Superstitious about Sports?

Most of us dismiss superstitions as hokey hooey—except when it comes to sports.

Sure, I know the Indians won’t really perform any worse if I step out for a bathroom break in the top of the 8th inning. But I recall too many times when Tom Hamilton’s voice on the lavatory loudspeakers said we gave up yet another crucial run at just the wrong moment. So, yes, this factors into whether and when I leave the stands.

(c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

(c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Now a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says sports superstitions play a role in brand loyalty—or the lack thereof. The study comes from Gita V. Johar of Columbia Business School and Eric J. Hamerman of Tulane University.

Researchers tested people’s candy bar choices during a simulated college quiz bowl game. Before the game and as their team did better, test subjects got Snickers candy bars. Then, while the game was still going on, subjects got a choice of Snickers or Kit Kat.

About half the time, people chose Snickers—even though they’d already had a lot of them. The researchers attribute the results to superstition.

“It can be stressful when you want your team to win, but can’t do anything about it,” Johar said in the Columbia Business School’s press release. “Superstition is one way that people can feel that they gain control over an uncertain situation.”

Maybe that happens subconsciously. Consciously, though, I’m fully aware that my actions don’t control what happens on the field.

It’s like author Michael Crichton wrote in Timeline: Whether I’m at a Mets-Yankees game doesn’t change the outcome.

So, maybe the timing of my breaks isn’t because I’m superstitious. Maybe I just feel more comfortable stepping out after we’ve gotten through the top of the inning, and I know the team is in good shape. Then I just have to hope our closer hangs in there for the save.

Besides, can you really compare a college quiz game to real-world baseball? I think not. And I think lots of fans rooting for the Indians, Mets, Red Sox, Rockies, and other teams will agree with me.

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