Growing up in Alabama, it was difficult to to pull for professional teams. College teams—well, college football—became the obvious teams to follow, as if there even was a choice. You were either an Alabama fan or an Auburn fan.
But when it came to choosing a pro team to follow, it was never clear cut. My grandfather used to tell me of listening to Cardinals baseball games on the radio. Before the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, the Cards were the South's team (and the West's team until the Dodgers and Giants move to California).
After 1966, the South had two sport franchises—the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons (three if you include the Miami Dolphins). By 1972, the South had a team in all four major sports—the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968 and the NHL awarded the city with the expansion Flames in 1972. Two years later, with the addition of the New Orleans Jazz, the South had six teams (seven with Miami).
Today, there are 17 professional teams in the South, excluding teams in Miami (many do not count south Florida as part of "the South"). People living or growing up in Nashville or Atlanta or Tampa have a "home" team to pull for rather than adopting one.
However, this speaks to the arbitrary nature of "fanhood." Cities that suddenly gain a team that have no history of "fans" must nurture their new clubs. So the concept of "fan" is constructed; it is not natural.
But that should be obvious. So what is my real point here? Geography should not be the reason for supporting a team. Or, at the very least, should be a minor reason.
I understand the argument for supporting the local economy. Going to a game or a bar to watch the locals trickle down dollars to the local economy—taxi rides, dinner before or after the game, tailgating (buying alcohol and food), etc.—is good for the community. Certainly it is a good thing to support your city in that manner.
But why must we automatically support the local team? Allow me to offer an anecdote.
When I moved to Tallahassee, people often asked me if I would "convert" or become a Florida State fan. I would ask them why I would do that and their response was usually the same—because this is where you live now and you should support the local team.
Well, that seems somewhat silly. But, finally I caved in and decided to support a different local team—the Florida A&M Rattlers!
The point here is there is an expectation to automatically support the hometown squad. Most people did not even take into account that maybe I bring in my own favorite teams (some did and still tried to convert me).
Perhaps it is easier for me to scoff at the notion of automatically cheering for the home team. Growing up in the South meant that my father was not attached to a professional team. So there was no "tradition" of cheering for a pro team that he could pass onto me; and I would in turn pass it on to my sons. My guess is that many people are influenced by their parents' support of, say, the Green Bay Packers or Boston Red Sox.
But family choices also influenced my decision to go against the local team. With my parents split between Alabama and Auburn, my brother and I chose different teams—I chose Georgia Tech while my brother went with Notre Dame. This actually set the stage for my team support decisions and freed me from the constraints of geography.
With this "freedom," I was able to choose any team I wanted. But I needed some sort of rubric; I felt that I could not simply choose the best teams at the time (jumping on a bandwagon). However, the teams I support today actually found me.
Dislike for the bandwagon fans for the 1991 Atlanta Braves led me first to follow the Canadian teams, especially Montreal. Once the Expos ceased to exist, I chose the worst team in baseball at the time, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
My father's stories of the rich history of the Green Bay Packers—at a time when they were so bad Don Majkowski was their QB—led me to become a Packers fan. Playing the video game "NHL '94" and trying to win with the worst team on the game, the Ottawa Senators, in turn made me a Sens fan.
And the team I follow in basketball actually used to be one that I hated. I really never attached to any NBA team, but once I started following Andrei Kirilenko, I slowly became a Utah Jazz fan.
The geography of my favorite teams is great! From Canada to Florida to Wisconsin to Utah, I am all over the place. It also creates great reactions when I go to a bar and ask the bartender if they could put on the Ottawa game ("Are you Canadian?" or "You know, we have hockey teams in Florida!").
But that is the beauty of not being geographically fixed to a team. It adds much needed variety in life. Plus, what if all the local teams are down in a given year? Imagine what it was like to be a Seattle sports fan last year, with the Mariners and Seahawks performing very weakly and then losing the Sonics.
Some cities already have limited "options" since they have more than one team in a given sport. New York is the prime example as, including the Nets, there are two teams in every major sport. But for other cities, you are probably locked into one team. Escaping the constraints of geography allows you to choose any team!
Plus, imagine if the large base of people in cities like New York City and Los Angeles began cheering for the Kansas City Royals or Jacksonville Jaguars or Oklahoma City Thunder. Perhaps it could balance out exposure because there would be Thunder fans screaming, "Hey! We do not care how awful our team is this year! We want to see the Thunder-Wizards game on TNT!!!"
Options are great! Try it! Tonight, follow the Blue Jays-Royals game and marvel at how great a pitcher Zach Greinke is!
Then, when the game is over, imagine how Greinke will look in pinstripes, because you are still going to cheer for your local team, aren't you?
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