Over the past week or so there has been a lot of discussion about fans: What do we expect from them? What ought we expect of them?
It started with the resolution of the National Hockey League’s latest edition of labor strife and continued through the next day with the buildup and subsequent reaction to Alabama’s rout of Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship game.
Almost as soon as the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association agreed on what it would take to end the lockout that owners implemented back on Sept. 15, attention turned to the fans and attempts to measure their anger. Theories quickly surfaced about what percentage of the public base had become so disillusioned that it would not return.
In a way, such discussions have become part of the ritual of sports labor strife in North America.
That’s just it, though. At this point, “lockout” and ”strike” are part of the sports lexicon. They happen often enough — this was the NHL’s third work stoppage in less than 20 years — that they are not a surprise. Nor are they particularly detrimental to long-term growth prospects for any of the leagues.
When they happen, fans of the sport in question and the teams affected simply want to know when the games will start. Then they will show up.
If anything, many more develop a greater appreciation for the game having been deprived of it than walk away from it. Baseball didn’t wither away after the 1994 players’ strike that wiped out the World Series, and hockey came back from the lockout that eliminated the entire 2004-05 season.
Expect all of the Nashville Predators’ home games this season, abbreviated as it is, to be well-attended by passionate fans who were willing to wait it out. The same will be true in virtually every NHL city, just as was the case a year ago with the National Basketball Association.
To put it simply: People like to root for something or someone. It is much more fun than being disengaged.
Which brings us to the BCS game, a dramatically one-sided affair that left many to wonder about the chants of “S-E-C!” that were so prevalent in the stadium and across social media outlets.
A debate raged about whether or not fans of other SEC schools — particularly Tennessee and Auburn — ought to root for Alabama as it attempted to win its third national title in four years and the conference’s seventh straight.
Those skeptical of the idea claimed that it was disloyal to support a rival under any circumstance. Those same people missed the bigger picture, particularly in regard to college football.
The bowl system was established as a conference showcase. For example, the Sugar Bowl was designed to pit the SEC champion against the best possible opponent so as to see how it measured up. The Rose Bowl long has been about bragging rights between the Big Ten and Pac-12.
That notion is largely lost amid the current glut of bowls, but the us-against-them mindset manages to hold up in the SEC more than it does in other conferences.
In either case, many often are quick to note that the word “fan” is derived from “fanatic,” which suggests a degree of insanity. That makes it easy to dismiss the actions of fans who find seemingly incongruous ways to show their support.
Actually, nothing is so sane as the desire to feel a part of a community, particularly one that provides positive representation of who you are and where you live.
Hockey fans should look forward to gathering in arenas to cheer their respective teams. Fans of all SEC schools ought to revel in the league’s overall success.
That’s what it means to be a fan.