The FIFA World Cup, which is hosted by Russia this year, is a very popular international soccer (or football) tournament. The tournament begins today, June 14, and will last for about a month.
Billions of people around the world are expected to watch the games. Based on FIFA statistics, the 2014 FIFA World Cup reached over 3 billion viewers, and the final game was watched by over one billion people.
It is no surprise that soccer is very popular around the world. In many countries in South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia (including my native country, Iran,) it is most people’s favorite sport.
But it is one thing to enjoy playing soccer, and another to enjoy watching it. Why waste hours and hours glued to the television set, following the ball with straining eyes? Why care who scores, or what team wins a particular game and moves on to the next round? What makes watching games enjoyable at all?
In today’s article I discuss six potential psychological reasons why people enjoy attending games or watching them on television.
1. Good stress
Given that my blog generally focuses on anxiety, I would like to start by discussing the relation between optimal level of stress and game viewership.
We often associate stress with anxiety and discomfort. And it is true that too much stress is not pleasant at all.
But the right level of stress can be enjoyable. We sometimes call that kind of stress, excitement, but it can also refer to other kinds of stress, like exercise-related stress.
In short, when people watch their favorite team battle against another team, when they cheer, boo, become stimulated and excited, they may experience all this as pleasant and enjoyable.
It can feel good to be a fan of a team, to belong to a group.
Of course, it feels even better when one’s team wins.
Have you ever heard fans saying things like, We won? It seems that they feel like they have accomplished something. After all, why else are they proud?
Given that one’s self-esteem can go up and down along with the group to which one belongs, people are more likely to become fans of good teams, and defend their teams too, so that as the team’s fans, they can feel good about themselves too (as I mentioned in another article).
Of course, when it comes to World Cup, people often cheer for their country’s team, and they can not easily switch teams. And what if their team loses? As a fan of a major European team once told me, Blame the referee!
Think back to a time when you were watching TV and some highly skilled and famous athelete, like Alex Ovechkin, Lebron James, Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn, Cristiano Ronaldo, etc, did something spectacular that took your breath away.
Something absolutely beautiful. Something highlight-reel.
Do you find watching such clips enjoyable?
4. Spending time with family and friends
Perhaps you are not a fan of any team, do not appreciate the beauty of a great play, do not feel excited or engaged with any game, and gain no self-esteem related benefit from cheering for a particular team.
But you still gain some benefit from watching the game because you usually do so with family and friends. You all sit around the TV, talk, laugh, eat, and have a good time. The game, therefore, is just an excuse, an opportunity to spend time with people you care about.
Another reason people who are not true sport fans might watch a game is that doing so can be a kind of escape from reality. A game can really engage one’s attention because it happens in real time and is unpredictable (unlike a movie that one has seen before).
Therefore, at least for the duration of the game, people can forget about about their troubles and responsibilities and life’s shortcomings.
Lastly, games, especially in major international competitions (e.g., the Olympic and the World Cup), can be entertaining, just as movies or concerts can. These international productions usually feature breathtaking camera work. The opening and closing ceremonies also feature celebrities, musical performances, fireworks, etc.
In short, there are different reasons why you may be drawn to watching the games. This list, of course, is not exhaustive. For instance, one person said that she will watch the games because in return her husband has promised to give opera and ballet a try!