SUNDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Hey, sports fans: It doesn't matter if your team wins or loses, just as long as the game is a down-to-the-wire nail-biter, with heroes to laud and villains to loathe.
That's the conclusion of a new study of what can really drive a fan's rooting interest, although not every supporter of Sunday's Super Bowl showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers might agree.
In research led by Colleen Bee, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University, 133 participants viewed speed-skating competitions featuring unfamiliar athletes.
The study authors created narratives for the athletes, casting them either as heroes or villains. The "heroes" did charitable work for causes such as cancer prevention, spent time with sick children, dedicated their performance to Mom and were considerate to fans. The "villains" were arrested for driving under the influence, took performance-enhancing drugs, and were rude and ungracious.
Now, the participants had someone to cheer for -- or against. And that enhanced their experience.
"When an athlete that they liked won a game, people felt the same emotions as when someone they disliked lost," Bee said. "They felt high levels of relief, low levels of disappointment and high levels of satisfaction."
Viewers experienced the reverse emotions if their hero faltered or their villain prevailed. "However, one of the interesting things with overall enjoyment of the experience -- how enjoyable was this for you to watch -- was that it didn't vary based on who won or lost," she said.
The study appeared online recently in the Journal of Media Psychology.
But suspense is not guaranteed. Historically, many past Super Bowls have been boring or blowouts. So, if you're not into fantasy football or the X's and O's, the personal narratives of the players and coaches on the field are what keeps you in the game.
"That story is important, both positive and negative," said study author Bee. "What people think of you, it affects whether they're rooting for or against you. And sponsors want to be affiliated with positive brands or positively viewed brands."