Globalisation and advances in communications technology have greatly expanded the potential marketplace for professional teams, especially for those sports internationally popular. As a result, many team brands profit from millions of satellite fans, or supporters, worldwide. However, the reasons satellite supporters identify with their team remain largely unexplored. Therefore, this chapter describes three studies designed to examine the team identification of these supporters and highlights how mixed methods can be successfully employed online to engage with distant sports fans.
In a competitive sports marketplace, satellite supporters represent significant revenue streams. For instance, 20 percent of merchandise sold through the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) official website are to overseas fans (Eisenberg, 2003); Japanese baseball fans were expected to spend $USD500 million on New York Yankees tickets and souvenirs in support of their countryman, Hideki Matsui (Whiting, 2003); and Real Madrid now earns 60 percent of merchandise revenue from international markets, up from 10 percent only five years ago (Jones, Parkes, & Houlihan, 2006). Furthermore, the greater the degree of identification between an individual and their chosen team, or “the extent to which a fan feels psychologically connected” (Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001, p. 3), the more likely they are to attend their team’s games (Fink, Trail, & Anderson, 2002; Fisher, 1998; Wann & Branscombe, 1993); monitor their team in the media (Fisher, 1998; James & Trail, 2005); purchase team merchandise (Fisher & Wakefield, 1998; Greenwood, 2001; James & Trail, 2005); and to both recognise (Gwinner & Swanson, 2003; Lascu, Giese, Toolan, Guehring, & Mercer, 1995) and purchase (Gwinner & Swanson, 2003; Madrigal, 2000, 2004) products from team sponsors.
The complex nature of sports fandom also has implications for the choice of suitable methods. While studies on the sports fan have traditionally favoured quantitative methods, there is now greater acceptance of a qualitative approach. Furthermore, mixed methods, Jones (1997b) claimed, can provide “a fuller understanding of the sports fan”. Although the use of mixed methods to explore sports fandom is becoming increasingly popular, its adoption is still relatively limited. In addition, although there have been attempts to examine sports fans through the Internet, using for instance online surveys (Nash, 2000), online message boards (End, 2001; Lewis, 2001; Mitrano, 1999), and online ‘interviews’ (Heinonen, 2002; Mitrano, 1999; Silk & Chumley, 2004), it is still a relatively recent approach.