We all had that friend in grade school who claimed to be a diehard Chicago Bulls fan. Despite living nowhere near Chicago and having no ties to the team prior to their run of greatness, he had the Michael Jordan jersey, the Air Jordan shoes, the Bulls Starter jacket, and always picked the Bulls in NBA Jam. When the Bulls were playing the Jazz in the NBA Finals for the second straight season in 1997, your friend remarked “I want to see Jordan win just one more.” “Why? Wouldn’t you rather see Karl Malone and John Stockton win just once instead of Jordan and Pippen win for the sixth time in eight years?” you’d ask. What fun it must have been to be a Bulls fan at that time!
Even more remarkable, that very same friend happened to have great allegiances towards the Dallas Cowboys in football, Atlanta Braves in baseball, Detroit Red Wings in hockey, Duke Blue Devils in college hoops, and the Nebraska Cornhuskers in college football. And all of these teams were powerhouses at that given time! Yes, life was grand for this friend.
But just a couple short years later, that same friend had abandoned all of those sports allegiances and was now cheering for new teams. The Bulls were old news; the Lakers were in. The Braves had been replaced with the Yankees. And the Cowboys had been cast off in favor of the Broncos. And shockingly, all of these new favorite teams he had chosen were also super good! Can this guy pick teams or what?
No, as it turns out, your friend didn’t possess any magical skills. He simply chose to cheer for teams that were already well-established, had won recent championships, and were surefire bets to win even more at that particular point in time. While he was a frequently happy sports fan, people no doubt looked at him in an unfavorable light.
Everyone has some reason why they cheer for the teams they do. Geography plays an enormous role; people from New York generally cheer for teams from New York; people from Dallas cheer for Dallas teams. Others chose their favorite teams based on their parents’ favorite teams, having grown up in a household where Pops cheered for the Seattle teams every weekend despite the fact that the family now lives in Indiana. Others chose a team based on a particular player; perhaps someone from their hometown played on a pro team. Some became fans of a team based on their color schemes. Believe it or not, some chose their teams simply because someone they dislike cheers for their rivals.
And no doubt many fans chose a team at some point in their lifetimes because that team was really good.
The fans who pick up a favorite team during their period of dominance and stick with them for the long haul can be tolerated. “I became a Bears fan back in ’85 and never looked back!” That’s cool. They haven’t really done much in the past 32 years. You can respect that.
But the fans who become a fan of whoever is the best team each season and then quickly dump them is painfully annoying. Most bandwagon fans are easy to spot and call out for their douchebaggery. But some intelligent bandwagon fans can fool people into believing they’ve always liked the team they’re currently cheering for by digging up old photos of them perhaps wearing some team gear, or attending one of their games before the time of dominance. “See? There’s a picture of my sister wearing a Cubs shirt in a photo clearly dated 1990. I’ve been following them forever!”
So, you see your friend Jimmy on Facebook with his status updated to “Go Astros! World champs! Love this team! Y’all are in a world of hurt for the next decade. We’re loaded!!” Now that the team finally won its first title in team history and looks to be set for a long run of success with a strong young core, you suspect he’s a bandwagon fan trying to pass off as a lifelong fan. How to know for sure?
- Look back on his Facebook profile. Check to see when he first mentioned his Astros fandom. If he hadn’t previously posted a single Astros comment or photo, you know he’s jumping on the bandwagon. If you can dig up pictures of him wearing Astros gear from 2012, leave him be. He isn’t a bandwagon fan, just a fair-weather fan.
- Check out his origins. He resides in northern Oklahoma, so the Astros are a good 650-mile drive. The Rangers, Royals, and even Cardinals are all indisputably closer geographically. While the Astros are still in a bordering state, it would be a stretch to claim them as a “local” team. Where was he born? If it was anywhere in Texas or even Louisiana, he would in fact have long-standing ties to the Astros, and can’t be accused of bandwagoning. But if it turns out he was born in Cincinnati, now there’s real reason for doubt.
- Where did he go to college? Maybe he went to Texas A&M for a year and fell in love with the Stros. Unlikely. You’d know that.
- Does his significant other have ties to Houston? “Deb grew up in Friendswood, a Houston suburb, so I adopted her team.” OK, that’s passable.
- Where were his parents originally from? A valid excuse to cheer for a team, as mentioned, is your parents’ allegiances. Is your friend’s dad a lifelong Astros fan? Was he born in the Houston area? If so, case closed, no bandwagoner here. But if it turns out his mom and dad are both natives of Kansas, you have no case.
- Where were his grandparents from? Maybe it was his grandmother’s strong ties to the Houston area that got him interested in the Astros. “Yep, me and Gram would spend every summer sitting on her front porch playing cards and listening to Milo Hamilton calling the Astros games on the radio.” OK, he checks out. No touching story? Bandwagoner.
- Does he personally know an Astro player, coach, or team employee? Not likely.
- Let it go a year and see. When the Minnesota Twins win the 2018 World Series, is he still posting about “we’ll get ’em next year, Astros”, or is he now sporting a Miguel Sano jersey?
- Finally, his one “out” card. Does he at least have a good story about his sudden love for the Astros? “Man, I never cared about baseball before but this team’s heart and fire really got to me. Jose Altuve’s story, the hurricane, the whole Enron scandal… man, I just fell in love with the Houston Astros. Call me a bandwagon fan if you must.” If he can’t even do that, then you must appropriately label him a bandwagon fan.
It’s a fact of life that many people are simply drawn to winning teams. Three years ago Minute Maid Park was a ghost town and the Astros were losing. In 2018 you’ll be lucky to get a standing-room ticket for any regular season game coming off a title. People like winners. People get swept up in great teams with exciting marketable star players. People like to see teams execute plays at the highest level. And picking a winning team to cheer for is most likely to make you happy. Why would a team that isn’t good at its job appeal to anyone? Bandwagon fans will be called out for their shenanigans, but they have always been here and they always will be. Just know that you are a better human being than they are.
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My Hot Take:
I despise bandwagon sports fans. I can honestly say I have never jumped on a team bandwagon. It is well-known that my favorite teams are the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild, and even the LA Chargers as a secondary NFL team, and all five of those teams have combined to win ZERO championships since I started paying attention to pro sports in 1993.
Sure, I cheered for the Astros in the World Series from the two teams I had to pick from. They are my nearest geographical baseball team here in Austin, TX, and believe it or not I have owned two Astros caps over the years—one in 1997 and one in 2011, so if I wanted to pull the “I’ve been a fan my whole life” card, I totally could. And I have a relative who has lived in Houston since the 60s I could side with. But I won’t!
Bandwagon sports fans can be spotted by quickly assessing whether or not they have had previous ties to their sudden favorite team.