While tens of thousands of Canadians watch the Toronto Blue Jays head into the playoffs for the first time in two decades, researchers from Brock University are more interested in watching the fans’ reaction to the team’s success.
For years, Brock University’s Department of Sport Management has had a close working relationship with the Blue Jays, sending interns to the organization in a wide variety of roles. Many have been hired on, with Brock alumni now working in areas such as ticket sales, facilities operations, player personnel, marketing and community engagement. Most notably is Toronto’s Assistant General Manager, Andrew Tinnish, who graduated from SPMA in 2001.
But watching closely from the outside are a number of experts at Brock involved in research surrounding the development, motivation and loyalties of sports fans.
Associate Professor Craig Hyatt, Department of Sport Management, focuses his research directly on the fans themselves. He examines fan identification and researches the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of fans. With the Blue Jays’ current success, Hyatt sees nationalism as a driving factor behind fan loyalty.
“The Blue Jays feed off this by making sure the red maple leaf is on their logo and by calling themselves ‘Canada’s team’,” he says.
Hyatt says when the Blue Jays were last in the playoffs – during their back-to-back World Series championship runs in 1992 and 1993 – he was a Montreal Expos fan who heard lots of criticism because he wasn’t cheering for Toronto.
“There are many sports fans who will only cheer for local teams. To them, that’s the whole point of fandom. You’re from Canada, this is (now) our only major league team, so you cheer for the only Canadian team,” he explains.
Grad student Emily Thomas, who is in her first year of an MBA at Brock, has recently started research into the childhood development of sports fans. She’s looking at how children as young as four years old start showing signs of affiliation with a team, and what that fan loyalty means as they get older.
“Being a fan can lead to better mental health, and a feeling of belonging and community,” she said, adding that it’s believed being a sports fan is related to better social skills because of the opportunities it provides.
Associate Professor Julie Stevens, Department of Sport Management, meanwhile, is a hockey expert watching to see what impact the Blue Jays’ success might have on Canada’s most popular sport. Does anyone remember that other Toronto sports team with a leaf on their jerseys anymore? Stevens believes the longer the Blue Jays’ season lasts, the more it forces fans to pick where their interest and loyalty stays.
“The Jays’ success has helped keep the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the news, but on a larger scale, the franchise’s success highlights the growing popularity of other sports among Canadians of all ages,” says Stevens. “Hockey’s reign as Canada’s symbol of nationalism is challenged during a time such as this.”
Whatever happens with the Blue Jays in the coming few weeks, there will be plenty of former and current Brock University students, staff and faculty watching very carefully.