The beneficiaries of your Duke hating


Do you hate Duke basketball? Did you cheer for Mercer last Friday? Were you overjoyed when they won? If the number of “reasons to hate Duke” stories floating around on the internet is any measure, you’re not alone.

By Christina Nelson

Full disclosure: I am a Duke fan. I went to Duke for my master’s degree and participated in the yearly ritual to get tickets to Duke basketball games.

Like undergrads at Duke, grad students have to camp out for tickets. Unlike undergraduates, we do not spend months living in a tent city named after the team’s coach and contracting diseases like meningitis. Grad students have to survive 36 hours at camp out—which involves a parking lot, tents, RVs, a loud siren, hot dogs, beer, and, like any good sporting event, lots of drunk people—just to be entered into a lottery for season tickets.

What starts out as a fun bonding experience devolves into a sleep-deprived fever-dream somewhere between hours 15 and 20.

The upside is we walk away with a handful of season tickets to split between our camp out group. This ritual and the incredible games we get to attend turns the majority of participants into Duke fans. There are always holdouts—and some more sane people camp out just once and never again—but the majority of us end up cheering for Duke years after we leave.

Like other fans, I’ve read plenty of stories outlining reasons why people hate Duke’s basketball team. Colleagues who attended UNC politely and jokingly voice their distaste for the team over lunch or before staff meetings. Potential employers have pointed out that they’re UNC fans, or at least not Duke fans, during job interviews.

The majority of the reasons for hating Duke go something like this: The players are overrated. Mike Krzyzewski is overrated. The fans are the worst. They paint their faces and bodies blue, they make lots of noise, and they type up cheer sheets–which are sometimes excessively nasty–to insult the opposing team’s players. You have a favorite player you love to hate. Duke gets all the calls. Flopping. Floor slapping. Arrogance. Elitism. Dick Vitale. (Even Duke fans agree with a few of these, but that’s beside the point.)

What struck me recently about these rants was not the reasons for or intensity of Duke loathing, but the sheer number of articles, comments, books and digital content devoted to hating Duke.

Like one enormous, multi-year viral marketing campaign, Duke hatred has inspired at least two books, countless articles offering up 6, 10, or 12 reasons for the hatred, and endless comments that either pile on the insults or defend the team. The number of people who hate read negative articles about Duke must be astronomical, because people keep writing them.

If you don’t think hate reading is a thing, feel free to check out the research for yourself. A few studies have been conducted about what makes content go viral. Their findings are relatively simple: The content we share the most is positive and provokes strong emotions (hence the existence and popularity of Upworthy). Content that makes people happy outperforms content that makes people sad or angry. But content that provokes any intense emotion—extreme anger, anxiety, elation–is also more likely to be shared on Facebook, Twitter or forwarded to friends. If it makes your friends or followers angry, they are likely to click through and read it too.

So who ends up benefiting from this hostility? Here’s a short list, in no particular order:

1. Click-bait websites (also known as media outlets that need pageviews)

No entity benefits more from hate reads than media outlets that need pageviews. And they all need pageviews to sell more ads for more money. It’s basically been Gawker’s business model since its founding, but others have taken note.

A recent example of a Duke hate-read click-baiting attempt comes from the local Syracuse paper, which did a 10-part series before the Feb. 1 Duke-Syracuse game that went into overtime (Syracuse won). Here’s one commenter that sums it up nicely: “Thank god this immature series is over. The only thing I can say is I ‘hated’ it.” But he (or she) read it and commented, and the local paper won.

2. ESPN and CBS: One complaint I hear again and again about Duke–often after someone states that they’re overrated–is that too many of their games are televised. Why won’t ESPN let other teams have a chance in the spotlight? Well, that’s because you watch. Maybe not every Duke game, but definitely the games against your team. That Syracuse game I mentioned above was ESPN’s third-most watched men’s college regular season basketball game on record with 4.7 million viewers. The second most watched was a Duke-North Carolina game during the 2007-08 season. ESPN and CBS don’t care why you’re watching, they just care that you’re watching.

3. People who make t-shirts: I wonder how many “I hate Duke” t-shirts has sold.

I was going to end this piece by saying that the “Duke brand” also benefits from all the attention generated by hate reading and hate watching. It keeps Duke games on the air, which promotes the Duke brand, which helps them recruit great players, which keeps them just good enough for you to keep hating. But those benefits are short term and focused only on a small part of a vibrant university community of motivated and intelligent students and faculty.

Fans and the Duke community often get defensive when others gleefully celebrate a Duke loss, but this is a distraction. The Duke community—along with any university known for its sports teams—should be asking themselves whether it’s worth it in the long term to allow a basketball team to represent an entire university, and whether the university might benefit more by focusing its energy elsewhere.