As the NFL playoffs near, expect to see a lot of "BIRGing" among fans of the teams going into the post-season. That’s BIRG as in "basking in reflected glory," says Dr. Christian End, an expert in sports fan psychology at UMR.
End says BIRGing increases during the playoffs as fans’ positive view of their favorite teams intensifies.
"In the playoffs, a win over another playoff-worthy team can confirm the superiority of one’s team, which can result in a more positive view of one’s self," says End, assistant professor of psychology and business and management systems. To varying degrees, sports fans identify with their favorite team, End says. It becomes a part of their social identity. "Who we are and how we feel about ourselves is determined by the groups we belong to," End says.
Social identity theory examines how a person’s self-esteem can be affected by his or her identification with another person’s success or failure. Sports fans demonstrate society’s tendency to distance itself from failure when their teams lose by CORFing, End says, or "cutting off reflected failure." But even CORFing changes during playoff seasons.
"We tend to think of CORFing as a distancing tactic — not publicly associating with a team as a means of dealing with a threatened social identity," End says. During the playoffs, fans may still CORF, but they are likely to use other tactics as well, such as changing their definition of success.
"Instead of defining success as the Super Bowl or winning a playoff game, fans may change the standard of success to making the playoffs," End says. "Because their team makes the playoffs (the new definition of success), fans have no need to CORF, they can still feel good because in their eyes, and the eyes of most others, the team has had a successful year."
End is a member of the Sports Fan Research Group, which studies sport fan behavior and identification from a social psychological perspective.