Classifying Sport Consumers: From Casual to Tribal Fans

Classifying Sport Consumers: From Casual to Tribal Fans

David P. Hedlund, Rui Biscaia, Maria do Carmo Leal
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1048-3.ch016
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Sport fans rarely attend sporting events alone. While traditional consumer and sport fan behavior research often examines fans based on demographic characteristics, recent advances in understanding how sport fans co-create and co-consume sporting events provides substantial evidence that sports fans should be examined as tribal groups. Tribal sport fan groups can be identified based on seven dimensions, including membership; geographic sense of community; social recognition; shared rivalry; and shared knowledge of symbols, rituals and traditions, and people. In this research, these seven dimensions are used to classify sport fans (n=1505) through hierarchical and k-cluster analyses. The results of the cluster analyses using the seven dimensions suggest six unique clusters, labelled as (1) casual fans, (2) moderate remote fans, (3) moderate local fans, (4) local developing tribal fans, (5) remote tribal fans, and (6) tribal fans. A discussion of these six fan groups and the implications regarding associations with demographics and other important variables are provided.
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Fans are commonplace in today’s world. Ranging from fans of music and movies to fans of specific types of food, almost every conceivable area of human existence has fans of one type or another. What is more, there is no area that has more fans than sport teams, athletes and sporting competitions. From globally-known sports teams such as Real Madrid (Spanish soccer/football), the Dallas Cowboys (American football) and the New Zealand All Blacks (rugby); to athletes such as Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer/football), Serena Williams (tennis), Phil Mickelson (golf), LeBron James (basketball), Yuna Kim (figure skating), and Usain Bolt (track and field); and to sports such as football (soccer), American football, rugby, tennis and golf; each team, athlete and sport respectively boasts of millions of fans watching competitions in-person or through media.

As examples of the passion and large numbers of fans, first, during the summer of 2018, Real Madrid’s tweet announcing Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus football club had 92,000 retweets and 127,000 likes (ESPN, 2018). Juventus also reportedly sold $60 million worth of Ronaldo jerseys in 24 hours, representing almost half his transfer fee (Business Insider, 2018). As a second example, for the National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, approximately 67,600 people attended the game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and more than one million people attended game-related events during the 10-day pre-game festival (Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, 2018). In addition, Super Bowl LII averaged 103.4 million television viewers, and there were 3.1 million people concurrently live-streaming the event at its peak on the internet (Otterson, 2018). Clearly, athletes, teams and sporting events have the attention of millions of fans.

Being a fan is generally not an individualistic pursuit. Sports fans, for example, rarely attend sporting events alone (Hedlund, 2014). After arriving at the sporting event location, often as a group, sport fans interact with each other, cheer on athletes and teams in the venue, and co-create and co-consume the sporting event with other fans. For many sport fans, it is the simultaneous process of co-creating and co-consuming the fan experience with other fans at sporting events that holds the most significant meaning and value (Woratschek, Horbel, & Popp, 2014). While the volume and propensity of cheering and yelling can provide an advantage for the home team (Jamieson, 2010; Schwartz & Barsky, 1977), generally speaking, fans have only a minor effect on the outcome of the competition, because they are not directly involved in the on-field/court play. Without fans in attendance, however, professional sporting events would be immensely different and more akin to recreational activities. Thus, the process of creating, developing, maintaining and motivating a large fan base, comprised of large numbers of individuals who come together at a sporting event to be part of a unique experience is a challenge for all sporting event owners and managers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Psychological Sense of Community: A feeling of belonging with other people based on common interests or activities without specifying any specific geographic locale.

Co-consumption: The process of fans experiencing an event with other fans.

Co-Creation: The process of fans coming together and creating a unique experience.

Geographic Sense of Community: A feeling of belonging to a specific geographic locale and/or people from that particular area.

Sense of Community: A feeling that people have of belonging to a group and being important to one another

Tribal Fans: A group of fans who are emotionally connected based on similar consumption patterns and preferences.

Consumption Groups: Fans who shared a preference for and consumption of a particular good or service. Examples of consumption groups include: consumption communities, cultures of consumption, subcultures of consumption, consumer tribes, brand communities, and brand cults.

Rivalry: A fluctuating adversarial relationship existing between two or more groups

Tribal Symbols: The representations and cultural aspects which denote a group

Social Recognition: The ability to be identified by other members of a group based on discernable characteristics.

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