Loss Aversion – Why Packer Fans are Still Suffering

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

sorrow-and-worry-692910-sAt work this week, I heard two colleagues speaking words of consolation in gentle tones, as if at a funeral. I immediately understood that one was a Packers fan.

This past Sunday, in the NFC conference championship game, the Green Bay Packers experienced one of the most heart-breaking defeats in football history. The Packers had thoroughly dominated the game for 55 minutes, and after intercepting the Seattle Seahawks for the fourth time with a 12-point lead, their chances of winning were well over 90% (96.1% according to ESPN; 99.9% according to CBSSports and others).

And yet…

As you may imagine, the loss hurt Packers players and fans alike. But what’s unusual, and kind of depressing as a sports fan, is that bad losses like these actually hurt more than great wins feel good.

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What Fans Want from the Refs

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

It turns out that you made a huge investment mistake. Huge. When your broker called you 10 years ago and gave you the chance to invest in a start-up, you politely declined. Well, that start-up is now worth millions and your investment could have been a part of that.

At this point of the story, most people sigh in relief. They were originally nervous that the “huge” investment mistake was investing actual money in a poor investment, not simply missing out on an opportunity. As a result, one naturally feels relieved to know that his retirement fund is still intact. In other words, not doing a good thing feels better than doing a bad thing.

Referee Involvement

football-referee-1-671884-sDriving to work this week, all of sports talk-radio was consumed by the NFL playoff weekend, specifically how the referees interfered with a game for the second straight week. Last week, it was the bizarre pass interference changed to a no-call with no explanation (sound confusing?). This past Sunday, it was the amazing catch by Dez Bryant that impressed fans and celebrities but failed to meet the definition of an NFL catch. The response of the fans was nearly unanimous: let the players decide the game, not the refs.

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Social Comparison’s Effects on Hall of Fame Voting

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

When you walk into a party, is it best to walk in with attractive people, so you appear to be “with them,” or unattractive people, to make yourself stand out?

blank-metal-plaque-5-1406476-sAs per the annual tradition, baseball announced the newest members of the esteemed Hall of Fame, and equally as traditional, the results have led to widespread debate. This year’s class, which includes Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio, has inspired several debates, most notably, a third  year of the steroids debate. Included in the steroid debate is Mike Piazza, who at 69% is close to the necessary 75%, but still short.

Several writers claimed that they avoided voting for Piazza due to the rumors implicating him as a steroid user (despite the lack of concrete evidence). A less hyped but more interesting debate revolves around whether John Smoltz performed at a superior level to colleagues Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina, whose statistics are all comparable. Several of these issues seem to revolve around one core idea.

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Are the Chicago Cubs Cursed? (Part II)

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

chicago-skyline-1432569-sAs baseball’s Winter Meetings wrapped up yesterday in San Diego, among the teams to make the most noise were the Chicago Cubs, picking up several players including prized free agent pitcher Jon Lester. All of their acquisitions made members of the media wonder whether the time has come, and if the Cubs will once again play in, maybe even win a World Series.

Previously, we explored the question of whether or not the Cubs’ extensive history of failure was due to a metaphysical curse and concluded that fielding bad teams probably contributed to their failure more than goats. But we still need to address why the Cubs have fielded such bad teams over the years and why fans insist that they’re cursed.

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Are the Chicago Cubs Cursed?

By Andrew Muschel • 1 min read

stock-photo-16532231-wrigley-field-outsideWhen Pablo Sandoval caught the final out of the 2014 season, it marked the 106th consecutive season that ended without the Chicago Cubs as champions. The absurdly long drought, a full 40 years longer than the runner-up Cleveland Indians, makes some fans wonder if their team is simply cursed. Under new general manager Theo Epstein, the team is pushing to be relevant again, even looking to make a splash this winter. But the team’s history remains ugly, including some excruciatingly close calls and extremely bizzarre incidents. So is it possible that a team has been cursed by the baseball gods (as Cleveland fans mistakenly believe about their own teams)? If not, why have the Cubs been so bad for so long and why do fans think they’re cursed?

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Can Talking Sports Be Beneficial?

By Andrew Muschel • 1 min read
male-bonding-163743-sShould he have sent the runner home? Does the NFL care about women? Will he be traded this winter? These are several of the many questions that plague sports fans daily. In previous generations, they may have been forced to share their quandaries with family and friends, but with the expansion of media and social media, most fans can find a sports talk radio show, online forum, or Facebook page to share their opinions.

Sports talk is as old a tradition as sports, but is it just a waste of energy? Noam Chomsky was dismissive about the function of  sports passion:
And I suppose that’s also one of the basic functions it serves in the society in general: it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter.
Was Chomsky right? Does sports talk have any benefits other than passing the time on a drive home from work?

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Why Do Parents Still Let Their Kids Play Football?

By Andrew Muschel • 3 min read

On a receamerican-football-284113-snt drive home one Sunday afternoon, I noticed a public park filled with high-school aged children, dressed in pads playing football. I immediately thought of the results of a recent study, demonstrating that nearly one in three retired NFL players will develop cognitive difficulties and at significantly younger ages than the general population. These facts, which have began to emerge over the last decade, led Malcolm Gladwell to wonder about the difference between the socially accepted professional football league and the much maligned dogfighting rings. On other occasions, Gladwell has predicted the gradual downfall of the NFL, as he believes parents will forbid their children from participating in such a devastating sport. After the release of the new data about the severity of brain injuries, why are these kids still playing football in the park? Why would their parents let them play and risk their future?

Suppose I would ask you the odds that you–in comparison to someone of equal gender, age, health, etc.–would have a gifted child or make it through the winter without getting sick? What about your chances of being fired or having your car stolen?

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Psychology Lessons from the Ray Rice Fiasco

By Andrew Muschel • 3 min read

stock-photo-13322751-silencedOver the past few days, the sports media has been focused almost exclusively on the story of Ray Rice. Ray Rice was a superstar running back for the Baltimore Ravens who, before the summer, was caught on a security camera dragging his fiancé (now wife) out of an elevator, believed to be after he struck her. The NFL suspended Rice a mere two games, and only changed its domestic violence suspension policy after significant fan and media backlash. This week, the actual video of Rice striking his fiancé was released to the public, and the Ravens, along with all of the companies who had employed Rice for endorsements immediately dismissed his contract. The most important topic of discussion related to this fiasco is understanding domestic violence; however, the scope of that topic requires a separate and more thorough post. Here, I hope to review a few interesting psychological lessons that emerged through this story.

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How to Market a Losing Team

By Andrew Muschel • 4 min read

trophy-1237607-sAs the World Cup demonstrated with winning and losing, fans enjoy rooting for winning teams. Beyond mere rooting interests, the preference for winning has strong marketing implications as well.

Three sports marketing professors, Dalakas, Madrigal, and Anderson (2004), noted that the easiest way to market a team and increase ticket and merchandise sales is by winning. When a team is successful, BIRGing (basking in reflected glory) is natural and sales flow. This phenomenon is as obvious as the countless ads released within seconds of the final out or whistle in a championship game for championship hats, t-shirts, and anything else.

But what if for some reason, be it financial constraints, lack of talent, or bad luck, a team cannot succeed? Is there any way to still market successfully?

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Why We Care About Sports – Introduction

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

crowd-1026767-sJerry Seinfeld, in a way that only he could, summarized the passion people have for sports teams, comparing it to “rooting about laundry.” To a rational human being, it is difficult to explain why people should invest so much, or any, emotional energy into a game played between an assortment of athletes completely unaware of almost every fan’s existence.

Or in the words of my late grandfather, “Tell me, is this Mr. Jordan walking around with a shirt that says ‘Muschel’ on it?”

But as Eric Simons points out, we’ve all been there before. Every sports fan has experienced severe nausea, stomach aches, and headaches when his or her team comes so close but loses at the last second. He or she has also experienced that unique euphoria that hits after a miraculous comeback or championship win that somehow feels comparable to significant life milestones.

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  • Kim: My son plays football. He doesn’t play because it makes him tough, he plays because he loves the sport. He...
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