First, here’s the back-story. Every spring in the United States, “March Madness” engulfs sports enthusiasts. This is the month for the annual National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) playoffs and championship (though this year it spilled over into April). And as you may have noticed recently, board members change board meeting dates to stay home and watch the games on television. Television networks battle with big bucks fighting for the rights to televise. Employees talk about the games at work. And apparently, all the media participate in March Madness at equally frenzied levels.

Headlines, feature stories, newscasts! Evidently this is quite a show. I, however, don’t pay attention. Why? Because I’m not interested. I don’t like sports. I don’t watch them—nope, not even the Super Bowl. I don’t engage in sports chatter. Often I don’t know if a certain sports team plays football, basketball or baseball—and actually, I had to get my sister to verify that I correctly recited the back-story!

So here’s my story about the NCAA basketball championship. In March a few years ago (see, I don’t even remember which year!), my sister Nicole called me. I could tell she was very excited.

“Hey Simone, I know you don’t pay any attention to sports, but guess what?”

“What?” I responded with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

“MSU is one of the teams in the final game of the NCAA basketball championship.”

I’m an alumna of Michigan State University and so are most of my siblings. But, it’s bigger than that. My dad was a professor at MSU. I grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, home of MSU. The campus dominated the landscape because of its land mass and number of students. My family socialized with MSU professors. I visited dad in his office at MSU, beginning, I assume, in my infancy. I’m actually very interested in MSU! I even approach strangers wearing Spartan sweatshirts.

You would think, given my deep attachment to MSU, that I would have noticed its name blaring at me in such a highly promoted activity as the NCAA basketball championship. But I didn’t.

Even though I’m very interested in Michigan State University, I didn’t even notice its name when it was all over every single form of media for weeks. Because I—along with all other people—pay attention to what interests me, and little else.

Here’s another sports example: the World Cup (in football or soccer, depending on your country), probably the major sporting event worldwide. In June 2006, Tom and I are visiting our home in Valros, France, a tiny village in the Languedoc region. There’s a big outdoor movie screen in the center of the town square. Traffic no longer passes that way. This is really weird. I asked a neighbor what was going on. He looked at us strangely, very strangely. “Mais madame, c’est le Coupe du Monde ce soir. Et l’équipe de France joue.” Ah, the French team—les Bleus—is playing in the World Cup, probably the world’s biggest sporting event.

The outdoor screen in Valros stayed up for two games, the semi-final and the final. In Paris, people crowded the Champs-Elysées to watch the final game on big screens. That’s the year that Zinédine Zidane head butted the Italian player in the chest. Les Bleus lost.

What’s the moral of these stories? People pay attention to what interests them, and little else. If sports don’t matter to you, even the world’s most heavily publicized events simply disappear.

Source: Modified from Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships, Tom Ahern and Simone Joyaux. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2008.