Social Identity Theory in Sports Fandom Research

Social Identity Theory in Sports Fandom Research

Nicholas Hirshon (William Paterson University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3323-9.ch010

Abstract

Sports fans are known to engage in BIRGing, or basking in reflected glory after their team wins, and CORFing, cutting off reflected failure following a team loss. These phenomena are related to social identity theory, which examines how group memberships shape a person's self-image. This chapter explores how media-attentive sports fans internalize victory and externalize defeat by charting the simultaneous developments in the 1970s of social identity theory, advanced by European social psychologists, and BIRGing and CORFing, which are rooted in a landmark study on college students wearing school-identifying apparel after the university football team won. The chapter also examines how social identity has served and can continue to be utilized as the theoretical backbone for research on mass-mediated sports fandom.
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Introduction

Through a series of seminal articles in the 1970s, social psychologists developed a new research tradition based on social identity theory, “that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the emotional significance attached to that membership” (Tajfel, 1974, p. 69). European scholars such as Henri Tajfel and John C. Turner employed social identity theory to examine intergroup relations, group processes, and the social self (Hogg, Terry, & White, 1995). At the same time, a groundbreaking study for sports fandom research demonstrated that university students had a greater tendency to wear school-identifying apparel following a victory by the school football team, decreasing their distance from a successful group with which they were only trivially associated (Cialdini et al., 1976). This scholarship prompted work on the phenomena of BIRGing, or basking in reflected glory after a team victory, and CORFing, cutting off reflected failure following a loss (Snyder et al., 1986; Wann & Branscombe, 1990).

Working in separate disciplines, scholars interested in social identity and BIRGing and CORFing started to explore similar questions about how group memberships shape a person’s self-image. More than four decades later, sports researchers are beginning to utilize social identity more frequently in studies on how mass communication can heighten fans’ identification with sports teams and athletes, answering calls for research on the interaction between sports media narratives and identity variables (Billings, 2011). This chapter aims to achieve two goals: (a) to chart the simultaneous developments of social identity theory and BIRGing and CORFing, including research influences and seminal studies, and (b) to explain how social identity has served and can continue to be utilized as the theoretical backbone for important scholarship on mass-mediated sports fandom.

Key Terms in this Chapter

BIRGing: A phenomenon, used as an abbreviation for basking in reflected glory, through which sports fans enhance their self-esteem by aligning themselves with the victory of a team on which they have no role.

Social Comparison Theory: A person’s determination of their worth in relation to others.

Black Sheep Effect: The tendency of people to view deviant ingroup members more negatively than similar outgroup members.

Outgroup: A collection of people to which a person does not identify as belonging to.

CORFing: A phenomenon, used as an abbreviation for cutting off reflected failure, through which sports fans protect their self-esteem by distancing themselves from the defeat of a team they usually root for.

Social Identity Theory: A person’s sense of self based on group memberships, such as fans supporting sports teams.

Ingroup: A collection of people to which a person identifies as belonging to.

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