Fans May Overestimate Favorite NFL Team’s Chances

Football fans cheer in crowd at gameAs National Football League fans gear up for another season, enthusiastic sports reporters and fans may overestimate the likelihood that their favorite team will be successful, according to a study published in PLOS One. People are often optimistic about their own fortunes and outcomes as compared to others—a phenomenon known as the optimism bias.

An Optimism Bias Among NFL Fans

The scientists who authored the study recruited participants during the NFL off-season using Amazon Mechanical Turk, a paid crowdsourcing platform. Each participant was paid $0.25 for his or her participation. A total of 1,118 people participated over the course of three days during the NFL off-season. Two participants were excluded for listing the same team as their least and most favorite, leaving 1,116 remaining. Of this total, 446 women and 670 men participated, with an average age of 34.

Researchers also looked at ESPN data for 32 sports reporters assigned to a specific NFL team, reasoning that these reporters might be more enthusiastic about the team they are assigned to cover.

Researchers asked the reporters and the fans how many games their favorite and least favorite teams would win during the 2015 season. The average number of wins is eight, because every NFL team plays 16 games. Participants predicted an average of 9.59 wins for their favorite teams, compared to just 6.1 wins for their most hated teams.

What Allows Optimism Bias to Persist?

If a team loses year after year, some may think fans would stop overestimating its chances of success. Even among the least successful teams, though, fans are persistent in their belief that this game or this year could be the one that turns everything around.

For the current study, researchers did not directly assess why fans are so hopeful about their teams. The study’s authors point out that NFL teams show a statistical regression to the mean over time, which means that bad teams tend to improve, while good teams remain good. A fan who supports a losing team might point to improvements over time, while a fan devoted to a successful team can argue that the team’s ongoing successes mean this will be another positive year.


  1. Dallas, M. (2015, September 13). Football Fans May Overestimate Chances of Favorite NFL Team. Retrieved from
  2. Klein, W. M. (n.d.). Optimistic bias. Retrieved from
  3. Love, B. C., Kopeć, L., and Guest, O. (2015). Optimism bias in fans and sports reporters. PLOS One. Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • nic


    September 15th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    But this is what a true fan does, right?

  • Marshall


    September 15th, 2015 at 2:45 PM

    I am a die hard Falcons fan and of course I am going to be optimistic every year. But I also tend to be a little more realistic and I generally have a pretty good idea going into an game whether we have a shot to win it or not. It is the people who are always so hopeful, never cautious, that just make me wat to look at them and wonder dud, what are you thinking?

  • Casey


    September 16th, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    Comes with the territory of being a real fan.
    It doesn’t just have to be pro sports, but college or even high school or little league.
    If you are an enthusiastic supporter then I think that you will remain optimistic about their chances to defeat their opponents.
    Even more of a let down when they don’t succeed.

  • megan


    September 17th, 2015 at 11:04 AM

    Believe me, I live in a house full of cheerful fans year in and year out. It ain’t fun when they lose.

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    December 3rd, 2015 at 4:40 PM

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  • Triumph


    December 8th, 2015 at 6:12 PM

    One of my favorite posts.

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