It’s a fair question that I’m sure most Oiler fans have thought about. The team last won the Cup in 1990. It’s been eight years since the team made the playoffs. And since Daryl Katz took ownership of the club, the Oilers have been the worst team in the entire NHL.
For an outsider who may not value sports fandom, this may seem like a bizarre scenario: sports team keeps losing, yet the fans keep coming back for more. So here’s my response to Derek’s question.
Being a fan doesn’t follow the same traditional model of consumption that other products rely upon. It really functions in a unique ecosystem that has all sorts of weird norms and values. It’s tough to rationalize a lot of what happens in a cartel like the NHL and compare it to other consumable products.
A key element of being a fan of sports teams is continuously extending the product, before, during and after any game. Think of the conversations you’ve had about the Oilers with others, the articles you read, the stats you’ve glazed over, the digital artifacts you may have created (i.e., blogging, Youtube, etc). I don’t think there’s any other product for humans to consume that involves so much time and effort.
All of this continuous extension really engrains the fans deeper into their team. Quitting the team means you leave behind the continuous extension, a lot of which is spins off some extremely positive stuff that probably gives fans some relief from the losing. A lot of the positive relationships built, whether it’s at the game or online, keep fans following the shared product. And having a shared product like the Oilers also gives us a vehicle to connect with others and share our own ideas and values….all the stuff that’s critical for community building.
Trying to calculate your sunk costs like they do in the Freakonomics podcast (“The Upside of Quitting”) Derek links to is tougher for sports fans who consider quitting their teams. It’s tough to put a number on the emotional and intellectual investment you put into following the game and extending the content.
So good luck to the Oiler fans who want to quit now. Especially the bloggers and hockey analytic folks who have made valuable contributions to the game. Your creativity and intellectual contributions have you got you all in too deep. 😉
Related: Hockey Gossip and Blogs (2012, February 1)