The Blue and Gold

Why Do Fans Riot After a Win?

After the Super Bowl, fans in Philly rioted even though their team won. What causes this phenomenon?

Aditya Kishore, Author/Editor

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The Super Bowl a few weeks ago was one of the best in recent memory, with the Philadelphia Eagles defeating the New England Patriots 41-33. You can read our great coverage of that, and the rest of the NFL playoffs, here. But the post-mortem of the Super Bowl led to some interesting issues. Philadelphia fans, largely known as a frenetic fanbase, rioted after their team won. And this isn’t an isolated incident, as shown by several riots, including one for our own San Francisco Giants.  Now, this is puzzling at first glance: Why would a riot ensue after a victory for the favored team? Obviously, alcohol was involved, but alcohol alone does not explain fires in the streets, smashed windows, flipped cars, and toppled light poles throughout an entire city. So what function of mob mentality could possibly have caused this? To understand, we must first understand the basic neurology involved.

Numerous studies on the phenomenon of sports fan violence have found quite a variety of interesting answers. Researchers attribute violent behavior to a heady mixture of factors: intense identification with a team, behavioral changes that come with people becoming part of a mob, and strong psychological and physiological responses when your team wins. All of these factors lead to a fairly large group congregating after a given huge victory. With the addition of alcohol and rabid euphoria, much destruction ensues.

So we know, neurologically, why fans would riot after a win. But what are fans’ motives in doing so? Generally speaking, studies have shown that fans feel more confident in themselves after a win for their favorite team. Indeed, this spike of confidence is due to intense identification with a given team. Studies have also shown that people think less and follow more when in a group. When alcohol is involved, all decision-making and rationality goes out the window, furthering a potential riot in the making. When these three factors are considered, we get a set of escalating events, such as the ones that occured after the Super Bowl.

So is there a solution? Not really, unfortunately. People will ultimately always drink alcohol while watching the Super Bowl, or any major sporting event, and banning alcohol is unrealistic: we tried that, remember? The whole purpose of professional sports is to get fans to identify with a team (and spend a lot of money doing so) and so fans’ love of their team can’t be tempered either. All a city can do is install preventative measures to insure that a riot doesn’t happen, and even Philly tried that. Installing a curfew smells of a dictatorship, and would spark widespread outrage at the public officials who try it. So ultimately, what is the best ‘solution’ for deterring riots after a victory? The city can issue an official statement, pleading for citizens to be responsible. Police may patrol the streets to ensure general safety of the population. Measures can also be taken to that havoc is not wreaked. And lastly, perhaps the most important: hope for a ton of great luck.

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