Consider a moment: the first time you set foot inside a Major League ballpark, a local hoops mecca, the ice arena, or a larger-than-life campus stadium. Remember that first game?
Of course you do.
Your first bike ride without training wheels? Your first kiss? Those first steps through the door of your first place away from home? The details are a little fuzzy. Maybe even vanished altogether, lost somewhere in the memory banks.
But your first game? Yeah, that you remember.
ENTERING THE STADIUM, The SENSES AWAKEN
It's all still close enough to touch, as vivid and warm as a dream you just awoke from. The tingle during the walk from the parking lot, in anticipation of something new and spectacular. The looming, stately walls of a familiar yet faraway landmark that was suddenly yours to explore. Popcorn, roasted peanuts, polish—redolent flavors rolling through the corridors and now forever linked to this place and this time.
Brilliant flashes of technicolor, the staccato echo of squeaking sneakers, and the geyser of pride when your hero—your guy!—rises, fires and sinks the game-winning shot at the buzzer. The figure you've followed on screen, turning in nightly highlight-reel feats, now here and real and sharing the moment with you and tens of thousands of gonzo fans, all of whom appear exactly the way you feel: amped, enthralled, floating on air.
That's the power of the live experience. And it isn't limited to the maiden voyage. Fast and sturdy initial bonds are often formed, from an early age, between fan and sport, team or player—a phenomenon it turns out we're pre-wired for. But they're only reinforced over time, as we find ourselves as fans drawn to the vicarious rush again and again.
Physiological Changes at the Live Event
As described by Medical Daily: “The spectating brain is also a playing brain when it comes to sports. When we're watching sports, it feels as if we're actually playing in the game. We begin to place ourselves in the 'athlete's shoes' thanks to mirror neurons primarily found in the right side of the brain. These cells allow us to reflect and connect to someone else’s movements without verbal communication.”
This sort of projection on our favorite athletes isn't just an old-school virtual reality hack. The depth of our fandom brings about measurable physiological changes. For instance, one study begun at Georgia State University in 1991 observed testosterone levels that spiked 20 percent in men after they had viewed their favorite sports teams win.
“It's my personal observation that when you have fans in a city with a successful team, they get caught up in that success,” researcher Paul Bernhardt told Newswise. “The team's success seems to translate into positive feelings that have a physiological component.”
Invested Fans and Their Heroes
As invested fans, our heroes' success is our success. Their failures are felt as deeply as if they were our own. Simply, we connect with the athletes we watch. But if our hometown teams lose as often as they win—and, eventually, they always do—why would anyone subject themselves to such an arbitrary emotional roller coaster? If the low times are as rough as the high times are exhilarating, why not just stay home and, you know, read a good book?
Is it because today's competitions are the nearest safe replacement we can find for the adrenaline-pumping activities of our ancient ancestors? Are we simply bored with modern life, seeking escapist entertainment? Or are we so spellbound by the prospect of glory, if only by proxy, that we're willing to wait—and even suffer—for the payoff?
Daniel Wann, a Murray State University professor of psychology who has devoted much of his research to sports spectatorship, has developed a model—the Sports Fan Motivation Scale—that seeks to help answer those questions. But there is one motive that he and other researchers in the field always seem to return to.
Nothing Compares to Being There
“When we look at motivation for following a sport team, group affiliation is one of the top ones,” Wann told the Association for Psychological Science. “Identifying strongly with a salient local team where other fans are in the environment—that's a benefit to social-psychological well-being.”
In other words, rooting for a favorite team isn't enough. For many, nothing short of the live experience will do: Uniting as a tribe. Arriving en masse, in the moment. Being there. Channeling a collective focus, energy and determination. Elevating our athletes through our sheer will. Shouldering the disappointments together. Then, when the day finally comes, reveling in the triumph as one.
And that's why at InStadium we do what we do. We love the crowds, we love the emotions, we love the environment, and we love what our clients can achieve in the environment. We believe that there is no better place for a fan and brand to make a lasting connection.
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