The Accidental Fan: Willing Fans, Unwilling Interviewees

by Sabena Allen | 7/13/18 2:00am

celtics

Boston Celtics fans look out over TD Garden during a battle against the Milwaukee Bucks on Apr. 15, 2018.

Source: Rohan Bose

In my last two columns, I focused on my personal entry points into baseball and hockey. However, I have yet to find my personal entry point into basketball. I have been to two basketball games in my life ­— three if you count the time I went to interview fans for The Dartmouth — though I was a little too preoccupied with interviews to focus on the game. Both professional games featured the Boston Celtics. I attended the first because my competitive dance team was asked to perform at TD Garden before the game. I’ll admit, my engagement was low. I was too busy focusing on not screwing up while dancing on the jumbotron. Besides, at the time, I could not fathom why people even liked sports.

My second game was more recent — this past spring break, during an overnight trip to Boston. Through a complicated mix of a birthday gift, a cranky ex-boyfriend and a sly act of retribution, I found myself watching the Celtics for the second time in my life. I was more engaged because of the fast paced play of the game and definitely felt the tension when the score was close. My mom and I were sitting with some excitable fans, which always adds to the live viewing experience. Some Celtics fans behind us were heckling opposing fans sitting near us. Although she and I often find the screaming fun at hockey games, this was a little too much excitement for us at the time. On a more positive note, the announcer called out that the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, was watching the game and projected his image on the jumbotron. My mom was thrilled. In fact, that might have been her favorite part of the game; she spent a considerable amount of time texting her friends about it.

However, because we were taking a train out of Boston that night, I had to leave the action early, though I was not sad to exit before the game ended. As a casual sports fan, I haven’t found my entry point to basketball yet. I am not claiming that every game inherently facilitates a unique entry point, but nothing about basketball has gripped me the way the Boston Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi caught my attention or the way the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask mesmerized my mom. I was left wondering about other entry points into sports for fans? On that thought, I remembered interviews I did in the winter of 2017. I was asked by The Dartmouth to go to a basketball game, Dartmouth versus Yale University, and ask attendees why they were Dartmouth sports fans.

As a sports reporter, much of my work has involved interviewing Dartmouth athletes and coaches over the phone about upcoming seasons, so having to venture out to Leede Arena to interview strangers was new for me. I took along an equally introverted friend for moral and secretarial support. If I am the “Accidental Fan,” he is the “Nonexistent Fan” — except for some bizarre reason, he occasionally takes interest in the Seattle Sounders. Suffice it to say, going up to strangers and asking for a quote and a headshot was difficult for both of us.

We conveniently arrived at halftime when everyone was out of their seats to purchase concessions. It turned out that approaching people who were in line was not a good strategy. Most of them are too “hangry” to be bothered. In fact, most of the fans we approached visibly shied away from us and shut down our inquiries in an abrupt manner. We approached about four people before someone finally took the bait. We then picked up a little momentum and somehow ended up getting six of our 10 interviews done during halftime. We used the rest of the game to find the remaining four interviewees. Asking people got easier the more desperate we were. Indeed, our last interview was a borderline hit and run, as we convinced two teenage sisters to answer our questions while bustling out of the arena at the end of the game.

Across the board, the fans we interviewed liked the sense of community at Dartmouth basketball games. Among them were Hanover residents, students with friends on the team, parents and professors, all expressing in their own way how Dartmouth games brought people together. They especially appreciated that Dartmouth games draw a mix of community members, Dartmouth faculty, and students, allowing different worlds to collide and create a new, unique environment. People also liked to see the hard work of their friends on the team and the coaches. I could understand that sentiment. After all, as I mentioned in my first column, I got the opportunity to see Andrew Benintendi’s family cheer him on during one of his first games. Because the Hanover and Dartmouth communities combine to create a small, college town, this atmosphere is different than what one might find at a professional sports game; however, professional games also provide that same sense of camaraderie and community amongst fans. For example, on the train out of Boston after the Celtics game, we all discussed the win, which my mom and I had unfortunately not seen for fear of missing our ride home, as if the strangers sitting next to us were long-time friends.

With this sense of community in mind, I’m intrigued by how relationships in the sporting world with other fans and with players draw spectators to sports. With college teams, watching friends and students playing is a natural draw, but it ties into points I have made in my last two columns: “My Boy Benny” and “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Having a connection with a player, whether they are world famous or your best friend, is a great entry point for an otherwise formidable sport. Communal and personal relationships are two great incentives to be a sports fan, both at a professional level or here at Dartmouth. So, my advice? Go to a game, support the Big Green and see if you agree with the people I interviewed. But if you don’t, that’s okay too; you’re not alone.