so I became a Magic fan then.  As a kid I just thought I was supposed to root for our new team.  I didn't really think about it in terms of wins and losses.  Obviously over the next few years that team would turn into a powerhouse and one of the most popular in the NBA so it was a good thing I was already a fan as a child.  I've been hooked to Magic basketball ever since.


Counter to that is my history with football.  My family is originally from Washington DC and so they are all die-hard Redskins fans.  Initially I was too, but as a kid my favorite player in all of football was Reggie White who played for the Green Bay Packers.  Soon I started to watch Packers games more intently than Redskins games and then obviously that Packers team ended up winning a Super Bowl.  Once Reggie was gone from the team I had to consider whether I was a Packers fan but I just couldn't turn away and now that's what I'll be until I die or the team goes away (the former will probably happen first).


If the Magic moved away I'd be extremely heartbroken and I honestly don't know what I would do.  I love basketball too much to stop watching but I have no idea who I'd turn to.  I guess the logical thing would be to follow the Heat but that would feel like ripping my soul out.

RyanDrawdy
RyanDrawdy

@CarloSimone Great thoughts, Carlo. It seems like as you mature, there's a point where you just have a team and your heart is set on them, even if you started out just watching a player. That's exactly what happened with each of our football situations. I'll always be a Colts fan now, though there was some wavering for me as a kid before I got to that point.


Hopefully we won't have to face the Magic leaving anytime soon. You said it: following the Heat might be logical, but that would be a little like a Seminole following the Gators if the school shut down. It's not gonna happen.