“Air Ball, Air Ball!”: A Study of Collective Crowd Chanting in Collegiate Basketball

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We explored crowd behavior in the context of sports by studying 139 men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association televised basketball games, focusing on attempts at shot that completely missed the basket and are thus known colloquially as “airball shots” (ABSs). Through repeated observations, 354 instances were identified in 124 of these games. When an away player launches an ABS, the home crowd is likely to recite in unison an “Air ball, air ball” chant (ABC) to single the shooter out to supposedly generate an ego threat and to impede his future performance. We studied multiple player factors such as status (i.e., being a game starter or not), success on the previous shooting attempt, ABS distance, and ABS outcome, as well as crowd density, and found that home crowds were more likely to initially chant when the shot was made from a distance and when it resulted in a lost possession. Home crowds were also more persistent in their ABC when the shot was made farther from the basket. The findings are discussed in the context of early and current crowd behavior theories.

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