Why Do People Watch Sports on TV?

People who don’t enjoy watching sports on tv often don’t get why the rest of us enjoying sports viewing so much. For instance, why does someone get so passionate about a vicarious competition, since we have no particular affect on the outcome. When we’re watching sports on television, we’re pulling for or against people we’ve likely never met and likely never will meet.

The thing is, there are countless reasons people watch sports on tv. For those who think us sports fans are crazy, let me try to explain a few of the major reasons people view sports on television.

Why Do People Watch Sports on TV – A Sense of Community

Supporting the local team allows for a sense of community. Sports allows for a sense of common identity with people in your local city, state or community. The local fandom has something in common. If you hate sports but love some kind of music, think about meeting some other fan of your favorite band. The two of you have something to talk about, something in common. That’s the way it is with sports.

I always come back to that scene from the movie, “City Slickers”, where Daniel Stern’s girlfriend asks why guys love sports so much. Billy Crystal’s character mentions that, when he was 18 and he and his dad had nothing in common, the two of them could still talk about the Mets. That’s what I’m talking about when I mention a sense of community. Sports brings together people when they have nothing else in common. You get two strangers who love the L.A. Lakers talking about the team, and the next thing you know, these people are like old friends.

Why Do People Watch Sports On TV – It’s Unscripted


A lot of people enjoy watching sports on tv because it’s unscripted. They don’t know who’s going to win. With a movie or tv show, you generally have a pretty good idea what the ending is going to look like. With sports, you never know the outcome. Every game has a favorite, but sayings like “That’s why they play the game” or “Games are won on the field” exist for a reason. Upsets happen, surprise twists occur and it’s all unscripted and unrehearsed. Sports is organic. People might consider something like boxing barbaric, but there’s nothing like watching a big championship match when you never know what might happen with the next fist thrown. It’s just an entirely different dynamic than watching Rockey for the tenth time and knowing the ending.

That’s why the idea of sports athletes betting on games is such a big deal. The drama of sports is not knowing what’s coming next. Once you realize that players or referees are fixing games, then you are watching professional wrestling, not a competition. This hardly ever happens, and sports leagues are quick to stamp out any sign that a game is fixed.

Of course, you might reply that a good movie doesn’t tip its hand, either. Or you might say that most sports events don’t go down to the wire and therefore the ending isn’t dramatic all that often. This misses the experience of being a rabid sports fan. Whether you rejoice in a close victory or suffer the indignity of a blowout defeat, sports is about picking a team and following their story – no matter the outcome.

Why Do People Watch Sports on TV – Sports Fanatics

If sports on tv looks boring or mind-numbing, you need to know something about sports. Watching a sport is only interesting if you have something on the line. If you could care less about either team or competitor in a sporting event, you’re probably going to find even a close game fairly boring. Sports and passion go hand-in-hand. It lends itself to fanaticism.

Let’s equate it to a fictional story. Whether you like books, plays or movies, think what makes an entertaining story. You need to care about the characters. You want a protagonist you care about and empathize with. You want an antagonist or villain who you really want to see go down. To a sports fan watching tv, that’s what the game is like. They pick sides and the game really “matters” to them. That’s when it becomes interesting.

Think about it: “fan” is short for “fanatic”. Sports watching needs someone to care about the outcome of the game. The fan is on the edge of his or her seat. Emotions well up as a tightly-contested game sits in the balance. Win or lose, the sports watcher goes through an emotional journey. Sports becomes an outlet for unspent emotions. Sports allows for a certain amount of catharsis in people’s lives.

Of course, not everybody falls naturally into the role of the sports fan. To some people, caring about the outcome of a game seems pointless. Even then, though, certain people find new ways to personalize a sports competition for themselves.

Why Do People Watch Sports on TV – Money on the Line

Some people bet on the outcome of sporting events so they have something on the line. This is the only way they can care about the outcome of a game, or it “spices things up” and makes the average game really mean something to them. I’m not advocating that someone who doesn’t enjoy sports start betting on games to get interested; I’m only suggesting that’s one of the reasons people watch sports on tv.

The next time you see someone sweating over every play of a sports broadcast, ask them if they have any money on the line. A lot of the time, you’ll find out they do. It’s amazing how much more interesting a ballgame becomes when there a little bit of money riding on the outcome of the sport.

The same goes for fantasy sports. Fantasy football and fantasy baseball is another way people personalize the sports they watch. These people select teams of individual players and track the statistical success of the players themselves – not the teams involved. Often, fantasy sports owners have money on the line for the winner of the competition. Just as often, bragging rights mean as much as the side bet. There’s a lot to be said for “outsmarting” all your friends, even if it’s over something as random and meaningless as fantasy sports.

Why Do People Watch Sports on TV – Free Family Entertainment

I’m overlooking one major reason people watch sports on television: watching sports on tv is free. There’s also the fact that you’re never watching a rerun.

A third factor is that people started watching sports as a kid. Maybe they watch Major League Baseball because they play Little League Baseball. Maybe they check out the Premiership, because they play select soccer in their local community. Whatever the case, kids often watch sports, because it’s something they can relate to.

Also, parents look at sports as better entertainment than other parts of the pop culture. If you’re child is watching a movie, there’s no telling what kinds of nudity, violence or bad language they’re exposed to. A parent doesn’t have to worry about that when their kid is watching sports. The worst they have to concern themselves with are displays or bad sportsmanship or out-of-control athletes, but those are almost universally condemned in the setting of a game on tv and are often shunted to the side during tv broadcasts in favor of “the game on the field”. The family and child aspect of sports is one reason that sports commissioners are so quick to punish “morals” transgressions in their sports.

I know of a couple of people who love sports that grew up in strict, religious families. They couldn’t watch much of anything on television their parents didn’t disapprove of, so they started watching sports. They became sports encyclopedias, because that was the only “wholesome” tv watching they enjoyed. So when you ask yourself why people seem so obsessed with watching sports on tv, you need to remind yourself that most of them got in the habit at a really early age — and that sports is comparatively harmless tv viewing.

So sports is free to watch; it’s always something new; it’s unscripted; parents don’t have to freak out about what their kids are watching; sports gives people an outlet to vent; and being a fan of a sports team or competitor allows people to identify with something relatively harmless, and build a sense of community with like-minded fans around them. So the next time you watch a bunch of mindless sports fans watching tv at the local restaurant or sports bar and behaving like morons after every play, remember that sports is entertainment, that it’s a whole lot more entertaining when you blow off steam by acting like a moron, and that sports is harmless fun.