How Pro Athlete Rivalries Are Influencing the Future Generation of Athletes

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Sports are a subject for discussion at dinner tables in many American homes. They bring families together and pull them apart — that is, if loyalty to a team or player isn’t agreed upon. Sports rivalries bring out the fiercest competition between athletes and teams, laying the foundation for some of the biggest, most-watched games for diehard fans. These rivalries increase fan loyalty and benefit the sports industry, all while entertaining millions of people.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Ohio University’s online Master of Athletic Administration program.

How sports rivalries can help to foster communal strength and economic vitality.

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Famous Sports Rivalries

Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova

Williams began her professional tennis career in 1995. Sharapova started her career in 2001. The rivalry started in 2004, when the then-17-year-old Sharapova upset Williams at Wimbledon and defeated her again at the WTA Championships. Since 2004, however, Williams has defeated Sharapova 19 consecutive times. Despite Williams’ domination over Sharapova, the rivalry continues to bring extensive media coverage. Today, they’re two of the highest-paid female tennis players in the world, and they are locked into major endorsement deals.

Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O’Neal

Bryant played in the NBA from 1997 – 2016. He won five championships, was NBA MVP in 2008, and was NBA Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010. O’Neal played in the league from 1993-2001. He won four titles, was NBA MVP in 2000, and was NBA Finals MVP 2000, 2001, and 2002.

The two became teammates for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1996-97 season. Their rivalry started after the 1999-2000 season, the year after they won the first of three straight NBA Finals together. O’Neal was named Finals MVP and league MVP that season and led the Lakers in scoring. Bryant worked hard that offseason and criticized O’Neal for starting each season out of shape. Bryant surpassed O’Neal as team scoring leader for the last two seasons together, and then O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat during the 2003-04 season.

Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo

Messi started his career in 2003 while Ronaldo began his career in 2002. They are arguably the two best soccer players of all time, and they have the statistics to back it up. Messi has scored 604 career goals and assisted on 247 more, and he also has 44 hat tricks to his credit. Ronaldo has put up 649 career goals and has registered 207 assists, and he also boasts 50 hat tricks. Both have won five Ballon d’Or awards, although Ronaldo has also won the Uefa Best Player award three times.

Messi has led teams to eight La Lega titles, three FIFA Club World Cup Titles, and one gold medal. Ronaldo has been part of three Premier League title teams and two La Liga teams, and has led squads to four FIFA Club World Cup titles.

USC Trojans vs. UCLA Bruins

Located just 12 miles apart, these colleges claim a football rivalry that dates back to 1929. The record is 46-31-7 in favor of USC. The rivalry commonly inspires student pranks such as painting and duct taping each other’s school mascot statues.

The universities’ rivalry also transcends the gridiron. UCLA has earned 114 NCAA championships for all sports, compared to 104 for USC. UCLA also has produced 467 Olympians who have earned 308 medals, including 144 golds. Conversely, USC has produced 429 Olympians who have earned 262 medals, including 133 golds.

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

This rivalry began in 1919, when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000. This transaction begat “The Curse of the Bambino,” where the Red Sox went 86 years without winning a World Series (1918 – 2004).

The rivalry’s record is 1,163 – 966 in favor of the Yankees. It also boasts some legendary moments, including Yankee Joe DiMaggio winning 1941 AL MVP honors over the Red Sox’ Ted Williams and the Red Sox coming back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

Psychology of the Fight

Why Sports Rivalries Captivate Us

Sports rivalries reel us in because teams remind us of our past, whether it’s a connection to our hometown, a conduit to keeping college alumni in touch, or allegiances handed down through families for generations. Game day rituals such as pregame parties, wearing team colors, and singing college fight songs also bring a team’s fans together.

Additionally, rivalries fulfill a tribal need, as people feel pride and security when they’re a part of a group. These feelings tend to generate high levels of energy and enthusiasm, while the games themselves create suspense and emotional experiences.

What Makes a Good Rivalry?

Common ground like geographic closeness can be essential to a proper rivalry. The frequency of teams playing each other is also a key rivalry component. Finally, both participants should be equally matched to keep the rivalry exciting.

The Business of Sports Rivalries

How the Sports Industry Benefits from Rivalries

According to the Forbes Baseball Team Values for 2017, teams with the biggest rivalries are among the top 10 most valuable franchises. The Yankees are valued at $3.7 billion, and the rival Red Sox are valued at $2.7 billion. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a valuation of $2.75 billion, and the rival San Francisco Giants have a $2.65 billion valuation. The Chicago Cubs are valued at $2.68 billion, while their rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, are valued at $1.8 billion.

College rivalries also bring big business into small towns. For example, Moscow, Idaho experiences a $1 million economical jump on the day of the University of Idaho vs. Boise State football game. Furthermore, a local restaurateur reported a 65-75% increase in sales on the day of the Utah-BYU football game.

Sports rivalries make for some of the most exciting games for fans. When rivals face off, legendary plays and big emotions can follow. These memorable moments in sports history bring people and their families together while boosting businesses and local economics.

Learn more about earning your online Master’s in Athletic Administration from Ohio University.