In the sixth of my deep-thinking articles motivated by wasted years in Economics lectures, I try to explain why football fans are the most fickle people in the world.
“I was there when we were relegated against Middlesborough at The Bridge.” It’s amazing how many Chelsea fans I meet who, when I claim were “Johhny-cum-lately’s” wheel out the fact they were there when The Blues were relegated for the last time back in 1988. Of course, back then stadiums could hold hundreds of thousands of fans. These fans will have you believe they have been die-hard blues forever and a day. However, we all know that they simply jumped on the bandwagon about 3 minutes after Roman Abramovich arrived in SW6.
But there is actually an economic theory that explains this action. The bandwagon effect is a phenomenon whereby the rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, fads and trends increases the more that they have already been adopted by others. In other words, the bandwagon effect is characterized by the probability of individual adoption increasing with respect to the proportion who have already done so. As more people come to believe in something, others also “hop on the bandwagon” regardless of the underlying evidence. The tendency to follow the actions or beliefs of others can occur because individuals directly prefer to conform, or because individuals derive information from others. Big words indeed from Mr Solomon Asch there who derived the theory from his conformity experiments back in the 1950’s after watching his beloved Portsmouth win a second consecutive Football League Division One title.
Whilst the Pompey Chimes rang out around Fratton Park, Sol wondered where all these fans had come from. A few seasons earlier they had been giving away free tickets to the Royal Navy to fill up the ground and now that they were the best team in England it was standing room only, quite literally. He concluded that when individuals, or fans in this case, make rational choices based on the information they receive from others, in this case fellow fans down the Dog and Duck or in the “pink ‘un”, information cascades can quickly form in which people decide to ignore their personal information signals and follow the behaviour of others – i.e whilst yesterday they were a Southampton fan, today they support Portsmouth because people like the winning feeling.
A year later when Tottenham Hotspur won the league all of those die-hard Pompey fans disappeared from where they had come from. Why? Well Asch had the answer in his original theory. He said that the fact information “cascades” explains why their behaviour is fragile—these “fans” understand that they are swayed on very limited information. As a result, fads form easily but are also easily dislodged. That explains why you never see a Blackburn Rovers fan anymore and probably why you wont find many Whitehawk ones…apart from Terry Boyle that is.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is The Brandwagon Effect in a nutshell.