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Amid Cleveland Sports Twists And Turns, A Look At Fan Psychology

Quicken Loans Arena (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert today promised he would never move the team from Cleveland.  The statement comes after Gilbert scrapped plans for a $140 million renovation of Quicken Loans Arena, after petitioners sought to put city funding for the effort to a public vote. 

The final details of a potential deal may yet be revealed, but the specter of a Cleveland sports franchise potentially leaving has an effect. After all, it happened before.  I spoke about the psychological effects on fans with Toni Bisconti, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Akron.

BISCONTI: “I think what’s interesting about being a Cleveland fan of any of the three sports, quite honestly, is there’s been, as you know, a bit of resilience and skepticism in all of us. I think even when the Cavs won the title I think we still expected that we are somehow going to lose our team, or lose LeBron, or now we’ve lost Kyrie…I think we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I think for Cleveland folks that’s pretty common.  Now when you add something big, even bigger than a typical trade, or even bigger than perhaps losing, I think it beats us down even more. But given that we’re used to lots of adversity I think we’re still probably going to be resilient.”

GANZER: “Now that being said I did take a very brief poll before interviewing you about ‘The Move,’ the so-called Move with Art Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore.  It’s still painful, and I think a lot of people still have that in the back of their heads that we’ve experienced a franchise moving.  It’s a real possibility, and not just talk.”

BISCONTI: “Yeah, I absolutely agree with that.  And I think for individuals who are die-hard Browns fans—which obviously above everything else we’re a football city—I think you’re going to see individuals roll their eyes, throw their hands in the air, and blame the whole world for conspiring against Cleveland.  And I think the Browns move was incredibly hard, and I think that’s probably why Cleveland folks are so sports-orientedly cynical is largely due to not only the Browns move, but then how well Baltimore did with what was largely our team.”

GANZER: “Of course—is this taking years off our life by worrying about this?”

BISCONTI: “*laughs* I hope not. But it depends.  I think with anything, in psychology, we would say regardless of what it is—whether you highly identify with being a mom, whether you highly identify with being a garbage man, whether you highly identify with being a teacher, whether it’s a sport, occupation, being a parent—if your highest identification is to be a Cavs fan, if it’s what you think about during the day, plan your days around, then yeah that stress level, and your cortisol level is going to be super high when you even hear these rumors. It’s going to bother you, you wake up in the morning that’s what you hear, that’s what you look at, is the sports news. If you’re not that, if you’re a fan, but not to the extent that you build your life around it, it’s probably not going to take years off your life.  It will just add to the cynicism.”

GANZER: “And there’s plenty of that.”

BISCONTI: “There really is.”

GANZER: “Is there anything else you think we should keep in mind as we wait to see what the next twist or turn in Cleveland sports is?”

BISCONTI: “Yeah, I think what people do is always—I think this is everywhere—we focus on the negative. I drive to work, if I hit every red light, I’m going to notice I hit every red light. But on the days that I hit every green light, I don’t notice.  So I think that’s what we should do with sports.  Right now we’re on a seven game winning streak with the Tribe, let’s focus on that. It’s not even basketball season right now. Let’s try to focus on what we’re doing right, instead of the hysteria on what might go wrong.”

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.