Expert Answers the Question: ‘Why Do We Root for the Underdog?’

Oct. 21, 2014
Kirk Wakefield, Ph.D.Kirk Wakefield, Ph.D.

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Poll shows oft-struggling Kansas City Royals are fan favorites to win World Series

WACO, Texas (Oct. 21, 2014) – The last time the Kansas City Royals were in the World Series (1985), Ronald Reagan was President and a gallon of gas cost less than a buck.

It’s not a stretch to say the team struggled the past two decades. They had not finished higher than third in their division since the strike-shortened 1995 season.

But 2014 was different. The Royals battled their way – against improbable odds – to the World Series, which begins tonight. They will face the San Francisco Giants, a team that has been in the Fall Classic three of the past five years. Both teams have won fewer than 90 games this year.

Despite having nearly identical win-loss records for the season, an online ESPN poll shows that 69 percent of those who voted believe the Royals will win the 2014 World Series. And 81 percent indicate they’re rooting for the team to win. Why?

“When an underdog wins, we feel like we have a chance to overcome the odds, increasing our feelings of hope,” said Kirk Wakefield, Ph.D., The Edwin W. Streetman Professor of Retail Marketing and executive director of the Center for Sports Sponsorship and Sales in Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business.

“Research shows that we are more likely to support a team when framed as an underdog – which in this case, both teams are. But, we just don’t see the Giants that way,” Wakefield said. “The reason we like underdogs is that we think they are trying harder – that they’ve earned it. Not so much for the favorite.”

Wakefield’s research in retailing focuses primarily upon sports psychology, team sports marketing, entertainment marketing, and fan and consumer response to pricing and promotional tools. He has conducted fan research in almost every venue in sports including the NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, NHL and NASCAR.


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