MEDIA AND FAN BEHAVIOR
Combating Negative Fan Behavior at Penn State
Ashley Conner, James Metkus, Sara Battikh, Angelo Cerimele, Steve Meckler, & Anthony Shelton
It has been determined by members of the Presidential Leadership Academy that the
media plays an important role in the way fans behave at sporting events. Spectators are
influenced by multiple media sources even before they enter the stadium. Whether it is social
media networks, news sources, or television and movies, it is hard to ignore the fact that the
media is an influential part of people’s everyday lives. The media has a noticeable impact on
human behavior and the way humans think about the world. Unfortunately, however, research
available on the media’s effect on fan behavior is limited.
When discussing how to begin our research, the media group of the fan behavior project
decided to divide into different focuses: the media’s general effect on human behavior, what
other universities in the United States are doing to improve fan behavior, how viral media
spreads, searchable media regarding Penn State, the image of Penn State on fan-based social
media sites, and the impact of sports networks (like Big 10 and ESPN) on their viewers. The goal
of this research is to establish a baseline of information available on the topic and to observe
what the current status of overcoming negative fan behavior in the sports community. In order to
understand if and how the media will be a fundamental part of the solution, we must first identify
the effect it currently has on fan behavior. The results of this inquiry are discussed below.
Media Effect on Human Behavior
After much research, no valuable information could be found regarding the media’s
effect on fan behavior. For that reason, our group decided to take a more general approach and
research how media affects human behavior in general. Surprisingly, however, our results were
just as disappointing. Multiple attempts at searches through Google and Google Scholar resulted
in few relevant articles. Information about access to media was one of the only bits of data
available. Manganello (2008) states that teenagers are exposed to upwards of eight hours of
media daily and that the media has an effect on issues ranging from body image to violence in
adolescents. She also suggests that, though direct proof of the causality is difficult to find, “mass
media may influence how adolescents behave” (Manganella, 2008, p.4). Research about
adolescent behavior may seem irrelevant to our focus on fan behavior, but people tend to develop
habits during their adolescent years that last a lifetime. Behaviors learned from the media at a
young age are ones that students take with them to college and into the business world upon
graduation. What happens in one’s early life typically has a great impact on one’s adult life.
This can be applied to fan behavior as well. When children and teens are exposed to
negative fan behavior, those images are burned into their minds and they accept their experiences
as part of the norms of society. Later in life, when participating in sporting events as fans or
athletes, they feel that negative fan behavior is acceptable based on their previous experiences.
Inappropriate fan behavior has become part of our culture and is constantly reinforced by the
media. Movies and TV shows display fans acting unruly and even real life examples of negative
fan behavior can be seen in the news on a weekly basis. Because very few people actively
oppose negative fan behavior, people start to believe it is acceptable and encourage others to
participate as well. The solution to this is changing the culture of fandom – something that is
easier said than done. Changing this culture may, in part, come from displaying a change in the
media. If we can convince ESPN, the Big 10 Network, and new stations to highlight positive fan
behavior instead of advertising negative fan behavior, we might be able to create change. If more
people post comments on blog sites about positive fan behavior, people might realize that
negative fan behavior is no longer tolerated. The goal is to convince people that positive fan
behavior is better and more fun than negative fan behavior, and the media plays an important
role in supporting that argument. Researching what other schools are doing to encourage positive
fan behavior may show that the PLA is moving in the right direction.
What Other Universities Are Doing
A good school needs good fans who are proud to represent their school. The image of any
school is highly dependent on the behavior of its students and fans. Athletes most often represent
their university in the public eye. When intolerance, disrespect, booing, and ignorance are
prevalent during games and among fans, negative connotations arise about a given school. No
university wants to be seen as having an intolerant environment among fans. For this reason, the
Penn State’ s Sportsmanship program was created, creating diverse organizations working to
make Penn State students better fans. It has proved to be productive so far and multiple rankings
have expressed positive student behavior during games at Penn State. In fact, the 10th Annual
Herbie Awards ranked the Penn State Student Section as the best in the country. Even though
Penn State students are “fairly good fans,” we, the Presidential Leadership Academy, think there
are still many actions that should be taken in order to make our fans not just good, but the best.
When we hear the words “We are Penn State,” we should think about amazing fans who are
involved with their team and proud of their school.
It is important to observe what other universities around the United States have done to
improve their fan behavior. Among the programs we analyzed were Ohio State’s “Best Fans in
the Land,” Michigan State’s Sportsmanship Association, and Binghamton University’s sports
brochure for fans. These universities have worked hard in recent years to create a comfortable
atmosphere for their fans and visiting teams. Because we are focusing on the media’s role in fan
behavior, we have collected information from these three universities and analyzed the media
programs they have implemented. Clearly, media and communication play a significant role in
affecting fan behavior; there are ways in which media can be used to positively affect fan
behavior while creating a more comfortable environment inside and outside the stadium.
This research is focused on three basic media outlets: video-communication (broadcast),
information-technology, and print.
Video-Communication (Broadband) Media
Best Fans in the Land – Ohio State University
In the past few years, the Ohio State Sportsmanship Council has focused on welcoming
visiting fans, moderating poor fan behavior, and increasing the “Buckeye Pride” throughout the
nation. To do this, they have implemented the “Best Fans in the Land” video series where videos
are shown at different sporting events each season. Nationwide, these promotional videos have
reached noticeable success, being regarded as a promising attempt at improving the university’s
fan behavior. The videos consist of a series of public service announcements that highlight
sportsmanship education at Ohio State. The message is simple: be the “Best Fans in the Land.”
To view one of Ohio State’s promotional videos, visit http://www.osu.edu/features/2006/bmw/
sportsmanship.php. This particular video features prominent figures like the former Ohio State
President Karen A. Holbrook, the Columbus Mayor, former Ohio State track star Stephanie
Hightower, members of the Ohio State basketball team, and two others Ohio State students. It is
a 30-second video that aims to make students think about the importance of good sportsmanship.
According to the university’s Campus Safety Magazine, Ohio State’s fan behavior has
experienced noticeable improvements in the last few years. In 2006, “The Sportsmanship
Council becomes more active. Fewer complaints are received,” and between 2007 and 2008 it
was reported that “alcohol enforcement and council programs continue, leading to even greater
improvement of fan behavior.” Even Carolyn Todd, Bleacher Report correspondent, said:
Two years ago, there was a noticeable friendliness in the air when Penn State came to
visit. We were greeted warmly by numerous Ohio State fans on the way to and from the
stadium. It was the result of a four-year fan behavior initiative that has tried to turn
around a harassing culture and appears to be working. Even my students came back from
that game telling me that they were treated very well by Ohio State students.
Many other statements were made regarding Ohio’s fan behavior improvements. But how much
has it really improved? No one can really be sure and there are still those who argue that no
improvement has been seen. Either way, the efforts to make a change are what matters. Such
efforts can clearly be seen based on the work done by the Ohio State Sportsmanship Council.
Penn State Approach
A possible suggestion from the media group for the fan behavior project is that Penn
State should make a series of videos similar to Ohio State’s “Best Fans in the Land.” These
videos could be projected during sporting events by using the Jumbotron or other screens at each
event. An example of a Penn State video can be found on Youtube by typing “fanbehavior” into
the search bar. The link is also provided on the PLA Wikipage (It is a storyboard for a video
created with still images and a sample script to show how a professional video might look if
Penn State decides to take over this program).
A good way to promote the creation of the best possible video is to engage students in a
competition to make the video. The best video would be chosen by a selection committee and
could be shown during games. Its producers could be rewarded with a prize and have their video
played at sporting events. This approach will encourage student involvement with sportsmanship
and thus will be able to promote positive fan behavior among a wider range of students.
Information Technology Media
The Spartan Sports Networks - Michigan State University
“Radio, Internet and Customized Marketing. The Spartan Sports Network is the state of
Michigan’s largest and most listened to sports network. SSN provides unrivaled coverage for
Michigan State University athletics.”
The Michigan State Spartan Sports Network consists of an online radio station. The radio
station announcers include former players and coaches, who provide high quality programming
with unrivaled Michigan State game coverage. Michigan’s State radio programs include coach
and player interviews, a student talk show about games and players, and important conferences.
It also features a website completely based on sports. It is a useful website and provides
information about games, sports news, student blogs, fan merchandise, links to their online radio
stations, and more. This is a valuable way to promote organization and well-behaved fans. By
having all the information people want to know available on one website, sports leaders can keep
control of what information fans are getting and what can help them improve behavior while
making their school proud.
Penn State Approach
At Penn State, we have www.gopsusports.com, which features important information
about Nittany Lion games and events. However, it might also be a good idea to include a linked
radio or TV station. The network could host interviews with coaches or players and make them
talk about how fans should behave for the good of the school. Having an organized network
could prove to be a positive influence on fans. Podcasts are also good to use in these cases.
Promotional podcasts featuring famous players or coaches can be uploaded to a webpage; these
podcasts can host programming about how good fans should act or even present other aspects of
athletics to listeners.
Official Printed Fan Guide – Binghamton University
A printed brochure that is distributed to students and visitors during game days may also
be a good way to promote positive fan behavior. Binghamton University’s brochure is really
useful to spectators at sporting events because it includes important emergency contact numbers,
information about different fans groups at the university and how to join them, the Code of
Ethics for competitive fan behavior (summary of the nine main values), information about places
to camp, stay, park, and recycle near their campus, and a map with directions to each sporting
facility. By typing the following link you can visit their website and see what the brochure looks
Sports Monthly Journal – Ohio State University
Ohio State has a monthly sports journal that includes information about their teams’
games, good advice for fans, and even interactive games. It can be accessed at:
Penn State Approach
I think it would be a great idea for Penn State to develop brochures and journals like
these. Having informative brochures distributed before games is a good way to keep order during
the events. If fans have useful information about who to contact in case of an emergency,
incidents like the fight between the Penn State fans and Michigan fans could be decreased or
even prevented completely. Also, distributing informative journals among students could
contribute to greater knowledge about promoting positive fan behavior among the campus.
In order to add to existing knowledge about fan behavior and understand what needs to
be done to spread a message on a college campus, we must first understand what makes
something popular, especially in a targeted age range. When taking into consideration the current
role of media in society, anything has the potential to be viewed by thousands of people in a
matter of seconds. The question is, “how?” What makes a news story worth watching? What
gives a website its allure to attract so many hits? What type of videos gets watched the most on
sites like YouTube and Google Videos? It is important to understand the effects of viral media
and how it spreads.
Viral media is defined by Time Magazine as an article, video, story, etc. that is
“multiplied, reproduced and spread around the Internet like a virus” (Dwyer, 2006, p.64).
Courtesy of this new medium, news spreads quicker, files are sent everywhere, and a new type of
fame is introduced. People love the outrageous; they love to laugh at silly pictures or guiltily
chuckle at immature jokes or watch something that makes them say, “Wow!” These outrageous
files on the Internet have the potential to go viral thanks in large part to the ease of peer-to-peer
communication. Once one person views something worth watching, it has become human nature
in the 21st century to share it with someone else. If a file is funny or controversial enough to
spread like a virus, thousands of people can, within minutes, “download it, email it, link to it,
share it, copy it and reupload it” (Dwyer, 2006, p. 64). However, just as fast as these files are
spread, so too are the opinions associated with them.
In 2007, a video was posted on YouTube that damaged the Penn State fan base’s
reputation. Taking place behind a fraternity house in State College, the video depicts two Ohio
State supporters wearing red jerseys getting pelted with beer cans and chased off the property.
Even after the two Ohio State fans were clearly on their way out, a Penn State fan ran up to one
of the Buckeyes’ fan and hit him in the face with a beer can. Since its posting, the video has been
watch over 61,000 times, giving the impression to thousands of people that this is ordinary
behavior for Penn State fans on game day. But is this an accurate representation of the entire
community, or just one bad grape? Luckily, 427 viewers were kind enough to share their
thoughts by commenting on the video. Excerpts from negative comments of non-Penn State fans
(the people who stated in their post that they were not a Nittany Lions supporter) include, but are
not limited to: “what a disgrace…typical PSU fans;” “Penn State – dirtiest fan base in the nation,
competing only with the SEC;” and “as a Michigan fan, I’d say this went too far.” There are
plenty more derogatory comments, most involving profanity. Comments from Penn State fans
say: “this is a bad representation of PSU fans…Penn State games are a joy to be at, PSU fan or
not;” “I love this;” and “this is repulsive and not how Penn State should be represented…it
makes me ashamed to be a PSU alumni.” One comment that stood out, though, was this: “[I]
love how the word never gets out_ that that kid went to Pitt, NOT PSU.” If this is true, Penn
State should not get bad publicity for it, right? Wrong. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t
matter who was responsible or what school that person might be affiliated with. The only thing
that matters to most viewers is that the Penn State name is attached and, from that, they deduce
certain characteristics of the entire Penn State fan base.
We personally believe that this video is a poor representation of Penn State and the fans
as a whole should not get a bad reputation for it. But, as aforementioned, it does not matter what
biased opinions say. Rather, it only matters what the vast majority believes as a fact: an
unfortunate affair for the Nittany Lions. As Penn State students, it is obvious that we believe this
is unfair and should not represent our school as a whole. Five or six individual examples should
not be defining for a school that boasts millions of supporters each year. Unfortunately, the
followers of media do not care about the average fan and will only pay attention to circumstances
that differ from the ordinary. But is Penn State unique? Are other schools having this same
problem? After research, we found that even the best of fan bases have to deal with the negative
effects of viral media. In fact, nearly all Division-1 universities have such problems.
The research was triangulated by finding out which schools had the best fan bases, and
then searching for headlines about their fan behavior. BleacherReport, a website that compiles
and publishes sports newsletters across the country, ranks the top 10 fan bases for college
football as follows (Oleson 2010):
1. University of Alabama
2. University of Nebraska
3. Ohio State University
4. Auburn University
5. Penn State University
6. University of Florida
7. Florida State University
8. University of Texas
9. University of Georgia
10. University of Tennessee
Once this list was discovered, we searched "_______ fan behavior" on Google, with the name of
each school filled into the blank. First, Alabama's front page of Google was littered with articles
about how some Crimson Tide fans poisoned Auburn's famed Oak Trees. One headline noted
how these actions “reinforced how all SEC football fans are yahoos." Second, Nebraska's front
page had headlines such as "Coach Apologizes for Fan Behavior" and "Fans' Classless
Behavior." No matter which school was searched, similar results were produced. Viral media
must be combated somehow in order for a project like ours to be successful. Is it more practical
to attempt to control stories and videos from reaching a viral stage, or would it be more effective
to create a viral campaign of our own to reverse the existing negative opinions and reinforce the
positive? The answer to this question will be discussed in the implementation phase of the fan
Searching Penn State
One of the most telling indicators of an issue's prevalence in people's lives is its accessibility on
the Internet. There is more on the Internet than just viral media. The principle thought behind researching
on-line media is that few people would aggressively seek out information about Penn State fan behavior;
rather, most will simply take in the information as it appears. Another media related concern is the
thought that this perceived problem with Penn State fan behavior might in fact be a problem of
appearance. That is to say that the bad press Penn State fans receive might be a factor of public opinion
rather than one of actual widespread bad behavior. If this is so, easily accessible media is an excellent
barometer of public opinion on fan behavior.
This subdivision of media was defined as searchable media and social networking, and was
mainly concerned with how the issue of negative fan behavior appears on quick searches through Google,
YouTube, and Facebook -- three of the most heavily trafficked forms of web-based media. The research
was aimed at describing what the average person searching for information about Penn State fans would
find. Several assumptions apply to this defined audience. First, the reader will not search far for his
information. Often only the first few relevant hits will be explored. Secondly, the information relevant to
this search will be written for the masses. Specifically, the target media will contain newspaper articles,
blogs, and user created sources such as Facebook groups. A search within these constraints should yield
useful information about what people are saying and reading about Penn State's fans.
A general search on fan behavior shows that this problem extends beyond the Penn State
community. Only a handful of hits were relevant to the topic as we have defined it, and they include
information about how other schools are dealing with the issue. The first hit was a very interesting
Huffington Post article written by Miles Brand, then president of the NCAA, on the problems surrounding
collegiate fan behavior. His writing brings out specific attacks on individual athletes, similar to those of
which Matt Stankewitch spoke. Brand considers such behavior “a threat to the integrity of intercollegiate
athletics” (Brand, 2008). This article is significant, for it shows that fan behavior is a concern that has
captured the attention of many people throughout collegiate athletics. Also, it shows how deep the
problem runs, as the concerned party here cites cases across the country that have come to his attention.
This provides great opportunity for Penn State. Greg Myford's goals and the stated objectives of the
Presidential Leadership Academy promote putting the university in a position where it can demonstrate
national leadership through example. This article displays a need for such leadership. Also, it displays
several important ideas about how the media is affecting the issue of fan behavior. On one hand, the
preliminary results for searching the issue are negative. On the other hand, the language in the article
suggests that Brand thinks fan behavior is an issue that must be brought to public attention. Thus, he feels
that most people do not commonly think of fan behavior, which could impact the way the PLA project
While a Google search for fan behavior yielded negative responses, searching for Penn State fan
behavior gives a less polarized stance. An article on Fanblogs.com from 2005, written following the
official apology Penn State administrators gave to the Ohio State marching band following the infamous
“urine bomb” incident, questions the strength of emotion toward Penn State fans. This blog post goes on
to explain the issue and cite an Ohio news source that covered the apology. What is of note is how
skeptical the author is to the magnitude of the offenses. Though this author does not identify himself, he
does publicly defend Penn State fans, as do some of those who left comments. This reveals a measure of
open-mindedness to the issue that can be utilized later in the project.
Another relevant result from this search was an article from goPSUsports.com about the PRIDE
organization. This accessibility helps further PRIDE’s cause, making them one of the first things a
concerned person would see when looking to either corroborate or question their ideas about Penn State
fans. This underscores a small part of the importance of organizations such as PRIDE. Not only do these
students work to make a real difference in fan behavior, but they also improve the fan base’s image
simply by existing. The more literature that exists on PRIDE, the more readily their message will be
spread and the more favorably the media will portray the school.
Searching another of the great media highways of the twenty-first century, YouTube, showed
very little relevant material. Primarily, sponsored pump-up videos of little journalistic merit appeared,
interspersed with clips of fans cheering or practicing cheers. One showed a fan getting thrown out of a
basketball game nearly a decade ago, but little else would suggest any trouble with Penn State fans.
Elsewhere on the Internet, however, is a single video that is something of a game changer for Penn State
fans. The short clip of beer cans being thrown at Ohio State fan outside a Penn State fraternity mentioned
as part of viral media is a major embarrassment to the university, and is fairly easy to find from the
Google Video service. Though it is just one negative video surrounded by mostly positive or neutral ones,
it is certainly the loudest in the list. This reflects the fickle nature of media and the way this characteristic
is exacerbated through the immediate nature of the Internet.
Research into social media was relatively dry but did serve to underscore some of the central
themes seen in other informal types of journalism. Primarily, the existence of dozens of groups titled
“Penn State Fans” or something comparable and the trends noticed within those groups were informative.
For example, many groups, including one titled “Penn State Fans (not cocky)” seem to be acutely aware
of some of the negative stereotypes associated with their fan base and seeking to move away from them.
Other groups are designed by students from other schools solely on their dislike for Penn State fans.
This, while somewhat rude, is an interesting forum to hear some peoples’ complaints about Penn State fan
behavior for use in correcting it. On the whole, however, the vast majority of groups are about the sports,
talking about the players, the games, and Nittany Lion pride. These searches lead the Presidential
Leadership Academy Media group to explore some of Penn State’s own fan websites and blog spots.
Internet and Social Media
When brainstorming how media affects fan behavior, one can look no further for answers
than the internet. Through such websites as Facebook and Twitter, fans can share their opinions
of specific teams and athletes that other fans can access. It is through this mechanism that
thoughts and messages are spread so rapidly to so many people, as seen in the previously
mentioned Ohio State vs. Penn State Youtube video. When such actions go “viral”, the
consequences for the university or party represented could be devastating, especially when you
are considering the vast amount of influence Penn State athletics has on collegiate sports as a
whole. Therefore, it is appropriate to take a look at these social networking sites to uncover how
messages are being spread as well as their overall effect on the fans in question. By discovering
the secrets behind these two factors, we as a group will be able to come up with a policy utilizing
these sites to create a more positive reputation and environment for Penn State athletics.
We decided to research sites outside of Facebook and Twitter, only because there are
many influential social media sites available that are specific to athletics. While both of these
sites play a key role in how ideas and messages spread, they are not the only way fans get their
ideas about athletics on the Internet. The first site of discussion is Blueandwhiteillustrated.com.
Blue and White Illustrated is a subsidiary site from Rivals.com that provides news and updates
about every Penn State sport you can think of. It is also a space for fans to comment and voice
their opinions about the current state of Penn State teams. Rivals.com is a site specifically made
for everything involving collegiate sports, but it mainly focuses on updates about the state of
college sports in general. Both sites are funded and provided for by Yahoo.com. Though this site
may seem like an overall benefit for the average Penn State fan, there is one part of the site that
must be addressed. The “Lion’s Den” is the name of the message board on the Blue and White
Illustrated site. This message board allows fans or anyone who has an account to express their
opinions about Penn State athletics. Ideally, this feature of the website would not be a problem if
fans were responsible with the site and respectful to each other. However, after viewing some of
the topics currently being discussed, it is clear that this message board models anything but good
fan behavior. It seemed like every other topic had some player or team or coach (specifically
football and men’s basketball) being harshly criticized because of their unfavorable play in a
recent game or bad call that was made. Some topics even go so far as to insult the officiating
crew, doing so in a language not representative of the Penn State community. If anything, this
message board is a type of “burn book” allowing fans to voice their criticism and verbally abuse
those individuals they feel have not met the standards they expect a Penn State team to live up to.
After doing some more research on the website, the age group and type of Penn State
fans this website appeals to was discovered. The fan base of this website is made up mostly of
Penn State alumni. Men and women ranging in age from their 20’s to even 60’s visit this site and
post their opinions about Penn State teams. This information is crucial in realizing that the
internet and social media is being used similarly by all age groups.
Another social media site outside of the traditional ones that came up in researching was
OnwardState.com. Onward State is one of Penn State’s blogs and acts as an online hub for
information related to Penn State. Unlike BlueandWhiteIllustrated.com, which is geared solely
towards Penn State athletics, Onward State gives news for everything Penn State does, including
non-athletic events. Therefore, the audience for this website is much more diverse compared to
that of Blue and White Illustrated. However, the audience does not affect what is being said on
the website. Just recently there were articles blasting Penn State basketball for its struggles on
the court. There was also another article stating why Penn State is stingy and does not “put out
the money” to hire big name coaches. Another article discussed the legal issues of Penn State
football and the problems of players getting in trouble with the law.
Though all of these articles would seem harmless, they have a greater impact than one
might expect. Because Onward State is a blog, it allows for users to comment and voice their
opinions on whatever topic the post may be about. This allows for fans and authors of the blog to
discuss whatever problem they may have with a Penn State player, coach, or team. Another
feature of Onward State is that it integrates both Facebook and Twitter and allows users of both
social networking sites to comment and post their thoughts on the blog post as well voice their
opinions, good or bad, on the issues. Just as with Blue and White Illustrated, this type of
technology could appeal to fans currently in college as well as alumni. However, after
researching some of the posts and comments, it is unquestionable that fans are using this site as a
burn book to verbally abuse players, coaches, and even the athletic department.
In the case of Blue and White Illustrated and Onward State, both initially seem like great
sources of information for the typical Penn State fan -- and both are. The efforts of the creators
of these websites should not go overlooked. As seen in the organization of the websites, both sets
of staff work diligently to maintain the quality of information presented on these websites. There
is also no need to end the spread of information and prohibit allow fans from voicing their
opinions on issues in Penn State athletics that they feel strongly about. This introductory research
is simply a means of identifying how fans use the social media, outside of the typical Facebook
and Twitter, to voice their opinions about Penn State athletics. With this research, we hope to
possibly incorporate these social media sites in our efforts of implementing change because these
sites have a major influence in fan behavior outside of the arena of play. However, no media
organization has more involvement in the athletic arena than ESPN and the Big 10 Network.
External Media’s Effects on Fan Behavior
A strong connection exists between the messages external media promotes and
perceptions fans have about the games. Several organizations play a particularly strong role in
these messages, including ESPN, the Big Ten Network, NCAA, and the Heisman Trust. Each
organization plays several distinct roles: creating excitement prior to the game, providing
commentary during the action, and offering feedback, both positive and negative, to the players
and fans after the game.
Before kickoff, external media creates numerous messages for fans to absorb. The media
pushes hype as its biggest message to viewers. Sportscasters, like ESPN and the Big Ten
Network, need high viewership of games in order to demand the high fees for companies wishing
to advertise through commercials. The advertising industry represented $1.54 billion for ESPN in
2008 alone (Hampp). Without high ratings on both television (ESPN on ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2,
ESPNU, and the Big Ten Network) and online resources (like ESPN3.com) the media would not
be able to charge advertising agencies for mass sums of money. In order to boost these ratings,
media must get fans interested in watching the games. As a result, the ads on television and
online attempt get the fans spirited for the games. For instance, throughout the week, ESPN uses
its “Monday Night Football” commercials to get sports viewers interested in watching a football
game on Monday, a day not usually spent on the couch watching sports. In 2010, 14.7 million
viewers tuned in for the very popular game each week (Crupi), in comparison to “Two and a
Half Men,” whose viewership had represented only 11.5 million on Monday night for the week
of February 21-27, 2011 (Nielsen).
In addition, sports stations utilize a variety of regularly scheduled programming to build
additional hype for the game. Typically, viewers accept this type of advertising more easily
because the program itself actually discusses the upcoming games. On ESPN, “SportsCenter,” a
nearly 24/7 news program, will advertise upcoming games briefly in sound bites and highlights
so that the viewers become aware of the events. Greater in-depth shows, like the daily “College
Football Live” and weekly “College GameDay” provide hosts an opportunity to discuss details
about the upcoming game, including potential matchups, advantages for either team, implications
of the outcome, and other unique side stories. In today’s world of online viewership and DVR,
where fans can skip through commercials, this approach of advertising during programs creates
the greatest interest in the games for the audience prior to kickoff in pre-game shows. This
excitement can lead to intensified behavior from the spectators as well.
During the game itself, the announcers can have a big impact on the behavior of fans
currently at the game and those at home. As the game progresses, the commentators set the mood
of the game for fans, especially those who watch on television or online. When the referees
make an incorrect call on a play, analysts are usually the first to make the audience aware of the
mistake, often creating anger. When a player makes a “good” play, the announcers sing his
praises. However, the fan must consider what qualifies as a “good” play. The critic can use a
variety of criteria including agility, effectiveness, efficiency, appropriateness, timing, effect on
the outcome, and strength. However, some of these points could have negative effects. If the
media praises a defenseman for a strong, “effective” hit, the announcer could send the wrong
message that hitting an opponent aggressively, potentially causing lifelong injuries, should be the
goal. As a result, this aggression could translate into aggressive fan behavior.
Finally, media creates lingering effects on the spectators after the game has been won or
lost. Announcers can send their messages through two general media: postgame dialogues and
awards presentations. The first can occur at postgame show or on the regular programming, like
SportCenter, the following week. Here, commentators can discuss what players, coaches, staff,
and fans have done well and done poorly during the course of the game. The messages that these
analysts send can reinforce the intensity or aggressiveness of fans. Therefore, commentators
should remain wary about what they say on the air. One such commentator, Dick Vitale, an
ESPN analyst on college basketball spoke out against negative fan behavior. Even though he
“love[s] the passion and enthusiasm of college basketball,” he finds “no rhyme or reason for fans
abusing their privilege of attending a game by endangering others and throwing things onto the
court” (Vitale). Thus, Vitale understands that devoted fandom has its place. However, once
actions start to negatively affect surrounding bystanders, something must be done. Vitale also
brings up the point that spectatorship is a privilege, not a right. Officials should remove unruly
fans from the game before serious damage occurs. More commentators should follow Vitale’s
After the game, media has the role of rewarding those who demonstrate good deeds on
and off the field. In terms of action on the field, sportscasters already sing praises for the most
outstanding college football player of the year through the Heisman Memorial Trophy.
According to the Heisman Trust, who selects the winner each year, the award “recognizes the
outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence
with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard
work” (Heisman). In recent years, some winners have tarnished some of the “integrity” that is
supposed to be exhibited by the award. For instance, Cameron Newton has dealt with allegations
of accepting monetary gains as an Auburn Tiger. Reggie Bush, from the University of Southern
California (USC) Trojans has lost his Heisman.
On a more positive angle, various organizations have implemented programs supporting
positive sportsmanship. The Big Ten already has a sportsmanship award in several sports
including basketball. The award recognizes “individuals who have distinguished themselves
through sportsmanship and ethical behavior. These student-athletes must also be in good
academic standing and have demonstrated good citizenship outside of the sports-competition
setting” (Mihalik). Penn State has had one winner: Julia Trogele (Mihalik). The NCAA also
supports this trend with the NCAA Sportsmanship Award that “honors student-athletes who,
through their actions in the competitive arena of intercollegiate athletics, have demonstrated one
or more of the ideals of sportmanship, including fairness, civility, honesty, unselfishness, respect
and responsibility. Selections are made by the NCAA Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical
Conduct” (The National).
We, the Presidential Leadership Academy, would support a movement amongst the
media to reward fans that also exhibit these tendencies. Kirk Herbstreit, an ESPN football
analyst for College GameDay, has started this trend by announcing his awards each year for the
best of the best of college football. One award of particular interest praises the “top student
sections” and commented that Penn State’s “White Out is a sight to behold” (Herbstreit). We
would appreciate understanding how Herbstreit comes to make his selections. Creating an
emphasis on positive fan behavior could send the right message to the rest of fandom. In the
event that Herbstreit does not follow our philosophy, we would support creating new trophy,
amongst the current rivalry awards in the Big Ten Conference that would go to the Big Ten
school with the greatest positive spirit and fan behavior.
As one can see, media plays a significant role in shaping the behaviors of the fans
watching the game. While we begin to understand how the message changes before, during, and
after the game, we will be able to affect fan behavior for the better. Together, with
revolutionaries like Vitale and Herbstreit, fan behavior will be something to cherish, not to
reprimand, in the future.
The media group of the Presidential Leadership Academy has found multiple avenues for
affecting fan behavior through different media techniques. Whether looking at social media sites,
television programs, or other schools’ initiatives, one can assess the impact of implementing
media into our policy project for the PLA. We propose that an ad campaign be implemented and
shown at various sporting events at Penn State. It would also be encouraged to get the
advertisement played on news channels (like ESPN during games, etc.) and websites, because
many alumni and students utilize these resources. A reverse movement on social media
displaying positive fan behavior instead of negative fan behavior would be useful as well. The
image of Penn State in the eye of sports fan everywhere should be one of accepting students and
ethical sportsmanship. By analyzing the research conducted about media, a more elaborate plan
of action for creating a positive fan environment at Penn State can be created. We hope that the
impact of media will be considered in the final stage of the fan behavior project.
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