Motivations of Sport Fans

It is widely argued that sport can be viewed as a microcosm of society (see, e.g., Eitzen 2015). This does not necessarily refer solely to sport participation, but can include audiences as well (Gau and James 2013). In audience studies relating to sport events, it is popular to focus on attendee motivations—to gain a better understanding of why audience members attend certain events and support certain sports, athletes and teams. In business and management literature, including sport marketing, the term subculture has often been used to describe various types of audiences and participants. However, as we have already seen elsewhere in this book, subculture is a problematic term in postmodern society, and cannot be applied uncritically in classifications of markets and their segmentation to describe groups and individuals who are not marginalised or actively resisting the dominant culture. Todd Crosset and Becky Beal (1997, p. 73) argue that the term subculture has, in sport literature, been used so widely that it has “lost much of its explanatory power.” While they agree that the term is suitable for bodybuilding and other sports that are marginalised by mainstream society (e.g., “off-beat” sports such as skateboarding and surfing), they instead suggest using the term “subworld” to describe qualitatively distinct groups and groupings in more mainstream sport participation, under the concept of the “social world”—a social world of a sport “is divided into distinct social worlds” (Crosset and Beal 1997, p. 81), which in turn are divided into subworlds (a subworld here can be understood as the type of competition someone takes part in, based on skill, age or gender and so on—thus being significantly different from a subculture). Belinda Wheaton (2007) offers a clear summary of why “neo-tribe” can be used to describe participatory sport tourists—which could also be applied to fan communities and travelling fans: “Neo-tribes suggest a postmodern ‘pick and mix’ world of consumer choice in which we are free to choose identities, ignoring the structural constraints that underpin identity choices and create lifestyles” (Wheaton 2007, p. 290).

If we move from sport participation, as in “serious leisure,” towards sport spectatorship—where we find the fans and the “fanship”—we find a different kind of categorisation. As mentioned above, motivation is a key concept in contemporary sport research, as it is assumed that “fan behaviours and attitudes are driven by fans’ motives” (Snelgrove et al. 2008, p. 167). Some motivational research also focuses on the willingness of fans to travel to follow their team, or to attend a global event (see, e.g., Kim and Chalip 2004). Snelgrove et al., in their analysis of motivational differences between locals and visitors at a sport event, conclude that locals and those “who are in town for other purposes [than the event] may require a higher level of fan motivation before they choose to come to the event” (Snelgrove et al. 2008, p. 177). A general weakness with this study, and others of its kind, is that it does not go much further than establishing that local spectators and visitors are driven by different motivations. A recommendation they make, for example, is that event marketers target visitors and locals differently, which is a generic conclusion. Studies like these could learn from cultural studies—for example, the term subculture is used uncritically, as being an “athletics fan” does not necessarily equate with having a “subcultural identity.”

Taking a slightly different approach, Li-Shiue Gau and Jeffrey D. James (2013) have come up with ten values that drive sport spectatorship. Value is here seen as “personal beliefs and goals” (Gau and James 2013, p. 3). The “10-value framework” consists of enjoyment value, sociability value, identity value, status value, spirituality value, moral value, epistemic value, aesthetic value, ritual value and no or negative value. These are the values, explained in more detail:

The value Enjoyment means that people achieve the goal of pleasure and satisfaction, Sociability implies that people pursue a goal of social interaction, and Identity value means the enhancement of peoples’ self-esteem, through sport spectating. The value Status means pursuing a goal of social recognition, Spirituality means inner peace, strength, meaning, and purpose in life, and Moral values can be transmitted, through spectator sports. Epistemic, Aesthetic, and Ritual are three intrinsic values as end-experiences in spectating sports. Finally, some people seek no or even negative values in spectator sports. (Gau and James 2013, p. 11)

The purpose of their study is to provide a better understanding of what motivates people to consume sport, which means that although the research is based around values it is also largely centred on motivations. However, Gau and James (2013, p. 11) state in the conclusion that their “framework is expected to better predict consumption of spectator sports than a fan motivational scale.” If values are extended over time, motivations are often time-specific and short term. There are numerous fan motivational scales, but an often cited source is Daniel Wann’s 23-item Likert Scale developed to measure sport fan motivations. The scale is based around eight types of factors, which are seen as motivations responsible for sport fandom. These categories of factors are eustress, self-esteem, entertainment, escape, economic value, aesthetics, group affiliation and family needs (Wann 1995), which are abstract concepts but useful as a starting point for managers and marketers who want to learn more about fans and their decision-making.

Alan Tapp and Jeff Clowes (2002), in their article “From ‘carefree casuals’ to ‘professional wanderers’: Segmentation possibilities for football supporters,” have noted that marketers and sport managers did not become interested in fan segmentation until the introduction of football as “big business” in the 1990s, when revenues from supporters began to take on increased significance. From their study, consisting of in-depth interviews and a questionnaire, they derived that fans of a club (rather than fans of football in general), were likely to stop watching live football completely if their team ceased to exist. Football fans, as it has been argued elsewhere in this volume, “have much higher levels of involvement with their sport than customers have with mainstream products” (Tapp and Clowes 2002, p. 1257), although Vernon Hill (2012) of MetroBank would perhaps think differently. Katrien Meire, the CEO of Charlton Athletic, seems to have changed her attitude—at least in public—as she, on the club’s website, states: “Our fans are integral to the success of this club and we want to work together with our supporters to make sure we move forward in our pursuit to return to the Championship” (Meire 2016).

It is widely argued that poor performance of one’s team may negatively affect the self-esteem of the fan, and vice versa for a good performance: “The link between psychological and emotional health and the strength of identification to a particular team leads some fans to utilize strategies that will help them maintain a balance despite losses” (Berg and Harthcock 2008, p. 204). Fans also use terms such as “we” and “they” depending on level of self-identification with a club at different points in time (depending, often, on the success of the club). The sports fan is an integral part of communications surrounding sports; they are a key component in multiplying interest and maintaining viewing figures across leagues and competitions. Lawrence Hugenberg et al. (2008) argue that the motives for going to a game and watching it in person may differ significantly from motives behind “sharing and discussing sports”—and taking into account the popularity of the English Premier League in all parts of the world, it is safe to say that most of the audience is remote—with only a small percentage of the larger clubs’ fan bases having the opportunity to see the matches as spectators inside the ground.

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