Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Sport team fandom motivation

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Sport team fandom motivation:
What motivates sport team fandom?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Football Fans

Why is it that some people continue to root for their favourite sports team despite years of disappointing losses? How did they come to be fans of that particular sport and a certain team in the first instance?

This chapter seeks to understand understand sport team fandom in terms of the motives which drive people to establish and maintain fandom status using psychological theories and research.

"The trouble with referees is that they just don't care which side wins."

- Tom Canterbury, American basketball player

Background[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

What is fandom?[edit | edit source]

The definition for fandom in this context is in alignment with the Merriam-Webster definition; a fan is an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator: an ardent admirer or enthusiast. Fandom can be classified as pathological, resulting in excessive, potentially dangerous or deranged behaviour (Jenson, 1992). This chapter does not view fandom in an extremist context. Fandom, for this purpose, is the act of being a fan (an enthusiastic devotee or ardent admirer) of a sports team. 

History of sport team fandom[edit | edit source]

It is possible that the earliest recorded occurrence of sports team fandom were the fans of the chariot races in ancient Rome. It was not the specific people or horses that the crowds cheered for and gambled on, it was the team the chariot belonged to that attracted the affiliation (Harris, 1972).

Figure 2. Winner of a Roman chariot race

In terms of publications, the first sporting magazine in the UK was published in the late 1700s,[grammar?] by the mid-1800s there were many sports magazines around the world but it wasn’t until the 1920s that sports became a major focus in media, radio and film (Haridakis & Earnheardt, 2011) which gave birth to widespread sports fans.

Historically, sport fandom has been a segregated undertaking. Supporting certain teams allowed a way of identifying with a local elite or oppressed cultural group. Often this was a racial issue such as the ‘negro-leagues’ in the USA baseball scene or the British governance over Cricket in India (Spracklen, 2014). Conversely, sport is now seen as an equaliser. Throughout the world, sport is able to break down barriers and bring people together. The ability of sports teams to attract millions of fans can be used to reduce cultural resistance, and to rebuild communication between people and nations (Wiid & Cant, 2015)

Currently, in addition to the high level of coverage that (many) sports receive from the media, sports fans play sports-related games off and online, use social media to connect with other fans and express their fandom messages, and even demonstrate fandom in fantasy sports  (Haridakis & Earnheardt, 2011).

The world-wide magnitude of fandom; case in point[edit | edit source]

There are millions of people from all nations of the world who identify themselves as sports fans. In our current technological heavy world, one way to see this is through social media. The Director of Media Partnerships for Facebook, Nick Grudin delivered a presentation at a sports conference ( where he emphasised the social connection and sense of belonging that being a sports team fan brings. He declared “You’re never just a fan alone”. He went on to quote a prominent sport expert who decreed that fandom is becoming more and more powerful “the next major revolution in professional sports will be fan empowerment.”

Australian context[edit | edit source]

Today sport fandom is very prevalent in Australia. In 2010, over 2.8 million people in Australia attended Australian Football League games, horse racing was attended by 1.9 million, and rugby league matches were supported by 1.6 million people in person (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010).

Figure 3. Australian sport team fans

Australian university students have been judged as more seriously identifying with sport fan roles and bigger sport consumers than students from a number of countries including USA, Norway and Greece (Melnick & Wann, 2011).

Motivations[edit | edit source]

A number of scales have been developed which depict motivators for people to become sports fans. Amongst the more referenced scales are the ‘Sport Fan Motivation Scale’ (Wann, 1995), ‘The Motivation Scale for Sport Consumption’ (Trail & James, 2001), and Motivations of the Sport Consumer scale (Milne and McDonald, 1999). Table 1 portrays some of the most consistent motives identified in the [what?]literature.

Identified motives for sport team fandom[factual?][edit | edit source]

Group affiliation Fans use sporting events as a social gathering
Family needs Fandom as a justification to bond and spend time with family members
Aesthetics A fan enjoys the grace of a sport and the fluid movements of the game
Self-esteem When a fans team wins they feel better about themselves and celebrate the achievements of the players
Economic Wagering money on sporting events for personal gain in addition to heightening the fans experience if they put on a successful bet
Escape Fandom can be a form of escapism to relieve pressures from day to day life
Eustress Fans use sport in hope of being aroused,excited and stimulated
Entertainment Purely watching sport for enjoyment

A further scale created to identify and measure motives for sports team fandom is the Sports Interest Inventory which has shown to be psychometrically sound (Funk, Mahony, & Ridinger, 2002).  The Sports Interest Inventory has been in used to explore the Australian Football League (AFL) teams and found that it is suitable to be used in an Australia context (Neale & Funk, 2005).

Research suggests that the difference in the level of spectator sport is explained by differing principal motivators. Various sports show different levels of strength across different [missing something?] the motivators, for example what motivates individuals to be fans of women’s soccer is predominantly the following five motivators: sport interest, team interest, vicarious achievement, role modelling, and entertainment value (Funk, Mahony, & Ridinger, 2002).  Slightly different key motivators have been identified for men’s team fandom; team interest, vicarious achievement, excitement and player interest (Neale & Funk, 2005).

A prominent group of researchers in fandom literature, Wann and colleagues suggest that of all the identified motivators for fandom, ‘escape’ is the most significant. The authors propose that the chief societal function of sport fandom is to provide fans with a “time-out institution” (Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001).

Figure 4. Father with his baby sports fan

Socialisation factors[edit | edit source]

The people close to an individual have been shown to impact a person’s motivation to become a sports fan.  These ‘socialisation agents’ are important with indications that fathers, in particular, heavily influence a child’s sport fandom (Melnick & Wann, 2011). Influences at differing stages of an individual’s life have also been recognised. For male University students ‘being a sports fan’ is an important popularity determinant (End, Kretschmar, & Dietz-Uhler, 2004).

Example of a dedicated sports fan[edit | edit source]

Many loyal sports fans fly around the world to see their favourite team but few spend years cycling the world to support their team. A South African rugby fan, Ron Rutland spent two whole years cycling 43,000 kms from Cape Town, South Africa to Brighton, England to attend the Springboks vs Japan match at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Despite his team losing, Rutland would do it all again. “It was the best decision of my life. I'd definitely do it again, if anything I'd take more time over it. And I know the Springboks can pull this back.”

Models and research[edit | edit source]

Various theoretical models have been presented in attempts to explain motivational concepts for an individual to establish and maintain fandom behaviour towards sports teams. Although some studies have been conducted to explore the efficacy of the models, the body of evidence for these models in for a sports team fan context is limited.

Serious Leisure Identification[edit | edit source]

The Serious Leisure Identification Model is built on the serious leisure concepts of Robert Stebbins (Stebbins, 1997). This states that being a fan of a sports team provides a strong sense of social identity, that is, a sense of belonging to a group. Being a member of a particular group (a Sydney Swan AFL fan for example) plays an important part in an individual’s concept of ‘who they are’ and their self-image. The Serious Leisure Identification model proposes that individuals who categorise themselves as fans of sports teams take on the social identity of serious leisure participants (Jones, 2000). Once the individual has the identity of a serious leisure participant, it is suggested they will persevere with their fandom even if the costs outweigh the benefits, for example the team continues to lose every season. There are several compensatory behaviours the Serious Leisure Identification model suggests that people engage in if the team is not performing well such as ‘unrealistic optimism’ or ‘in-group favouritism’ where those within the ‘fan club’ are shown preferential treatment (Jones, 2000).

Model of Human Occupation[edit | edit source]

A further model offers an understanding of how motivators arise to which allow an individual to become a sports team fan; the Model of Human Occupation. This provides explanations to why individuals choose to be a sport fan and what aspects of the person’s environment influence this behaviour (Humphries & Smith, 2006). It is suggested that ‘attraction’ and ‘preference’ are key aspects which drive the motivators for sports team fandom. As shown by the information in table 1 research has shown that fans are attracted to the aesthetics or drama or social interaction of being a sports fan. Preference, in this context, is said to be based on a person’s collective experiences such as their participation in sports teams throughout their life or being part of an informed discussion with colleagues regarding certain sporting teams which creates a preferred action in relation to sports team fandom.

Within the Model of Human Occupation, the environment is believed to have a significant impact upon a sports fan behaviour. This part of the model is based on Keilhofner’s work (Kielhofner, 2002) which states a person’s environment can be divided into physical and social aspects as well as influences that encourage or require action. Although there has been some research regarding environmental factors which encourage sports team fandom, more study is warranted using the Model of Human Occupation framework (Humphries & Smith, 2006).

The Model of Human Occupation has been demonstrated to be a robust and valid model in the occupational therapy area in terms of understanding human behaviour (Humphries & Smith, 2006), however, it is yet to be thoroughly examined and proven in relation to the specific motivations and behaviours regarding sport team fandom.

Figure 6. Psychological Continuum Model

Psychological Continuum Model[edit | edit source]

Another model offers explanations between sport and consumer behaviour. The Psychological Continuum Model  outlines factors believed to create a psychological connection between an individual and sport. This model suggests that people move through four stages (awareness, attraction, attachment and allegiance) which results in sports team fandom behaviour (Funk & James, 2001). The awareness stage is where the individual learns of the sport and the team, and socialisation factors are significant at this initial stage. The second stage of 'Attraction' can be linked to the motivators as described in table one in addition to being a part of the Model of Human Occupation outlined above. 'Attachment' refers to the stage where socialisation factors decrease and the sense of social identify as described in the Serious Leisure Identification model increases. Finally, 'Allegiance' pertains to the state where an individual is a genuine sports team fan and will continue demonstrate loyalty to the team even in the case of unsuccessful performances.         

The Psychological Continuum Model has been applied to case studies (de Groot, & Robinson, 2008) in a sporting context, however has yet to be rigorously studied in a sports team fandom setting.                  

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Which is not an identified motive for sport team fandom?

Self fulfillment.

2 Which model states that being a fan of a sports team provides a strong sense of social identity, that is, a sense of belonging to a group?

Model of Human Occupation.
Serious Leisure Identification Model.
Psychological Continuum Model.
Fandom Predictor Model.

3 Socialization factors refer to the influence of

The physical environment.
Personality traits.
The media.
People close to an individual.

4 According to Wann and colleagues what is the most significant motivator of fandom?

Group affiliation.

5 What is thought to be the earliest recorded occurrence of sports team fandom?

Chariot races.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

There are consistent, identified motivators which show why individuals become fans of sports teams. Models on which to base the theoretical underpinning of the known motives are suggested, however the evidence is currently limited. Established models such as the Model of Human Occupation require more extensive application to the sports team fandom area and new models developed specifically to address sports team fandom are continually to emerging.  What motivates people to become sports team fans is complex as it involves human behaviour, however, as the sports industry grows, as too does the interest and drive to understand the motives of these enthusiastic sports consumers. 

See also[edit | edit source]


Sports Fandom

What motivates life long sports participation

References[edit | edit source]

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2010) 4174.0 - Spectator Attendance at Sporting Events, 2009-10 Retrieved from

de Groot, M., & Robinson, T. (2008). Sport fan attachment and the psychological continuum model: A case study of an Australian football league fan. Leisure32(1), 117-138.

End, C. M., Kretschmar, J. M., & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2004). College students' perceptions of sports fandom as a social status determinant. International Sports Journal8(1), 114.

Jenson, J. (1992). Fandom as pathology: The consequences of characterization. The adoring audience: Fan culture and popular media, 9-29.

Funk, D. C., Mahony, D. F., & Ridinger, L. L. (2002). Characterizing consumer motivation as individual difference factors: augmenting the Sport Interest Inventory (SII) to explain level of spectator support. Sport Marketing Quarterly,11(1), 33-43.

Funk, D. C. & James, J. D. (2001). The Psychological Continuum Model (PCM). A conceptual framework for understanding an individual’s psychological connection to sport. Sport Management Review, 4, 119–150.

Neale, L., & Funk, D. (2005). Fan motivation and loyalty: Extending the sport interest inventory (SII) to the Australian football league.

Haridakis, P.M., Earnheardt, A.C (2011). In Sports Fans, Identity, and Socialization: Exploring the Fandemonium. A. C. Earnheardt, P. Haridakis,& B. Hugenberg (Eds.). Lexington Books.

Harris, H. A. (1972). Sport in Greece and Rome (Vol. 16). Cornell University Press.

Humphries, C. E., & Smith, A. C. (2006). Sport fandom as an occupation: understanding the sport consumer through the lens of occupational science. International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing1(4), 331-348.

Jones, I. (2000). A model of serious leisure identification: The case of football fandom. Leisure Studies19(4), 283-298.

Kielhofner, G. (2002) Model of Human Occupation: Theory and Application, 3rd edition, Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins

Melnick, M. J., & Wann, D. L. (2011). An examination of sport fandom in Australia: Socialization, team identification, and fan behavior. International Review for the Sociology of Sport46(4), 456-470.

Milne, G. R., & McDonald, M. A. (1999). Sport marketing: Managing the exchange process. Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Stebbins, R. (1997) Serious leisure and well-being, in Work, Leisure and Well-being (edited by J. Haworth), Routledge, London, pp. 117–30.

Spracklen, K. (2014). Exploring Sports and Society: A Critical Introduction for Students. Palgrave Macmillan.

Milne, G. R., & McDonald, M. A. (1999). Sport marketing: Managing the exchange process. Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Stebbins, R. (1997) Serious leisure and well-being, in Work, Leisure and Well-being (edited by J. Haworth), Routledge, London, pp. 117–30.

Wann, D. L., Melnick, M. J., Russell, G. W., & Pease, D. G. (2001). Sport fans: The psychology and social impact of spectators. Routledge.

Wiid, J. A., & Cant, M. C. (2015). Sport Fan Motivation: Are You Going To The Game?. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences5(1), 383-398.

External links[edit | edit source]