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No big surprise: Students more likely to wear apparel after their team wins

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Fans dance to "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift Nov. 29 during a football game between OSU and Michigan at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 42-28. Credit: Jon McAllister / Asst. photo editor

Fans dance to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift Nov. 29 during a football game between OSU and Michigan at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 42-28. Credit: Jon McAllister / Asst. photo editor

Students wanting to know the outcome of the National Championship game after it’s over on Tuesday morning need look no further than their peers’ apparel choices.

College students are more than twice as likely to wear their team’s apparel on the first class meeting after a football team win, according to a recent study of seven universities conducted by Ohio State professors.

A team win made the odds of wearing two items of apparel more than three times as likely, the study said.

After a loss, though, students were 55 percent less likely to wear apparel, said Jonathan Jensen, co-author of the study and doctoral candidate in OSU’s Department of Human Sciences sport management program.

Jensen said the study was made up of data collected throughout 14 weeks during collegiate football teams’ 2013 regular seasons. Schools included in the study were OSU, Minnesota, Indiana, Louisiana State, Florida State, Louisville and Syracuse.

“We needed to have different schools … and if you remember, both Ohio State and Florida State went undefeated during the 2013 regular season, but we needed a variance and we needed both wins and losses, obviously,” Jensen said.

At each school, Jensen and instructors who agreed to contribute to the study recorded students’ decisions to wear college sports apparel after football games. More than 3,200 unique datapoints were collected from sports management or sports marketing classes at all seven schools, which ensured that researchers were collecting data from a group of “highly identified fans,” Jensen said.

“We actually wanted to make sure we were doing it in classes where students were more likely to be fans of the team and know whether the team won or lost,” he said. “If we would have done it in a class or classroom where they may not have even known who won the game, it really wouldn’t have suited the research.”

The study was a replication of one conducted on OSU’s campus in 1973 by Robert Cialdini, a current professor at Arizona State University who conducted the initial research while teaching as a visiting associate professor of psychology at OSU, Jensen said.

The 1973 study aimed to explain human decision-making, specifically relating to the observed increase in students wearing OSU apparel following football team victories. The study found that, following a successful game, students were more likely to make the conscious decision to wear college sports team apparel, but after a loss, they were less likely to wear sports apparel.

Jensen said the original study coined the term “basking in the reflected glory,” or “BIRGing,” which is a self-esteem mechanism that relates to psychological forces like social identity and group identification.

In their updated version of the study, Jensen said he and co-writer Brian Turner, an associate professor of sport management at OSU, wanted to see if this phenomenon was still observed today, taking into consideration the popularization of collegiate-licensed merchandise.

“It has been 40 years since the initial study came out and no one really knew whether the theory still held or not,” Jensen said. “Collegiate-licensed merchandise has become a $4.6 billion business and you know how ubiquitous collegiate merchandise is, particularly among students, but also among the public at large … We didn’t know whether the decision whether or not to wear affiliated apparel was still influenced by the outcome of games.”

Jensen and Turner said the results they found in their 2013 study supported the original study’s findings, but they were surprised that other factors like student gender and game location did not impact the amount of apparel worn after the games.

“There was no difference between males and females in terms of whether their decision to wear apparel was impacted by the game. No difference whatsoever,” Jensen said. “We also controlled for whether it was a home game or a road game, thinking that if it was a home game, everyone would be more influenced by the outcome of the game because you ostensibly went to the game or were kind of a part of it, but there was no difference between road and home games either.”

Jensen said he was surprised to learn that although the magnitude of the game or the success of the opponent did not impact students’ decision to wear sports apparel, the expectation of winning or losing the game did impact the percent of students wearing apparel the next day.

“If you were expected to win a game and you did, then there was no change at all,” he said. “One thing that we did find that was a little unexpected was if you were expected to win a game and lost, there was still a large percentage of students that wore the apparel.”

Jensen said he thinks this is a result of students wanting to show support for their team, even after an unexpected loss.

“When you are expecting to win the game and you lose, students still wear apparel because of their high identification with their fellow students. (They are) basically saying ‘Hey, even though you guys got upset, we are not going to abandon you and we are going to continue to support you,’” he said. “Students were more likely to wear apparel when they were upset than if they were expected to lose a game and they lost.”

David Jackson, co-owner of Across the Field Store, an OSU merchandise store located at 2781 Olentangy River Road, said the OSU football team’s success has a large impact on the amount of merchandise sold in the store after a game.

“I would say that there is definitely an increase when we win and I would say that there is about a 25 percent decrease of sales when we do lose a big game, a home game,” he said. “For the away games, there is probably not that big of a difference because we have a steady stream, but for the home games, there is definitely more of a market decrease when we lose.”

Jackson said about 75 percent of Across the Field Store’s yearly sales are conducted between September and December, but these sales occur both before and after important games.

“We definitely see an increase, but it is definitely not just after the game. It is during the time directly before the game, too,” he said. “For example, people are already coming in and looking for pre-National Championship merchandise so that they can be the one at the office being the first person to wear the OSU vs. Oregon T-shirt or something like that.”

Although Jackson said hoodies are usually some of the most popular apparel items bought by fans after games, he anticipates the official game T-shirts will sell quickly if OSU wins the National Championship.

“Probably the No. 1 thing will be the T-shirts. They are called ‘locker room T-shirts’ and they are actually the shirt that the team wears,” he said. “That is probably the No. 1 demand.”

Jensen said he thinks the study’s results, although “not totally unexpected,” will have important implications in the world of sports marketing and management.

“We are trying to understand how sports outcomes affect consumer psychology and we hope that they can be used to predict decision-making essentially so that retailers and apparel manufacturers can make choices to feature certain items,” he said. “Because the original study back in 1973 was done on the Ohio State campus and (this) study 40 years from then was done at Ohio State, I hope that this study kind of shines some light on Ohio State’s reputation as a bastion of psychology and consumer behavior.”

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