No country is more synonymous with hockey than Canada. However, Canada hasn’t brought home hockey’s greatest trophy, the Stanley Cup, since Montreal beat the L.A. Kings in 1993. Some have blamed an insufficient number of hockey teams in Canada and the economic structure of the NHL. Others chalk the drought up to plain bad luck. Journalist and statistician Nate Silver takes another approach. He says Canadian teams can’t win because their fans are too supportive.
Silver argues that excessive Canadian fan love for hockey, or in economic terms, “excessive demand,” means that Canadian teams have no incentive to perform at championship levels. On a bigger scale, Silver’s example is just one suggested example of how modern fans might actually bring their teams down.
Do Fans Affect Winning Percentages?
In some cases, fan love seems to help sports teams win bigger. For example, Nate Silver demonstrates in his analysis that America hockey teams generate $10,600 in extra ticket revenue every time they win, so an American hockey team with a successful season could generate $430,000 in cold hard cash. However, in Canada, a win only yields $1,400 in extra ticket revenue.
Silver likens Canada’s inability to drag the Stanley Cup past the 49th parallel to the Chicago Cubs “bleacher bum” years. Wrigley Field’s loyal fans (plus the fans sitting on the roofs of the surrounding apartment buildings) gave the team no incentive to have a better season. They cared more about the experience — and the beer — than they did about the team’s championship playoff chances, so the revenue kept coming even when the wins did not.
How Does Fantasy Play Affect Sports Teams?
In an article for the journal Sports, Business and Management, a team of professors from American and Canadian universities argued that fantasy play and sports video games have fundamentally altered the way fans interact with their teams.
Instead of being content to armchair manage their teams or yell at the officials from the bleachers, fans almost see themselves on the field, helping managers and coaches to make big game decisions. They noted a correlation between the rise in fantasy play and attendance drops for the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB. As a result, they argue that fan attendance has dropped not because of the 2008 recession, but because of technology.
Another issue that comes up with fantasy sports is that fans care more about the performance of individual players than they do about their hometown teams. For example, if Albert Pujols is having a good season and helping out their fantasy teams, then fantasy sports enthusiasts could care less how the Angels are playing.
To harness the fantasy team management vibe, the professors suggest that professional sports teams can set up a membership system. In the system, fans that are willing to pay dues could vote on team decisions during the games, using some form of handheld technology. They could also use the team’s website to vote on major management issues, like whether to keep or fire the GM. Fans who put money on the game might also be more invested in the team as a whole, instead of individual player performances (to start betting on teams yourself, check out the best sportsbook sign-up bonus offers online).
Do the Fans Really Matter?
In the case of Canada’s hockey teams, all of the fan adoration in the world isn’t bringing the championship home. In economic terms, Canada has an excessive demand for hockey and a low supply of teams. The teams don’t have to perform well to keep ticket sales level. In other venues, fantasy sports are eating into ticket sales. Without coming up with some kind of technology gimmick, other sports teams could find themselves playing in front of empty seats as fantasy sports participation grows.
However, none of these stats account for the importance of crowd support in a key moment. When a game is on the line, thousands of screaming fans can have a big effect on momentum. No one wants to win Stanley Cups in front of an empty arena. The teams need that extra motivation that comes from fans who care about the end result. Canada’s fans might have to threaten to break up with their beloved hockey teams if they want another shot at the cup.