Ban the Concept of the “Bandwagon Fan”

(Why? It’s sexist, of course.)

Image: Eric Kilby

In April, the Cincinnati Reds “trolled” the Cubs with an in-game Bandwagon Cam showing Cubs fans in attendance. The video clip to start it off? Two young female fans labeled “Life long Cubs fans since 2016.”

Now, they took it all in good stride, and of course, the whole bit was in jest — a jab at a very, very good team from one that’s, well, pretty bad. But, even so, what happened to those two young women? That’s my nightmare.

In 2005, I moved back to Chicago from California. That October, my University of Chicago dormmates and I huddled around a grainy, rabbit-eared television as the White Sox swept the Astros in the World Series.

Zoom in. That’s a White Sox Winning Ugly cap on my bib.

I come from a White Sox family, with a grandfather who worked for the organization for decades and memorabilia that blended into the background of our house’s decor. Still, I hadn’t followed as a kid, just lazily soaked in the baseball waters that surrounded me, and I feared being seen as a casual fan, a latcher-on. I quietly saved a copy of the Chicago Tribune in my memories box and returned to my normal patterns as though I were still living in a pre-White Sox World Series Champions world. I didn’t dare dream of becoming a real fan because I was just a lifelong fan since 2005 — this despite the fact that I literally wore a White Sox bib as a baby.

Google “bandwagon fans women” and one of the first things you get is this, about all of the female fans flocking to rugby during the most recent World Cup year. But are they really “bandwagon” fans? Or are they fans historically shut out of a locker room culture that only lets them in for high-profile events? Being a female fan is inherently fraught. There are the quizzes that don’t end unless you can list the entire makeup of the NL East in 10 seconds or less, the pink v-neck jerseys, and bedazzled hats — all of which you’ll get mocked for, even though there’s no way to avoid them.

So, being a new fan as a female — perhaps a new fan to a team that is suddenly hot, because why wouldn’t you want to follow a World Series Champion? — is nearly impossible. For one, a new fan probably won’t know that the Expos were once in the NL East, a tidbit of information that hasn’t enhanced my understanding of the game at all. For another, the National Federation of State High School Associations estimates that just around one quarter of one percent of high school baseball participants were girls during the 2014–2015 school year. (I’ll let you imagine what that statistic might be for America’s current reigning pastime, football.) And softball, where we divert eager female little leaguers starting in adolescence, is a drastically different sport requiring an entirely distinct mechanical form and style of play, as has been pointed out by women time and again. What all of this creates is a culture that often cuts off women from participating in baseball fandom, and then sneers at them for their lack of knowledge.

Meanwhile, the MLB Commissioner is pushing an aggressive agenda to rebuild major league baseball’s shrinking fanbase through controversial, and somewhat dubious, initiatives. At the same time, the organizations he presides over are promoting an atmosphere that punishes new fans just for being new. Following the Bandwagon Cam, FanRag Sport’s Alex Solokoff put out a rallying cry in favor of bandwagon fans, joining an increasing line of pro-bandwagon sports writers who argue against the condescending attitude traditional fans have toward their newer counterparts. If we add in that many of those new fans — like the lifelong Cubs fans since 2016 — are women trying to break into a good ol’ boys sports club, the whole thing appears even more toxic.

I can’t explain the creepy doll, but I can explain the awesome ruffled Chicago jersey.

I am here for criticizing Cubs fandom. I’m a South Side fan, after all. But you can do that without criticizing new fans: Cubs fans are notoriously ripe for the picking. The slipping MLB needs bandwagon fans, and our society needs to stop criticizing women for enthusiastically participating in things they haven’t before had access to.

This year, my mom and I sat in record-breaking Arizona heat to watch the prospect-heavy White Sox at Spring Training. It took me a decade, but I’d finally embraced my passion for the team I’d grown up with: a “true” fan who now closely follows every game, despite how far the Good Guys are from World Series contention. So, yeah, it’s possible those two girls the Reds profiled are bandwagon fans. So am I.

Erin Robertson is a freelance editor and writer living in California.