David J. Neal: Bandwagon fans should be welcomed not spurned

 
 
United States fans watch a World Cup soccer match between the U.S. and Belgium at a public viewing party, in Detroit, Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
United States fans watch a World Cup soccer match between the U.S. and Belgium at a public viewing party, in Detroit, Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
Paul Sancya / AP

dneal@MiamiHerald.com

Let’s hear it for the bandwagon fan. They get a bad rap in our fake world of sports.

Frontrunners and posers among bandwagon fans put the stink on the rest. You know, the biggest Lakers fan one year, then all about Kevin Durant the next (I was going to write “all about the San Antonio Spurs,” but, sadly, nobody’s all about the Spurs outside of San Antonio. Unless they’re playing the Heat). That’s your right, but just feels too capricious.

If you’ve only been following U.S. Soccer since 30 seconds into this year’s first World Cup game against Ghana, that’s cool. Just don’t act like you spent June 2002 hallucinating through days after sleepless nights spent following the U.S. to that year’s World Cup quarterfinal. Eventually, something happens to expose you. Like you hear “Beckenbauer” and decide to order two for the next round.

Be who you are. The intelligent among the hardcores will accept you and try to indoctrinate you. Odds are they once were bandwagon fans who haven’t fallen off the wagon.

That’s how fan bases for any team or sport grow. Winning or entertaining play makes things interesting to widen the cast of your team/sport net. You catch a bunch of fans. You hope too many don’t fall out as you try to pull them onto your love boat. Then, you hope the boat floats long enough that inertia and habit keeps them there through the inevitable bad times.

Think about the Dolphins fans who look down their nose and over the gut stretching their Bob Baumhower jersey in all the wrong directions to sneer at many Heat-philes as “bandwagon fans” before bragging, “I’m a real fan! I’ve been following the Dolphins since the 1970s!”

Oh, you mean since the Dolphins made three consecutive Super Bowls as part of a 26-year run that included five Super Bowl appearances and as many Super Bowl wins (two) as losing seasons? You mean you hung in there through the hard, rough years of having Dan Marino, one of the most thrilling passers ever?

Only in the last few years has that momentum petered out. Ask Dolphins players from the late 1960s about those crowds. You know who’s not a bandwagon Dolphins fan? The ones who’ve donned their aqua and orange since the turn of the century. Masochistic, possibly in desperate need of therapy, but you can’t question that devotion. They’ve known only sickness, no health.

CREATURES OF CONVENIENCE

Considering how easy it is these days to be a fan of teams halfway around the world, why should someone be a fan of a team whose biggest asset is close proximity? Nostalgia – sepia-tinted, slightly-faded memories of going to games with Mom or Dad – can keep you tractable. But just because they’re there?

Gee, why don’t you just go home with someone because he/she is the last person at the club? Have some standards, people.

Actually, most do outside of Toronto Maple Leafs or Chicago Cubs fans. A longtime member of the Philadelphia Flyers organization once told me that Flyers owner Ed Snider wanted a hard marketing-community presence push during the team’s glory days of the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s. Build the bandwagon.

The guy said Snider figured eventually, the Flyers would stink for a few years. To keep the revenue streams strong through that period, they would need all the warm feelings they built up during the good times. Sure enough, the Flyers missed the playoffs five consecutive seasons. Yet, they maintained their fan base until they turned things around in the mid-1990s.

THE NASCAR EFFECT

Hardcores should want bandwagon fans. Imagine the paucity of the already-small Florida Panthers crowds without the long-suffering Panthers fans who got hooked on hockey during the Year of the Rat.

Some old-time NASCAR fans harrumph about the Heineken-drinking, Honda-driving fans from outside ACC and SEC country for whom stock car racing started with Days of Thunder and Jeff Gordon. I understand resentment when some of the storied old tracks got left behind for facilities you can’t drive to from North Carolina. I felt bad, too.

But without those bandwagon fans, NASCAR wouldn’t have had the groundswell of popularity that shoved the sport from niche to mainstream. And without that, the breadth, depth and technology of coverage NASCAR hardcores enjoy wouldn’t exist or at least wouldn’t be as evolved.

So come aboard bandwagon fans. Hope you stay a while.

Read more David J. Neal stories from the Miami Herald

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