13 February 2023
The origins of our connection to each other, and how technology can bring us even closer to the teams we love.
A Buffalo Bills fan stands on the icy roof of his car. It’s freezing, just 32°F outside of Highmark stadium before kick-off, but nobody seems to mind.
The face-painted fan looks around at the roaring tail-gate crowd. Some had already setup camp the night before, braving the frigid temperatures, others are firing up BBQs as the sea of blue and red get ready for the game.
The fan gathers himself, emboldened by the chanting crowd. He takes a deep breath before launching himself off the car, his body slamming through a folding table.
“BILLS MAFIA!!!” screams pretty much everyone as the fired-up crowd enters frenzy mode.
The fan is miraculously unhurt, numbed by adrenaline.
Just another home game in Buffalo, NY.
It sounds like some sort of initiation, doesn’t it? Whilst an extreme example, there is a tribe mentality amongst the most passionate, die-hard fans that binds them incredibly tightly.
That’s because human culture seeks out these deep connections. The need to be part of a pack, group or team is literally burnt into our DNA. If you weren’t part of a tribe millions of years ago, you’re drastically improving your chances of not being eaten by a sabre-tooth-tiger.
But it wasn’t just about survival. These groups created rituals and traditions that became the fabric of their culture. Cave paintings, songs and dance were all part of their identity. And this is still evident in arenas and stadiums today.
Whether it’s the Liverpool faithful singing ‘You’ll never walk alone’, a sea of black and white behind the All Blacks doing the Haka or even the Mexican wave, we still act and sound like those tribes we originated from.
We are wired for connection with those around us, and that is heightened when we have a shared passion. Whether the team is almost always good, like the Yankees, or have found the modern era very difficult (Cleveland Browns), these fans will be there through thick or thin, cheering on their team.
Former Manchester Utd forward Eric Cantona encapsulates it well:
“You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, never can you change your favourite football team.”
It would be a mistake to think these fans aren’t simply there to just cheer at stadiums, eat hot dogs, jump through tables (if you’re a Bills fan), and head home. In the last few years, we have seen fans really band together and enforce change – even with they haven’t been able to attend games at all.
Who could forget last year, when a few billionaire owners got together, probably on a yacht in Monaco over beluga caviar and French champagne, plotted to create a breakaway European Super League – exclusively for the biggest football clubs in the world.
In the connected world that we live in, it wasn’t long before the masses got a sniff of this. It was dead within 72 hours. The guilty club PR teams scrambled, desperate apologies were issued and the teams backed out.
This was a very pertinent and powerful example of where perhaps the true balance of power is. Or at least, a realignment of the landscape.
The reality is, the sheer weight of their numbers can dramatically affect the clubs’ finances, as they voice their disapproval by voting with their feet and not coming to games or buying merchandise.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast and the fans are the gatekeepers of culture.
Thanks to the internet, they can now utilize online forums, social media, and fan communities to garner support and debate topics both on and off the field.
50 years ago, they might have gathered at their local bar or pub and yelled into their beers until the owner kicked them out.
And even dropping back to those crazy Bills Mafia fans for a second, don’t be fooled by their raucous pre-game shenanigans. They also have hearts of gold. They banded together to contribute over 1,000 donations for the Tua Tagovailoa’s Foundation after his scary neck injury late last year. The positive power of the crowd in full effect.
While that level of passion hasn’t dissipated, the way they can now organise themselves online, with access to more information to make informed decisions and formally (and publicly) communicate with their team, the pendulum has swung back to supporters the world over.
But why stop there?
So, we have seen fans influencing decisions at board level, but what about if they, as a collective, were the board of directors themselves?
This is where Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) might make that a reality, made possible by the emergence of blockchain technology.
These are internet-native organisations or teams that makes all their decisions by voting as a community of fans, completely transparently (no private boardroom dealings) without the traditional hierarchy.
Instead of needing millions of millions of dollars to own a team (locking out 99.9% of humans), you could have a small slice of the team you love by purchasing tokens during the initial funding period.
But how far off are we really?
Well, get onboard SailGP, the recently announced DAO-owned sailing team. Granted, its only open to wealthy accredited investors (so not totally democratized), but this is just one example.
We’ve seen it in Ice Cube’s 3×3 basketball league where they are fractionalizing their ownership through NFT collectibles. In the NFL, the BuyTheBroncos DAO aims to crowdfund $4.5B to, you guessed it, buy the Denver Broncos.
The tide is turning and while we may see this in e-sports first, it’s safe to say that this an avenue for fans to not just support the teams they love, but also help shape their futures.