Heckling incident inspires U of R sports fan study

University of Regina doctoral candidate Katie Sveinson followed the interactions of Toronto Blue Jays fans on Twitter. She spoke with The Afternoon Edition on Wednesday to discuss her findings.

Doctoral candidate Katie Sveinson analyzed thousands of Toronto Blue Jays tweets

Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez is taken out of a recent game by manager John Gibbons. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

When you walk into Mosaic Stadium in Regina, you see a sea of green, cheering Saskatchewan Roughriders fans.

It would seem sports fandom has brought them all together — but is being a sports fan really a uniting force?

University of Regina doctoral candidate Katie Sveinson followed the interactions of Toronto Blue Jays fans on Twitter to find out the truth.

Sveinson spoke with Garth Materie, host of CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition about her findings. 

What inspired you to take on this research?

In 2014, my husband and I were going to see the (Green Bay) Packers play the Seahawks in Seattle. There was a man wearing a Green Bay jersey walking down the street kind of minding his own business. Another man went up to him and said 'F the Packers.' That is pretty intense.

It started making me think about the way we can treat people based on their fandom. We tend to forget there's someone who exists behind the jersey. There is an actual human there. I was interested in looking at the way fandom may not always be unifying.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders celebrate Christion Jones touchdown late in the 2017 CFL East Final. "We lived in the moment too long." said Jones six months later. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

How did you go about conducting the research?

I actually chose the Toronto Blue Jays for a case study. I used a software program that collects tweets. It was about 850,000 tweets. I searched two words (fan and fandom). That resulted in about 8,500 tweets. From there, it was coming up with themes and predominant discussions.

So what is the spectrum of fan behaviour that you saw expressed on Twitter?

It was varied. Predominantly, it was positive. But I was interested in seeking out the ones that were more critical. There were a lot of people who would say thing like 'Go Blue Jays' or even if they lost it was 'Good try,' 'We love you,' 'We'll always be there.'

But I was interested in seeking out these ones that were more critical, and that occurred in a few different ways. Sometimes that was fans who would police other people's behaviours. Some didn't appreciate the wave. Or interfering with the ball. They would also critique the management and leadership instead of demonstrating that positive support.

How does that affect the commonly held belief that being a sports fan is a uniting force.

If you don't behave a certain way, you can also be excluded. Anyone who would deviate would be excluded from that subculture. That what I'm trying to get into.

So is there peer pressure to go along with the crowd, then?

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Home plate umpire Bob Davidson stopped Tuesday night’s Phillies game in the middle of an at-bat to eject a heckling fan seated behind the visiting dugout. 0:50

Very commonly held sports fan behaviours — booing the opposing team or a player you don't like or the opposing fans when they come to your stadium — is actually a unifying element. It doesn't necessarily have to be positive to be unifying. It's interesting, the dynamic.

You, Katie, are based in Saskatchewan. How does this all play out when you look at fan behaviours surrounding our beloved Roughriders?

I better watch myself on that one.

It kind of proves your point, doesn't it?

Exactly ... Fandom is very subjective and it's very complex. I've definitely seen all types of fans at Rider games. People will have their own ideas of how to enact fandom and maybe expect that from other people as well.

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition


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