- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

Forget about the Final Four. The big match this weekend may be die-hard sports fan versus uninterested spouse as televised sports take their toll on happy couplehood.

It’s not just basketball. Perfect putts or final-second goals elate fanatical fans year around. But those who don’t know a hole in one from a jump shot have a different tale to tell.

A survey of 800 American families reveals a “significant negative effect on intimacy” when couples don’t share the same level of sports passion, according to the poll “Sports Fan Vs. Sufferer” by Marc USA, a Pittsburgh-based marketing group.

More than 25 percent of the sufferers, who either “seldom or never” watch a match, report that one-sided sports watching has a negative effect on the relationship; only 12 percent of the fans agree.

The survey did not identify fans or sufferers as males or females. There is, after all, growing evidence that women are watching TV sports in huge numbers — over half the viewers of the Winter Olympics in recent years have been female, according to Nielsen. This year’s Super Bowl attracted 20 million women.

Men and women still react differently, however.

A recent Indiana University study of 707 adults found that men watch sports to relax, let off steam and have something to talk about. Women enjoy the companionship around the TV but often work on something else while they watch.

In the mean time, it’s isolation between fan and sufferer that does the damage, according to the Marc survey. Both sides said communication suffered the most — 43 percent of sufferers and 39 percent of fans admitted that chitchat and sweet nothings were compromised by the big game.

Family time also fell by the wayside, with 35 percent of fans and 32 percent of sufferers agreeing that it was shortened.

In delicate matters — “intimacy” in survey speak — 29 percent of the sufferers blamed TV sports for a drop in the frequency of special moments, compared with 19 percent of the fans.

“Maybe it’s also time for sports fans to invite the suffering spouse/partner to get into the game,” said Marc spokeswoman Karen Letize.

But the die-hard fans have their own problems: 27 percent said their viewing habits made them lose sleep, compared with 18 percent of sufferers. Thirty percent of fans said TV sports affected their diet, compared with 20 percent of sufferers.

A third of the fans felt they weren’t exercising enough or tending to household chores — compared with 28 percent of the otherwise-occupied sufferers.

Both sufferers (41 percent) and fans (40 percent ) agree the non-watching partner “gets stuff accomplished,” however.

And the two sides at least think about one another: Over a quarter of sufferers think they nag too much, about the same percentage of the fans who feel guilty about their preoccupation with game rather than spouse or sweetheart.

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