How Much Power do the Fans Really Have?
'so they cheer, they cheer loud and they cheer for a purpose to impact the game - and it does impact the game'
William Paradise | 3 December 2018

Fans can be a real power in sport simply through cheering their team on, which can be seen clearly within the National Football League (NFL). Dr Daniel Wann, Professor of Psychology, in an interview with BR sport, said, “so they cheer, they cheer loud and they cheer for a purpose to impact the game - and it does impact the game.” The reason for this “game-changing roar” is to distract the visiting team, drowning out play calls, audibles and snap counts, making it hard for an offence to function, causing many pundits to compare the fans to a ‘12th man’, resulting in a home advantage being crucial within the NFL. 

Because of this ‘12th man’ having such an impact, in 1989, the NFL adopted rules to control crowd noise after deeming it to be an undesirable disruption. In game penalties could be assessed if the crowd noise interfered with an opponent’s offence, and video board messages enticing the crowd to be loud were forbidden. Fortunately, the NFL began to realise that the crowd’s rowdy atmosphere outweighs the impact that they had on the game and because of this and the implementation of in-helmet wireless headsets in 1994, crowds were finally free to turn the volume up and teams free to encourage them. 

One may wonder how loud these fans really are? Well, on average an NFL game can produce up to 80 to 90 decibels of sound, equating to the sound of a motorcycle at 25ft. This became such an issue that NFL games could lead to hearing loss. However, this is not even close to the loudest ever recorded crowd roar at an American Football sports stadium at 142.2 decibels, the equivalent of a gunshot, and was achieved by fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, on 29 September 2014. 

This ear-piercing roar can have an immense phycological impact on the players at hand and how they deal with this impact could be the difference between a world-class player and your ‘average Joe’. Many players, to combat this pressure put onto them by the fans, use this distraction as an advantage, interpreting it as that they are rooting for them. Dr Weigand said that “this mental tenacity doesn't come easily, of course, but rigorous practice in adverse conditions better prepares teams and athletes to handle these adverse game situations.” However, ultimately this power to perform is still within the minds and emotions of the players and the coaches themselves. The confidence they have in their ability to succeed, and the rigour of their preparation, will determine just how much a stadium full of deafening screaming fans impact the outcome of the game.

Original image by Lewis Bushell

James Routledge 2016