How to Identify What Kind of Fan You Are
No two fans are the same. So why do we keep pretending like they are?
While watching grass grow and workin’ for the man yesterday, I slipped up. Big time. I mistakenly said the Steelers and the Bears were in the same conference (which they are clearly not), although they did play each other this year, which was my cop-out of choice to cover-up my momentary lapse.
Now, I consider myself well-versed when it comes to the NFL, NBA, and MLB. But in one off-hand moment of gen-u-ine brainfuckery, I left myself open to the worst thing of all — someone openly questioning my sports fandom.
Well, scratch that. Having someone question your knowledge of a whole league is actually the second worst thing that can happen. The real worst thing is when someone questions your fanhood of your own team. I can forget the name of the fourth outfielder for the Reds, (future Parker, its Jessie Winker), and I’ll only lose a few hours of sleep over it. But if I drop the proverbial ball when it comes to my own Cubs, the incoming feeling of shame might match literally shitting the bed.
But this crucial link between my own self-worth and my fandom is not something that every fan feels. We often treat fans as one homogeneous group, when really, the term ‘fan’ includes a number of subspecies, each with their own distinct characteristics, behaviours and beliefs. Each group should be treated and accepted for their unique level of knowledge and insight, and accepted as such. (Granted a little self-realization about where they stand on the spectrum should be mandatory). That’s why I’ve broken down the various tiers of fanhood so you can see where you fall, understand who your friends are, and when appropriate, stay in your respective lane. If nothing else, let this serve as a chin-check for those of you who like to speak a little above your paygrade without putting the work in.
Somewhere below the first real tier in the fan hierarchy is a group that I’d rather not even let see the light of day in this breakdown: those who just don’t follow sports in any sense of the word. You’ll often find them all posting the same hilarious update the day of a major sporting event. Their only engagement with the world of sports is tweeting about how they don’t care about them, often including something like the word ‘sportsball’ or jumbling up vocabulary from multiple sports into one incoherent, eye-roll-inducing mess. It’s one thing to not take an interest in something, but these folks are a little… much. In the words of my late grandfather “It may be just a game to you, but it’s all I got”. So yeah, pipe down Sportsballers.
The Weekend Warrior
The first ‘real’ tier consists of the so-called ‘Weekend Warriors’ — those that follow their team to the extent of watching a Sunday afternoon game or two, or the occasional Monday Night Football game. Your Weekend Warriors definitely won’t be able to rattle off more than a few players without naming someone who’s either retired or long since been let go. Depending on the sport, they’re likely to take in 1–3 games live per season, usually in the midseason swoon, when tickets are at their cheapest. Long story short, a big part of fanhood is knowing your stuff, and that’s where the Weekend Warriors fall short. Despite their low overall knowledge and visibility at live events, the Weekend Warriors do rank just below the Bleacher Creatures in terms of the alcohol-consumed-to-games-watched ratio (ACG), and that earns them a place in my heart.
The Trending Fan
Full disclosure, the Trending Fan is my least favorite brand of fan. They only rank above the Weekend Warriors due to their slightly more advanced awareness of their team (notice there I didn’t say knowledge there). The Trending Fan gains most (if not all) of their team information courtesy of sources like Twitter (aka their fellow Trending Fan echo chamber). The more sophisticated ‘Trending Fan’ may follow their team’s Bleacher Report stream, but you’ll never find these folks trolling the depths of Reddit to read up on their team’s 45 scouting grade prospects, or, god forbid, watch an actual game.
The #1 tell for a Trending Fan is the way they react to a big free agent signing for their team. They will, without fail, praise the lord above for the no doubt wonderful player that has just fallen into their laps without thinking about the contract they were signed to, what that means for their team’s future, or if the pick up was actually just the team settling because they wouldn’t/couldn’t land a bigger fish. These fans have no grasp of the greater context of any moves their team makes, and have the highest bandwagon potential. Most annoyingly, they also believe their sports IQ points is several tiers higher than it really is, and they name-drop the one advanced stat they know to make them sound smarter, resulting in them coming off as completely insufferable. If you (or someone you know) shows signs of being a Trending Fan, consider making the leap to a Couch Crusader, or dropping back with the Weekend Warrior tier.
The Couch Crusader/Dedicated Couch Crusader
This is the tier where fans generally start to become a fan of the league as a whole. They lose the hometown blinders, particularly on the upper end of the Couch Crusader spectrum. There are also two sub-tiers within this group — the ‘Couch Crusader’, and the ‘Dedicated Couch Crusader’. While they consumer the same amount of sports content, the Couch Crusaders are always watching the games of their own team, while the Dedicated Couch Crusader finds themselves toiling over the games that bare no impact on their squad directly.
Lots of excellent creative content comes out of this tier, namely, mine, as I self-identify as a Dedicated Couch Crusader. The Couch Crusaders are out there doing the Reddit sleuthing I alluded to earlier, and they ‘watch’ entire games using box score updates. The only thing keeping them below the Bleacher Creatures tier is their lack of in-person attendance. Be it inconvenient distance to one’s home stadium, a rigorous work schedule, or prohibitive costs, they just don’t make it out more than a couple times a year. Couch Crusaders can rattle off their entire team’s projected lineup on a given day with relative certainty, and they’ve got plenty of hot takes with the juice to back them up. The Dedicated Couch Crusaders come in dead last in terms of alcohol-consumed-to-games-watched ratio, because of aforementioned box score refreshing. If this is describes you, maybe just… crack a window… let a little vitamin D in Big Cat, you need it…
The Bleacher Creature
Bleacher Creatures are exactly what they sound like. 25–30 games a year attended is an absolute minimum to enter these hallowed ranks, so you might as well cop some season tickets. Fun fact, I’m currently somewhere in the sextuple digits when it comes to the Cubs season ticket queue, so maybe my great grandkids or their great grandkids can think about becoming Bleacher Creatures if we aren’t playing techno-space-ball or some shit by then.
What Bleacher Creatures can (but do not necessarily) lack is the understanding of the whole league that say, a Dedicated Couch Crusader has. This is something they make up for in spades by being a fixture at the ballpark and knowing each and every idiosyncracy of the players on their chosen team, top to bottom. Remember the guys who dangled the Madonna picture in front of A-Rod’s head in Toronto? Think those guys. Was it in great taste? Not really. But those guys weren’t fuckin’ around.
The Celebrity Fan
As the age of celebrity clashes with the age of polarizing hard opinions, celebrity sports fans have naturally taken center stage. Bill Murray and Eddie Vedder the Cubs fans, Jon Hamm the Cardinal fan, Jerry Seinfeld the Mets fan, and even Drake the de facto Raptors fan — you get the gist. Most teams have their token celebrity fan. Make no mistake about it, the Cubs claim Eddie Vedder first and foremost, for the record. While it’s ultimately nearly impossible to gauge a celebrity fan’s true fanhood, their globetrotting nature usually allows them all of the amenities and tickets of being a Bleacher Creature, and we can assume they have a real stake in the game if they think going to a bunch of baseball games is better than doing whatever boujee stuff all of the other celebrities are doing. Being Bleacher Creature adjacent, combo’d with their heightened social status similar to that of the Superfan, is what secures them this spot on my somewhat arbitrary tier list.
It doesn’t get any larger than life in the sports world for non-athletes than being a Superfan. Superfans are an absolute fixture at every home game for their team, and often road games. We know this, because if they were gone, the ballpark/stadium would feel tangibly different. Superfans are few and far between, because being one is basically a full-time job (I like to think Marlins Man, noted fan free agent, is a full-time fan and a lawyer on the side). Not every team can have one, but some notable examples from across the world of sports would be the aforementioned Marlins Man, Jets Fan Fireman Ed(now retired), and Dart Guy.
This brings up another criterion for Superfandom: you absolutely have to have a distinct name and aesthetic. Dart Guy doesn’t smoke darts because he’s Dart Guy, Dart Guy is Dart Guy because he smokes darts. Jets Fan Fireman Ed rocks, you guessed it, a fireman’s hat. Many high on the Bleacher Creature spectrum have tried to put on a show and enter the ranks of the Superfans, but much like pornography, you know one when you see one. My conservative estimate is there are maybe 12–15 true Superfans in all of sports, but if you want to tweet at me @ParkerGoss and berate me for not giving a nod to your team’s adored Superfan, then go right ahead.
Within each species of fans on the Fan hierarchy, there are some mutated forms of fandom.
Shoutout to KD for his apt naming of this group. These ‘fans’ are just all around doing too much. Descending from the Trending Fans, they don’t watch a single game yet their hot takes are the hottest around, and much of what they do is just to ruffle some feathers and bring attention to themselves while putting in the minimal amount of time actually understanding the nature of the claims they’re making.
When you ask a Two-Timer who their team is, they’ll respond with more than one, sometimes even two teams in the same conference/league, as if this is normal fan behavior. Pick a side my friend, you can’t have two horses in the race, it’s just not fair. DECLARE A TEAM AND 1 (ONE) SECONDARY TEAM ALLEGIANCE AT MOST LIKE THE REST OF US.
Now look, I don’t mean to assign intrinsic value to any specific tiers of fandom. Not everyone wants to spend their time watching Padres games as we hurl through the galaxy on a tiny rock with a molten core. I get it, I really, truly do, even if the Padres finally ARE on the up and up. I’m just hashing out a rough tierlist of fanhood for everyone at home so you can better understand what makes us all tick, and maybe just to make sense of my moment of fanhood insecurity. Marlins Man, if you’re reading this, I have prepared quite the gift package for you, and all I ask in return is for you to join the ranks of the best fans in the world at Wrigley Field.
Parker Goss is a senior correspondent for Grandstand Central, where he writes about gambling, gaming, and fan culture. You can follow/shout at him here.
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