With little to complain about on the field, it appears some Cowboys fans have set their sites on each other. “Bandwagon fans” have “die-hards” all fired up, posting memes, tweets, and statuses proclaiming that there ain’t room in Cowboys Nation for both of us. Hogwash. Not only is there room for all, die-hards should be welcoming the bandwagon fans with open arms. We need them.
The Dallas Cowboys are 11-1, their playoff berth is secured, the next quarterback has been found. All is well in Cowboys Nation. Well, there appears to be one thing bothering Cowboys fans these days: other Cowboys fans, specifically “bandwagon fans”. This trend has really picked up the past couple of weeks on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. To be clear, I’m not talking about long-time Cowboys fans defending their own loyalty or longevity after being called a bandwagon fan by some troll. I’m talking about self-described die-hard fans flat out telling other people they can’t be Cowboys fans.
That’s crazy talk. Not only is it denying the very way that this monstrous fanbase was built in the first place, it is against every Cowboys fan’s self-interest to discourage people from joining us.
First, let’s address the logic of attacking a bandwagon fan. They claim to be enjoying the thing that you enjoy. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. Someone else enjoying the same thing you enjoy should not diminish your enjoyment of that thing. If it does, you need to ask yourself why. Does that person’s enjoyment somehow lessen or increase your feelings for your team? Are you less or more of a fan because someone who was wearing a Seahawks jersey three years ago is now wearing a Cowboys jersey? Does it legitimize your fandom when you question the loyalty of someone else? Think about those questions for a second. The answer to all of them is no, it doesn’t. You are a die-hard, regardless of anyone else or their track record of teams for which they have cheered.
Confession: I am a bandwagon Cowboys fan. Totally, completely, the very definition of a bandwagon fan. Maybe not after four decades of rooting for the team, but I started that way. I live in Illinois, smack dab in the heart of Bears territory. Yet, when I was growing up in the late ‘70s, I didn’t know any Bears fans my age. We were all either Cowboys fans or Steelers fans. Why? Because everyone likes a winner and the Bears were horrible. It’s why the school where I teach today is filled with little Patriots, Seahawks, and Broncos fans. The Bears are still horrible and these kids want to root for a winner.
Will all of those kids maintain their loyalty throughout their entire lives? No, not all of them. They may switch once or twice or several times before settling on a team. That’s okay. Their allegiance has nothing to do with yours or mine. They don’t detract from or enhance our love for the Cowboys.
But, that’s how fanbases are built. You hook the kids. Grade school, high school, even college. You may even get someone who didn’t previously care, but for some reason, they connect with a team for the first time when they’re an adult. There are an infinite number of ways that people can become a fan of a team. Ask a thousand fans their story and you won’t hear the same tale twice. Every person’s journey is unique. If you live in the city or state where your team plays, that makes sense.
If you become a fan of a team that is winning, even if that team comes from a city across the country or world, that makes sense. If you’re a Lions fan who grew up in Alabama, I have no idea how that happens or if you're even a real person. But, we’re Cowboys fans here and I know that story. We hook people expressly because of the team’s history of success and its current success. We get them from all over.
It is safe to say that, outside of fans born and raised in Texas, the vast majority of Cowboys fans worldwide were picked up during the 20 consecutive winning seasons, the Super Bowl run of the '90s, and the few winning seasons during the Romo era. We probably didn’t pick up a lot of fans between 1995 and 2006. Nobody hops onto the bandwagon of a loser. The only reason we have the largest fanbase is because, even with 20 years of mediocrity, the Cowboys are still one of the most successful franchises in league history. That's amazing. For a thirty-year stretch, Dallas did a whole bunch of winning. That resulted in millions of fans and a lot of those fans stuck around through the following dark times.
But, as Steveo pointed out in the latest Cowboys Podcast, we need a new generation of fans. Roughly 25% of the U.S. population (over 81 million people) have no memory of the Cowboys being anything but mediocre. We need new fans to feed the beast we love: the world’s most valuable sports franchise, number one in merchandise sales, number one in attendance, most popular team on Facebook and Twitter (combined), the team with the most TV appearances. We, as die-hard fans, benefit from all of that and none of it happens without bandwagon fans – both new ones and former bandwagoners who got blue and silver in their blood and stuck around. We can’t enjoy the benefits of being fans of the most popular team in the world AND kick people off of the bandwagon. It doesn’t work like that.
Do you like watching the Cowboys on TV? I do. I haven’t had Sunday Ticket for seven years and I rarely have to venture outside of my house to watch a game. There is only one reason for this: the enormous fanbase and the ratings that come because of it. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. The more they’re on TV, the more people see them. The more people see them, the more knowledgeable they become about the players and team. The more knowledgeable they become, the more invested they are. The more invested they are, the more likely they are to become fans. Fans drive sales and ratings, creating more product and exposure, thereby creating even more fans.
Instead of kicking people off of the bandwagon, we should be welcoming them with open arms. Instead of tearing them down, we should encourage them to stick around. Show them how awesome it is to be a Cowboys fan. When you share your love of your team with another fan, even a bandwagon fan, you’re not dividing your passion for the Cowboys, you’re multiplying it. You’re a better a fan for it. We are a better fanbase for it. Engage the new fan, build camaraderie, invite them to a fan group. Maybe they’ll stick around after the season. Maybe they won’t. If they don’t, you’ve lost nothing. Zero. If they stay, that’s more purchasing power for us, more demand for the product we love, more TV appearances, more stores catering to our demographic.
Ten or twenty years from now, a lot of these bandwagon fans are going to be die-hards. They’ll be talking about how they’ve been a Cowboys fan all the way back to Prescott, Elliott, and Bryant – just how we talk about our fandom going back to Aikman, Emmitt, and Irvin…or Staubach, Dorsett, and Pearson…or Meredith, Perkins, and Hayes. We all hop on the bandwagon somewhere. What counts is not when you hop on, but when your ride ends.
Enjoy your ride.
Enjoy the company of those who have chosen to ride with you, no matter how long they’ve been riding.