It has been an interesting, rejuvenating, and exhilarating month for the city of Winnipeg. True North led by businessman Mark Chipman acquired the rights to the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers to relocate in the Manitoba capital as a revised version of the Jets. I lived in Winnipeg when the Jets departed in 1996 to become the Phoenix Coyotes and the city has pined for 15 years to once again be a “major league” city with an NHL franchise.
The NHL had mandated 13,000 season tickets sold within a three-week time-table prior to the Board of Governor’s meetings. Opportunity to buy season tickets were initially presented to season ticket holders of the now departing Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. Of the first 2,000 offered, approximately 1,800 were purchased. The second day brought the total to nearly 4,700. When the ticket window, if you will, was opened to the general public the remaining 8,000 plus sold in 17 minutes. Clearly the excitement of the market to support an NHL franchise had made its statement.
While all this was taking place, the Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League were also experiencing a rise in season ticket sales to record levels of over 21,000 with a club that is coming off the second most unsuccessful season in the franchises 80 year history. The lure is the availability to have priority when selecting seating in the new stadium which is slated to open for the 2012 season. This type of support reflects superbly on the sports audience of the city, corporate sponsorship, and the local economy.
The question that is presented has to be will the effects of supportive versus non-supportive fans, audience size, and attendee’s game sophistication provide an interactive force on the players performance?
The media often makes a point of discussing so-called “home field or arena advantage”. We can speculate that for a visiting opponent the demands of travel (twice in 2009 we failed to have proper transportation provided to and from airports added into the disastrous bus rides to and from Regina resulting in a 1-2 record…excuse me but I transgress), disruptive schedules, poor accommodations and meals within unfamiliar surroundings, give credence to home advantage and fans typically believe that their support is the heart and soul giving edge to their local heroes.
In a study of the National Hockey League involving a 20 year period, Bray (1999) found that when ties are excluded, the home team won 60% of the time. In an interesting twist, Bray noted that the home advantage is not universal across the NHL; a small percentage of teams win equally at home and on the road. There is a reality based on various research that home advantage is a fact.
Moore, J.C., & Brylinsky, J.A. (1993). Spectator Effects on Team Performance in College Basketball. Journal of Sport Behavior, 16, 77-83, is a brief paper presenting an interesting take on audience effect. A measles epidemic during the 1988-89 basketball season forced Siena College and the University of Hartford play 11 games without spectators. Analyses were conducted of Siena away games and Hartford home games; each team played a number of games with and without fans over the season. The performance of both teams improved in the no-spectator conditions as measured by total points, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. Interesting results but not easily explained in terms of usual social facilitation, audience arousal, or audience evaluation theories according to Sport Psychology, Third Edition; LeUnes and Nation.
Athletes and coaches focus on the immediate. The task at hand and the engulfing concentration that takes place during competition is paramount. Although the Siena/Hartford study is very interesting I do believe that fan interaction, supportive and non-supportive, does have an effect on the course of a game. Fans are susceptible to the effects of BIRGing (basking in reflecting glory, ie; WE played well) and CORFing (cutting off reflective failure, ie: THEY played poorly) as it plays to group esteem. Individuals like to associate themselves with a winner (BIRG) and choose to distance themselves from losers (CORF) to keep their sense of well-being.
Well Winnipeg, you’ve proven this month the effects of BIRG and you should be quite proud of yourselves collectively. The Winnipeg Jets and the Blue Bombers will benefit from the audience effects on athletic performance and the experiences fans and players alike will have will be unparalleled in any other single city in North America. Congratulations Winnipeg!