Why fans stick by perennial losing teams

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It happens every sports season, especially in Buffalo. Fans declare each year “the year” before players even suit up.

Then the games start and the notches in the loss column keep ticking upward, but many fans never stop supporting their team.

“It’s difficult,” said Ryan Healy, a Sabres fan. “It’s tough when they don’t make the playoffs year after year.”

That sentiment is heard around the Queen City. The Buffalo Bills have a 16 year post season drought and the Sabres are on their way to a fifth straight season without a run at the playoffs.

“It’s rough,” said Ryan Zawistowski, another Sabres fan. “Every year, it’s rough.”

“We just keep getting kicked down and we get built back up,” said Josh Holtzman, a Bills and Sabres fan. “It kind of defines our city in the best way possible.”

Each Buffalo sports fan has a moment they remember as the worst; the lowest of the low when the team completely let them down.

“The lowest point 2004 — Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills game,” starts Zawistowski, who immediately could think of his least favorite moment as a fan. “We needed to win that game to make it into the playoffs. We were a great team that year. [They] played their third stringers and we lost!”

And of course there’s the “Wide Right” call everyone remembers.

“Four super bowls in a row and four losses,” said Heather Thompson, a Bills fan.  “But we’re here and going strong.”

“I say we’re on the right path,” said Anthony Considine, a Bills fan. “We’re definitely on an up streak and we’re getting there. There are a few small pieces that need to be put in place still.”

He isn’t alone with his optimism.

“Year after year fans are maintaining loyalty for the team despite their records,” said Michael Evola, a clinical social worker who has built his career working with and studying people around the city. “It’s a challenge to keep hanging in there year after year when your team doesn’t do well.”

Evola says Buffalo’s fan base, with its unwavering support, reminds him of a popular psychological theory called Intermittent Reinforcement.

“You lose, you lose, you lose but once you win, that dopamine is released,” said Evola. “You get that high.”

Evola says fans remaining steadfast during the bad times bonds people together and provides a sense of community.

“While there is diversity, there’s that common goal of trying to see our team win,” said Evola, who is both a Bills and Sabres fan and says he shares the same disappointment and excitement watching the teams.  “We have that connectedness. You see on game days people wearing their colors and there’s a camaraderie about that.”

Fans feel that way too.

“Win or lose — everybody comes together,” said Holtzman. “We’re all united as one, so if we lose, we’re all lose together. It helps pick us back up together so it definitely brings the community together.”

A community, coming together, selling out stadiums, trying to cheer louder than any other fan base – through the wins and the many losses.

“You just get used to it after a while,” said Jared Keppel, a Bills fan. “Hopefully it’s soon to come.”

“I’m back for more,” said Zawistowski. “It’s in our blood. We’re Buffalonians.”

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