Do you get pumped up watching sports? Do you ever feel so involved in watching a game, that you feel like you are in the game?
Sports create a relationship between the fan and the players. This relationship resembles that of a family. Sports fans, like other people, separate themselves out into similar groups with common values, religions, aesthetics, ethnicities and so forth.
This kind of connection has primal overtones, in that primitive man survived in tribes through co-dependent relationships (1). And, when people in general connect by groups through their similarities, they are protecting themselves against annihilation. Thus, the team becomes a tribe, and the fan becomes invested in its identity. This feeling of belonging becomes so powerful that it can create biases, as well as prejudices. And, fans are so emotionally invested in their tribe, or sports team, that they may defend that relationship against verbal or physical attack.
Feelings of belonging to a particular team are so powerful that they impact feelings of well-being, alienation, loneliness, energy levels and depression. We are, after all, social animals, and our feelings of purpose and belonging are affected by our group's identity, including our chosen sports team. Moreover, sports give the fan a place to focus and sublimate his feelings of stress and frustration from his daily life and the world at large. When the fan is focused on a sports play, he might actually imagine that he's involved in the activity on the field. In fact, a fan's hormonal responses during the game may actually imitate that of the sports players. His body's biology then moves him into the flight or fight syndrome, his adrenalin starts pumping, and his excitement and energy can reach pitches equivalent to fighting that lion or running away.
In the final analysis, there are great intrinsic rewards for being the sports fan. Not only do we have an acceptable place to focus and deliver high levels of emotional stress and response, but also receive feelings of well-being, trust and satisfaction in our social life.
Reference: Tribal Science: Brains, Beliefs and Bad Ideas by Mike McRae