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Win or Lose, Fans Love a Close Game

watching tv . / Credit: Television Image via Shutterstock

To casual sports fans, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat don’t matter much. When it comes down to it, casual observers are more interested in watching a close game than they are in who wins it, new research has found.

That’s because, the drama and suspense of competition is enough to get people to watch sporting events and keep their attention. That is not to say that casual viewers do not have favorites when watching a sporting competition, but rather that they will enjoy the outcome regardless of the victor.   

"Knowing something about the personal lives and personalities of these athletes gives the casual fan a reason to root for or against someone," said Colleen Bee, lead author and an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University. "The stories matter here. It magnifies the experience of watching the game, and gives people a reason to watch."

To prove these findings, Bee studied the reactions of participants when watching Olympic speed-skating competitions. Bee also constructed fake identities for athletes, which gave positive qualities to some athletes and negative ones to others.  Participants in the research were not familiar with those competing, but say they were entertained regardless of who won because the competitions had been close. 

"There are people who enjoy watching famous athletes compete, even though they may not like them personally, or feel like they aren't good people," Bee said. "Yet, because they are exciting to watch, and in many cases because they have an exciting story, sports fans still enjoy watching them compete. Casual sport fans often enjoy the experience of a highly competitive event even when the outcome is not desirable, due to the entertaining and exciting nature of suspense."

Bee co-authored the report with Robert Madrigal, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Oregon. The research was published in the Journal of Media Psychology. 

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