Think about your favorite team. What makes them and their fans different? When fraternity or sorority members all over the country bump into each other, regardless of differences in age/location/beliefs, there is still an undying connection — a handshake, a pledge, a tradition.
It’s why I can instantly conjure up fandom from peers with a simple utterance of Sic ‘Em (Baylor) or Gig ‘Em (Texas A&M) or J-E-T-S (Jets) and, now, SKOL for the Minnesota Vikings.
I was awestruck listening to the recent Sports Geek podcast with Vikings Executive Director for Digital Media and Innovation Scott Kegley in which Kegley described the process of creating a new fan tradition — adopting the SKOL chant made notorious by the recently successful Iceland national soccer team. (listen to the episode here) You can’t just start using a hashtag and putting prompts on the video board and expect fans to go all-in and adopt a new tradition, just because you want them and told them to do so.
While you can listen to hear about what the Vikings did to instill the SKOL chant into fans, the point is that, now, Vikings fans all over the world can intimately connect in a way that represents their connection through community. Giving the nation a rallying cry.
It’s more than cheering for the names on the back of the jerseys and the names on the front of the jerseys. It’s penetrating deeper, creating a shared culture, a tribalism that stokes the passion of fans.
This is not to say that teams all over should create catchy chants or slogans. But it is about considering whether fans have a way to feel like a strong community, unified by something tangible. The Atlanta Braves have their (annoying) chop, Washington Redskins fans can tell any other fan around the country HTTR with a knowing glance, Auburn Tigers fans can say War Eagle and instantly feel connected, and on and on.
Traditions are tough to build from scratch. They have to feel authentic and true, embraced and not forced. But when it feels right and it can be seen and heard, practiced and repeated, spread and shared, it becomes a powerful purveyor of passion.
What does your tradition look and sound like? What would give fans goosebumps or allow fans to connect all over the world? Crowds come and go, but tribes and traditions last forever.