Cincy Science: Why we laugh, cry and skip work (or school) on Reds Opening Day

CINCINNATI - Opening day is Monday, March 31. Planning to take in the parade, the game or both? Maybe you’re even considering calling in sick to work or skipping school.

Well, you’re not alone; Opening Day is Cincinnati’s official unofficial holiday. This year, more than 43,000 will flock to Great American Ballpark to watch the Reds take on St. Louis, not to mention the thousands who will don their red and white for other festivities.

Why do we get so excited about the Reds opener here in Cincinnati? To help us understand, UC College of Medicine professor of psychiatry, Charles Brady took a swing at explaining our obsession with Opening Day.

1. Is there a psychological explanation for why we like to watch sports?

There are a number of psychological reasons that we like to watch sports. For fans with a diehard allegiance to their favorite team, they often see the team as an extension of themselves.Their self-esteem can rise or fall depending on the relative success or failure of their team. Even the term "heart breaking loss" reflects the deep and personal hurt that fans feel when their team loses an important game.

But even for sports fans who don’t have a strong passion for a certain team, sports are psychologically attractive for other reasons.They contain drama, excitement, and extraordinary achievement in the face of adversity.We are drawn to all of these and a sporting event offers these in a convenient experience that has a clear start and finish.

2. Why do we get excited about certain events like Opening Day?

The excitement comes that comes with events like Opening Day often transcends the game itself. For many, baseball opening day signifies the start of spring and the coming of summer. Memories of past springs and summers hold many positive associations for us.

As we see Opening Day approach, we not only become excited about the upcoming baseball season, but pleasant memories of the end of school, swimming at the pool, trips to Kings Island, vacations to the beach and sailing on the lake are triggered and we then begin to subconsciously and consciously anticipate the return of similar enjoyable activities.

3. Is looking forward to a yearly event with anticipation associated with the release of endorphins?

The psychological experience of anticipation is a very powerful one. When we are looking forward to an event that we believe will be a very positive experience, there are changes in brain chemistry that occur. There was a study done a few years ago in which subjects anticipated watching a funny video.

The researchers found that beta-endorphins, which reduce depression, pain and anxiety, increased significantly. In a follow up study, the researchers also found that this positive anticipation reduced stress hormones like cortisol.

So when we have an event that we are eagerly anticipating, that good feeling of excitement that we experience is reflecting changes in our brain chemistry that are occurring at the same time which help increase our positive feelings of positive anticipation.

As Director of Premium Seating for the Reds from 1999-2006 and director of the Sports Business Program at NKU , Jennifer Gardner agreed to field our questions from a marketing perspective.

1. How do the Reds get people so excited about Opening Day?

It’s almost like a sacred tradition that’s ingrained in us now. I think a lot of it is because we were the first established major league baseball team, so there’s a lot of pride surrounding that fact. For both the older and younger generations it’s just become part of our culture in this city. People who come here from other cities believe we have something special here. So I think it’s one of the neat things and exciting things we have to brag about in our city. 

2. So it’s as much about tradition as it is about the actual game?

Absolutely. That was another thing this year, for the parade they had to change the route because of construction. People are just really worked up about it. They wanted it the same because it plays into the nostalgia part. People don’t want the route changed because that’s messing with the tradition.

  • RELATED Cincinnati Reds Opening Day 2014: Parade rerouted due to streetcar construction

3. What type of marketing is used to help generate excitement?

I think the Reds have done a great job of capturing that build up to everything. They still hold back tickets for the people who camp out, because they don’t have to do that. They could just put them all online and sell them all out.

But they know that’s all part of this whole build up experience of fans camping out for tickets. They have this lead up time to Opening Day where people are just so excited. And this year especially with Spring people are just dying to get outside and go to the ballgame.”

From a marketing perspective, you don’t necessarily have to be a baseball fan or a Reds fan, the appeal is if you’re a Cincinnati fan. Because working there as long as I did, you recognize the fans that come to Opening Day

are very different than the fans we would see at the other 80 games, because they’re people who are coming out for that celebration.

4. Why do some fans only choose to attend this one single game?

Opening Day always sells out. We’re talking standing room only. One of the jokes we used to have at the Reds, was there’s 80 more games people. But they know it’s that once a year opportunity to come down there and experience all those marketing elements we talked about and bring their families, employees, friends, whoever and celebrate and kick off spring and hope of a new season. It’s like the Super Bowl fan who may only come out once a year and that’s the game they want to come to because of all of that excitement and build up.

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