What does a fanbase mean to a team and a community? To find that answer, look no further than the impact the 12th man has in Seattle, the role Bills Mafia plays in western New York, the spirit of the Lambeau faithful in Green Bay and countless other fanbases across sports. While it is the players on the field making the plays, the fans in the stands bringing the noise, the support and the passion.
While fandom is unique to each and every sports franchise, it is also specifically unique to each and every fan. While a casual fan is the most common for the majority of sports franchises, not every fan expresses their passion in a common way. That’s where the superfan comes into play.
A superfan is someone that is not hiding their true feelings about their fandom. In a stadium of tens of thousands, superfans are able to stick out like a sore thumb, unable to avoid the “Where’s Waldo” moment. Ultimately though, what is a superfan?
The Packers Pope clearly knew how to #ShowUp at Lambeau today.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 18, 2015
Ezra Castro, Buffalo Bills superfan, has been donning his Pancho Billa costume and alter ego for more than 10 years, a character that took months to perfect. Castro spoke to Unfiltered Access about what it means to take the next step in fandom.
“I just feel like a different person, I get in a mood, it is a buildup, it is an excitement,” said the Bills superfan. “An unbelievable feeling that is just like ‘let’s do this’.”
The idea of Pancho Billa may not make sense to the average onlooker, a Mexican-America wrestling masked man in a sombrero and costume covered in gear for a city known for its snow and wings, but to the man behind the mask, it almost makes too much sense. It is the connection he feels with the blue-collar city that he can relate to, an idea transferable across fanbases and geographic locations.
The man that owns a 400-pound buffalo statue explained that it is the resilience of the fanbase and being a part of that resilience that makes being a superfan so easy.
Castro dresses up in sometimes extravagant costumes, attends several games a season and is an unofficial mascot to the Buffalo Bills. This behavior can spark misconceptions from those on the outside looking in.
Bills superfan “Pancho Billa” is currently battling cancer. Went through a session of chemotherapy this week. Still showed up to give an electric pick selection. Why?
— Laces Out (@LacesOutShow) April 28, 2018
What is not often perceived about the superfan is their contributions that go well beyond game day. Castro pointed out that superfans around the NFL and beyond are involved and associated with charitable work to give back to those less fortunate.
“My definition of superfan is not necessarily having to dress up because that is just an extra part of it,” Castro explained. “It really is about who you are within the community, and now I think it is who you are within the other fan bases. If you take it that extra level, where you are representing the team and you are representing the character who you build, doing different charitable activities, I think that really raises you from just any other normal fan.”
It all starts with an understanding, knowing that a superfan has the power to contribute and give back to the community in which they celebrate, hence the creation of the Pro Football’s Ultimate Fan Association. The association aims to promote the fellowship of all fans, encourage sportsmanship and support charitable activities.
— Captain Dee-Fense (@deecapt) July 22, 2018
As an unofficial voice for a team and fanbases, superfans across sports have led by example when it comes to charitable work. “It kind of just separates you to get involved as that character, representing the team and doing that charity work you are going to stand out,” Castro told Unfiltered Access. “People start to notice that, it made me feel good and was just something I said I need to keep doing.”
#PanchoPower in Lufubu, Zambia. Africa! Kids learning how to play football and all about the @buffalobills! My friend Martin serving a mission there. Thx amigo! #VivaLosBills 😍🤘🏈 pic.twitter.com/KmGUUfZTaD
— Pancho Billa (@PanchoBilla1) July 19, 2018
For superfans, it is the culture of their team that often pushes them to do more. Acting as local celebrities, superfans are highly recognizable and seen under a scope that very few fans receive. Using that limelight for a positive change though makes the whole fan experience that much more inclusive for those that are included.
Ray Onedera Perez Jr., also known as “Dr. Death of the Raider Nation“, has been honored for his charitable work in the past, just one of many superfans who have gone beyond their line of duty to help others. Perez Jr. was inducted into the Pro Football Ultimate Fan Association at the NFL Hall of Fame back in 2014, in recognition of his charity work and fandom in and around his community. Notably, Dr. Death announced in 2017 that he is retiring his costume and giving up football with the Raiders presumably leaving Oakland, showing that a community is just as much part of the team as is the players and coaches.
It may seem that the team and the fanbase mean everything to a superfan, but sometimes that love and appreciation goes both ways. Since announcing that he has been diagnosed with cancer, Castro has experienced an outpouring of support from the Bills and their fanbase. In what he says lit a fire under him, the Bills became a fan of Castro, recognizing his actions and wishing one of their biggest fans well-wishes, a gesture that was not lost on the Castro.
To support Castro you can go online and send a donation to his GoFundMe page.