The day before the Georgia game, ironically, I delivered the GameDay lecture for the Auburn Office of Communications and Marketing. My topic was “This Is Loyalty,” and I presented some research on fan behavior, particularly in rivalries.
After the game, I related some of the content — particularly the concepts of BIRGing and CORFing — on Twitter. The retweets and replies showed interest, perhaps because they sound like gross things that would happen at post-game keg parties.
So after getting a grad student through a tight and chaotic thesis deadline (mission accomplished), I could turn my attention to some of the more fun aspects of academic research on fan loyalty.
We’ll blitz through the basics of social identity theory (finding groups that share our interests give our life balance, blah blah blah) and in-group/out-group conflicts (Robbers Cave experiment, yadda yadda yadda), to get to the more current stuff — disposition theory.
Giving credit where credit is due — and defying the cheap-click rivalry attitude of “professional” journalists — I would point out that two researchers from Alabama, Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, have done some of the best work on this. Type them into a Google Scholar search and party hearty.
But before they did the bulk of their research (including a 20-year trend study of the Iron Bowl rivalry), Robert Cialdini of Arizona State came up with the concepts of BIRGing and CORFing. BIRGing means “Basking In Reflected Glory” and CORFing means “Cutting Off Reflected Failure.”
First, the B word. This obviously refers to the way in which fans share a certain joy in their team’s victory, even though they might not have directly participated in it. I know, I know, the coach always says that the crowd helps, but we’re talking about throwing something down besides nachos.
It goes beyond wearing team apparel to the office on Monday (as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford demonstrates in the photo above) or talking about the game around the water cooler. The winning team’s fans also report an enhanced self-image and more confidence in making decisions. This is serious stuff! And when your rival team loses, it increases the BIRG.
CORFing is not the opposite, because fans deal with losses in a different but not opposite way. Rather than hide from it, they blame it on external factors: “The refs were not going to reverse their call even though Murray did not cross the goal line,” or “Robinson was holding on that last pass.” (Yes, the end of the Georgia game produced quite the CORF-fest on both sides at some point.)
That is because losses often do not diminish a fan’s loyalty to the team, but often strengthens their resolve. Yes, research does show that fans often show less immediate outward support. But we don’t abandon our in-groups quite that easily — even when the rival team wins and our team loses. They provide us too much social identity to be dumped that easily.
So after the trash talking and the blog commenting and the flag waving, I hope you BIRG to your heart’s content this weekend. Wear the sweatshirt on Monday. Talk about the game. Feel better about yourself and your decisions.
Unless you cheer for my rival.
Then, as one of the attendees at the aforementioned lecture said, “They can go CORF themselves.”
Nothing like statistically significant smack talk.