Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sports Fan Science - Final

Well, I finished the book so here is the last sports fan science post. This highlights the differences between being a fan of the live sport, sports video games, and sports fantasy leagues. Some of the motivations are the same (need for achievement, need for social), but perhaps at a different magnitude. And others are true for only one kind of fan but not the others.

Fantasy sports leagues of all kinds have become incredibly popular – football and baseball are the biggest, but there is NASCAR, World Cup Soccer, golf, and lots more. Some of the differences in motivation may be obvious. People with a strong need for control get into fantasy sports because you actually manage the team. Also, people who enjoy problem solving, especially quantitative problem solving. Also, people with a high need for self-esteem and competition like fantasy sports because wins and losses are really your own. Some of the research finds that people try harder in leagues where they know the other people more than the anonymous leagues run by ESPN, Yahoo etc. And even just having your real name instead of an alias makes people try harder. It changes the need for aggression outlet too. You don’t get that through playing fantasy sports, but you do if there is an active discussion board. The trash talking that goes on in these boards is pretty astounding. Fantasy sports also change the effects of a need for socialization. With real sports, you can go into a random sports bar, find people with a hat or shirt from your team, and get an instant bond. You can’t do this with fantasy sports. But the bonds you develop with other “managers” in your league can get very strong.

But for people with high need for self-identity, fantasy sports are not good. You have to pick players from all different teams, even the ones that rival your favorite teams, if you want to be competitive. Some of the research shows that playing fantasy sports decreases the attachment you have to your favorite teams in real life. I suspect these last two are the reasons I never got into fantasy sports, despite my high need for control and love for problem solving.

Sports video games have also become very popular. Madden football is huge. And they come out with new versions every year to reflect new players and updated player statistics. These are popular with people with high need for achievement, aggression (it’s amazing how gory some of these games can be), and problem solving. It also changes the effects of socialization. You can play against other people, either in person or on-line. But you can also play against a computer by yourself and decrease the social aspect of it.

How are these differences relevant here, other than what I have previously posted about customized motivation? It shows that subtle differences in context also impact motivation and incentives. You can take a worker from a manufacturing environment, shift him/her to R&D or marketing department, and their needs change. Or if you switch industries, there can be fundamental changes in the motivations and incentives that work. Even just changing organizational cultures can have a huge impact. This is perhaps the primary reason for mergers and acquisitions to fail. We saw that when Time Warner bought AOL a decade ago.

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