Embrace Your Fandom with Fans Have More Friends

When we first set out to understand the fan experience, we certainly didn’t expect to become advocates for fandom’s ability to address widespread social problems like loneliness and polarization. More than anything, we were dissatisfied with the prevailing discourse around fandom. It felt incomplete. We knew—based on our own experience—that fandom offered us something more profound than conventional thinking prescribed, but we could not articulate exactly what that was. So, we started pulling at threads, revealing insights that would help us piece together a truer picture of how fandom operates.

So, how does fandom operate?

The driving force motivating all fan engagement is social connection. To be a fan is to be a part of a community. That statement feels intuitively true. In fact, the social nature of fandom can feel so familiar and relatable that it’s rendered nearly invisible. People tend to take it for granted, to accept it without really considering the implications. As lifelong fans, we were slow to recognize it ourselves.

But once we saw it, we could not unsee it. The social benefits of fandom sprang up everywhere. We saw all the fan activity for what it was: a seasonal cycle of social engagement.

We also started to use sports proactively, for specifically social ends. We were inspired to always send that text about that game. We went out of our way to acknowledge the stranger on the street sporting our favorite team’s gear. We started taking our kids to more games. We accepted every invite to every pick-’em pool—because we were aware that this sort of activity results in meaningful social interactions that make us happier, more satisfied, more optimistic, and more engaged with the people around us.

Our journey—over many years—has been something akin to a religious conversion. Today, we’re not just converts but evangelists, spreading the good news about fandom. Although the positive case for fandom is rarely made, our research has shown clearly and consistently that fandom has a net positive effect on individuals and communities. And we therefore argue that increasing the number of sports fans and deepening their engagement will have a positive impact on society at large. This is a big idea that imbues our work with a true sense of purpose. So, while we didn’t set out to become advocates, that’s the position we find ourselves in today.

If you peel back the layers, what we’re ultimately advocating for is more belonging. That’s the end; sports are simply the means. We are social creatures by nature, and social connection is a critical component of a happy, fulfilled life. In aggregate, happier, more fulfilled people make for a happier, more fulfilled society. That inherent potential is why we are asking you, dear reader, to embrace your fandom.