Raptors' bandwagon: The more the merrier

By every conceivable metric, from television ratings to merchandise sales, the Toronto Raptors are gaining news fans in droves. Will these bandwagon jumpers show the same passion when next regular season rolls around. Who cares? Just enjoy the ride however long it lasts.

There is no better feeling than a city and country rallying together behind a team

Jurassic Park in Toronto has drawn diehards and new-found fans as the Raptors are enjoying their most successful season that includes a first-ever trip to the NBA Finals. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

I have known my wife for 20 years. We have been married for 12. I don't think we have ever watched a sporting event together in its entirety. In the past month we have watched every minute of at least a half dozen Toronto Raptors games.

Even my wife, who has ignored or blocked out countless hours of sports, has been captivated by the Raptors' historic and improbable run to the NBA Finals.

Who wouldn't want to be a part of this? It's a great time to be a Raptors fan.

And by every conceivable metric, from television ratings to merchandise sales, it is a swelling group.

A recent Angus Reid Institute poll confirms this. For the first-time ever, Canadians are showing an almost equal interest in the NBA and Stanley Cup final.

"It's a place we have never been in this country before," says Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid Institute.

The poll also shows a large increase in the number of casual fans — both men and women — who are paying attention to what the Raptors are doing.

For example, of the 780 women surveyed, only 10 per cent usually follow the NBA. But that number jumps to 33 per cent for those who say they are following the NBA Finals.

"People who were aware of the Raptors but never really followed them, it wasn't their thing, are now gathering around screens in their homes, in bars, in community centres and following every game," says Kurl.

WATCH | Raptors take Game 3, series lead:

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Toronto bounced back from Sunday's loss with a 123-109 win in Oakland, giving them a 2-1 series lead over Golden State in the NBA Finals.

Euphoric feeling

Even if you previously had no interest in the sport, the euphoric feeling emanating from each successive victory is desirable and easy to gravitate to, experts say.

"As human beings we all have this need to belong. It's a desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves and sports fandom I think is one of those areas where you can make connections with like-minded people," says University of Western Kentucky psychology professor Rick Grieve.

Grieve says the Raptors suddenly growing fan base is easy to explain: people feel good about themselves and their choices when they support something successful. And there is no better feel-good story going than the Toronto Raptors.

"I think that's why you see a lot of bandwagon fans join on when teams start becoming successful because then it starts reflecting back on them."

University of Massachusetts psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne says other factors are also contributing to the bursting Raptors bandwagon.

"I think Toronto is in an interesting position. And this is going to sound cruel, but the city has dealt with years and years of getting its hopes raised and things not going so well," Krauss Whitbourne says. "So I think when the Raptors come along, it is such a tremendous release."

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The Toronto Raptors journey to the NBA Finals has drawn the eye of fans from all across the country. CBC Sports' Greg Ross has more.

WATCH | Raptors uniting a country:

Lingering resentment

There may be lingering resentment among diehard fans, who have lived and died with the team's fortunes for the last 24 years (a blip of time in the arc of basketball history). Grieve says he understands the frustration of the committed fans.

"They say, 'We suffered through those 10-win seasons or those 20-win seasons, and here people are coming along at the last minute and they're reaping the same enjoyment benefits that we are.'"

"You can see where the resentment comes from," adds Krauss Whitbourne. "It's sort of a challenge to your own identity as somebody who is truly loyal."

But the long-suffering fans need to get over it. It's too good of story to keep to yourselves. There is no better feeling than a city and country rallying together behind a team.

"It's good for people's mental health, for their sense of community. It's exhilarating and fun," says Krauss Whitbourne. "At a deeper level it takes you out of yourself and has you look at the people around you as sharing in this great experience."

Is all of this new-found fandom fleeting? Will these bandwagon jumpers show the same passion when next regular season rolls around? Maybe. I hope so. I enjoy watching basketball with my wife. Her optimism is the perfect foil to my doomsday mentality.

"I'm not going to say that everybody who becomes a bandwagon fan is going to end up being a diehard fan," Grieve says. "But I don't think you can jump right in and be a diehard fan without going through the first stages."