Social Science of the T-Shirt Cannon

Knicks_T-ShirtCannonToday’s post is courtesy of guest blogger Richard Pinnick and was originally published in FanScope, Fan Engagement Insights from Fortress.

I was with some English friends at the Knicks vs. Hawks Season Opener the other day, and sat in vague amazement, and no little amusement, as I witnessed the legendary “T-Shirt Cannon Ritual”.

For those not familiar with this ritual it involves young cheer persons prancing around the court firing a sponsored tshirt into the crowd using an array of powered weapons – the sporting equivalent of a frontal assault with slings, bazookas, shoulder rocket launches and even a 30 barrel rapid fire cannon (the tank). The crowd reacted with complete abandon – screaming, jumping over each other in a vague attempt to snatch the t-shirt. One, over enthusitic and no doubt over fuelled, fan in the upper levels nearly launched himself over the balcony to catch this tshirt. One would think that with this display of sheer exuberance that the T-Shirt was worth dying for – but no it is just a simple T-Shirt with the team/sponsor name on. Try and sell it outside the game and I’m pretty sure that most would walk on by without even a second glance. So the question is – what is going on here?

The answer of course is rooted in the behavioural and social science behind the sporting experience.

When it comes to brand loyalty, sports fans can’t be beat. Customers paint their faces, adorn their houses, and create family traditions around a single team. In many cases it’s a tribal connection that we are born into. More people change their religion, than change their allegiance to a sports team.

73% of fans consider the physical presence at the Sporting Event as the best way to enjoy sports, stating that the shared experience of being with a crowd of equally passionate fans is what most enhances their enjoyment.

The game experience is a crescendo of emotion and excitement, that starts at home in the morning making the preparations, the road trip to the stadium, the social meetup outside the stadium, the entry into the temple of sports, the prematch rabble rousing, the moment of shared empathy as the National Anthem is sung, the game, the emotional rollacoaster of a closely fought content, the shared jubilation (win) or down right despondency (lose), the post match reflection and winddown at the end of a long day.

It is this process, that in many ways is more important than the result itself. People crave the switch of emotions – from their daily life, to the happiness of the anticipation and ritual.

So how does the T-Shirt Cannon fit into this, and what does it tell us about the experience of the fans?

Randomness is the most rewarding – the fact that we may win something at random makes us the most happy. Las Vegas was built on this premise. The odds of winning may be low, but boy do we feel excited by the anticipation that we could win.

Scarcity heightens excitement – the more scarce the item, the more excited we become. The T-Shirts may be worthless, but they are scarce and I caught one!!! Make each one different, and you almost have a stampede. Fans crave things that they believe are of limited supply – experiences, merchandise.

Being part of the crowd – if the guy next to me is happy and excited, I want to be happy and excited too. Emotion is infectious. When the cannons first rolled out I viewed them with foreign amusement, by the third session I was up there screaming for one. Yes…I wanted my silly face up on the screen.

So what do learn from this, and how can we leverage it?

Don’t interrupt the game day experience – Anything that a team can do to remove the points of friction and maintain the anticipation and excitement enhances my experience – traffic, queues, security, ticket collection, bad food are all reality downers. Minimise their impact.

Random acts of reward work – Random rewards are way more valuable than predicted rewards. Make them public, make it clear how I can get them, and make them a reward for being at the game.

The game day does not stop when the whistle blows – Work to keep the sense of positive after the game has finished (whatever the result) – game highlights, a message from the player, your best bits (Disney, for instance, send you a link to you of the best pictures from your visit). Keep pushing positives after the game. Keep the emotion rolling until the next game and you stand a better chance of enticing the customer to buy another ticket or season package. This of course, is exactly what the concept of rewards and membership is all about.

Richard Pinnick is a SVP Global Business Development at Fortress – powering the fan engagement and customer loyalty of 130 leading Sports Teams. Connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter at @fortressgb. To subscribe to FanScope, visit and use the Subscribe link at the bottom of the page.