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Why Do We Stay When They Lose?

Wrigley Field has quite the crowed for a Thursday afternoon game.
Wrigley Field has quite the crowed for a Thursday afternoon game. Photo Credit: Danielle Dwyer

I don’t know anyone who wakes up on game day and says to themselves, “I’m emotionally prepared for my team to lose today.” So why do we keep going back to teams that lose game in and game out and expect different results?

Rigo Fernandez gets ready to support his Cubs.
Rigo Fernandez gets ready to support his Cubs. Photo Credit: Danielle Dwyer


For the past 106 years, Chicago Cubs fans have had this problem. Not only have they not won a World Series since 1908, but they’ve only been to the post season 13 times since.


So why do these fans stick around?


Well, according to fans at a recent Cubs game, there are a few reasons.

“Family memories,” said Rigo Fernandez, who says he’s been a fan his whole life. “Loyalty to the home team, hope that something’s going to happen after a hundred years, things like that.” However, he does have a breaking point. He says if they haven’t won the World Series by the time he’s 50, he’ll start following a new sport completely.


Ted Zemlicka says he stays with it purely for the entertainment of baseball. “If it had to do with winning,” he said, “I’d be rooting for someone else.”


David Schilf, who says he’s been a Cubs fan for 10 years, did it for love. “I started dating a girl [Shannon Kipferl] that was a Cubs fan 10 years ago,” he said. However, he has his own reasons to stay. “Love Wrigley Field,” he said. “And the atmosphere.”


David Schlif and Shannon Kipferl get a little help in sticking with the Cubs.
David Schlif and Shannon Kipferl get a little help in sticking with the Cubs. Photo Credit: Danielle Dwyer

Kipferl, however, became a fan for a different reason. “I was born a fan,” she said. “I didn’t have an option.” However, that doesn’t lessen her loyalty. “I’ll never stop being a fan,” she said.


Patty Patrick sticks with the team because, despite their track record, she’s still optimistic. “They’re gonna win,” she said. She also doesn’t let wins and loses interfere with her loyalty. “A Cub fan is loyal, and I’m loyal, and that’s just what it is,” she said.


“The environment, the aura,” said Doug Robinson, who says he’s been a fan for 47 years. “The Cubs are just something unique and Wrigley Field is very unique.” However, he said he attends fewer games now because they have not been playing well. “When you’re a Cub diehard, you’re a Cub diehard. You stick with them,” he said.


Another Cubs fan who sticks with his team no matter what is Scott Stano.


Stano has lived in Erie, Penn., his entire life – roughly 450 miles from Chicago. However, for the past few years, he and his father – a New York Yankees fan – have made the trip out, annually, to see a weekend series.


Patty Patrick (right) shows her Cubs love through her apparel.
Patty Patrick (right) shows her Cubs love through her apparel. Photo Credit: Danielle Dwyer

“I go every year,” he said. “Probably for five, six years now. I go to anywhere from three to four games every year [in Chicago], and I go to every game when they’re in Pittsburgh.”


He gives WGN credit for helping him become a fan because he remembers the days of coming home from school and watching the games on their channel.


“I used to come home from school, and they would be the only team on during the day,” he said.


“I’ve put so much time and investment,” he said when asked why he sticks with them. “Someday, they’re gonna win – who knows when – but I can say, ‘Oh, I was a Cubs fan my whole life and I actually saw them win.’


“I understand that they stink,” he said. “They will stink for a long time. But, they’re my team, I’ve been with them forever and that’s how it’s gonna stay. I don’t want to be a bandwagon [fan].


Ted Zemlicka watches baseball for the sake of watching baseball.
Ted Zemlicka watches baseball for the sake of watching baseball. Photo Credit: Danielle Dwyer

“I played sports [baseball and track] my whole life,” he said. “So I understand losing.”


“I feel like, if they win, I’m part of it because I’ve been through it, good times and bad,” he said.


Another self-proclaimed life-long Cubs fan is Andrew Fair.


“Why can’t every year be the year? Any year can be the year.” Fair said. “You start 0-0, so does everyone else. So you all have a fair shot. You never know. Some guys can play well and some stuff could happen. Why not 2015? Why not 2014? It’s still early. It’s only April, so why not?”

In his book The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports ObsessionEric Simons discusses the sense of pride and identity that comes with being a sports fan.


“You can declare an end to your sports team allegiance at any point and move on,” he wrote. “And yet most people don’t, even though some people seem subject to such extreme provocation that it’s almost miraculous that they re-up every season.”
Simons also mentions in his book the length of the MLB season. With the Cubs, for example, you watch – or at least follow – 162 regular season games a year, and almost every year ends with the last few weeks being meaningless because the team is so far out of contention.


“You go through a quick little spring training, you come out to Opening Day to see all sorts of happy people around and your city come alive with red-white-and-blue bunting and balloons, and you have this nice little shot of regional pride,” he wrote in the book. “Then you have the tedium of a 162-game baseball season, and you stick with it in some relation to how proud you are.


“The problem is that nature doesn’t seem to have given us any way of coping when the benefit never comes. You stay proud; that’s the evolutionary imperative. You stay miserable … At some point, you’re no longer proud of any real accomplishment, you’re just proud of your pride.”


For reasons relevant to the book, Simons is talking about Cleveland Indians fans in this excerpt. However, I think it fits nicely with the Cubs as well.


So what happens if they do win? Well, according to Simons, “a massive self-esteem boost, powered by emotion and reason, and the next year everyone will show up at the ballpark proud of their accomplishment instead of proud of their attendance record – like Boston Red Sox fans in 2004.


“There’s not much we ask from our sports teams, but one of the things we ask is that they in some sense reward our loyalty,” Simons wrote in his book.


In a recent interview with Simons, he told me why he thinks fans stick with “loveable losers.”


“In terms of why we stay fans of teams we know are destined to fail, the question is probably more like why we stay fans of teams that have already failed, since we don’t really know a team is destined to fail,” he said. “I’d guess that if we really knew a team was going to lose, then probably a lot less people would be fans. Even Cubs fans think the team will win someday. But, like I outline in the book, I think there are plenty of reasons we stay attached to losing teams — identity, pride, community, family.”


I think Simons summed it up nicely in this book, without over-thinking it:


“Only in the most catastrophic of circumstances can anyone make you give up your sports team,” Simons wrote. “This is why the pride that motivates persistence matters.”

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