The Passion That Unites Us All: The Culture and Consumption of Sports Fans

The Passion That Unites Us All: The Culture and Consumption of Sports Fans

Brandon Mastromartino (The University of Georgia, USA), Wen-Hao Winston Chou (The University of Georgia, USA) and James J. Zhang (University of Georgia, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5475-2.ch019
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Sports fans are individuals who are interested in and follow a sport, team, and/or athlete. These fans reinforce their identity as a fan by engaging in supportive and repetitive consumption behaviors that relate to the sport or team they are so passionate about. This chapter will provide an overview of the history and cultural heritage of sports fandom, discuss the significance and functions of fandom, underline what motivates individuals to consume sports, examine the consequences and results of fandom, and highlight contemporary research and developmental trends. This chapter will allow for a good understanding of where research on sports fandom is headed and the important issues affecting sports fans.
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This is a true story about a sport fan. Wertheim and Sommers (2016) noted the experience of Dennis Doyle, a season ticket holder for the 2014-15 New York Knicks:

A thirty-something recovering lawyer, Doyle left his job, withdrew $25,000 from his savings, and devoted the next year to attending every New York Knicks game. Not every home game. Every game. That meant venturing as far as London to watch his team. …The Knicks weren’t merely bad. They were putrid, wretched, miserable…Doyle endured it all. The blowouts and the blown leads. The thousands of shots that clanged off the rim. The missed defensive switches. The failure to grasp the Triangle Offense. He dutifully watched every moment of every game (p. 4).

This chapter is about sport fandom, and the aforementioned anecdote is a typical story of a sport fan — a loyal, enthusiastic, but somehow understandable admirer — who spends a significant amount of his or her time and money on following a sport, a team, or athlete. Understanding sport fans is important because of the large role sports play in modern society. An example of this is shown in the dramatic increase in media time allotted to sport programming. Between 1960 and 1988, the total number of hours allotted to sport programming on the three major TV networks, American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), and National Broadcasting Company (NBC), increased by 600%, from 300 hours to over 1,800 hours (Wenner, 1989). Since the introduction of the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) in 1979, sports-only channels have gathered increased viewership and revenues. In 2014, ESPN made $10.8 billion in revenue (Gaines, 2015).

Consuming sports has become a part of the American way of life. Compared to the early 1900s when professional sports began to rise, people now have more discretionary money and time to spend on leisure activities and commercial sports have steadily attracted more and more fans. With the availability of sports via television and the Internet, sport fans can watch different kinds of televised sport games or follow their favorite teams and athletes from anywhere in the world. As sport fandoms grow, the money generated from advertising, sponsorship, and sporting good sales has increased considerably. A prominent example of this economic growth is the rising cost of advertisements during the NFL’s Super Bowl. In 1967, 30-second commercials for the first Super Bowl cost a measly $42,000; that amount broke the $1 million barrier in 1995 and hit a record high of $4.5 million per commercial in 2015. CBS is now charging $5 million for ads in 2016, which equals to $166,666 per second (Schwartz, 2016).

The evolution of sport fandom is closely related to the changes in the contemporary sport industry. Despite the amazing growth in production of modern sports, fans are harder to reach, attract, and retain now because fans are now confronted with an array of sport and non-sport options like never before (Rein, Kolter, & Shields, 2007). Sports are increasingly in danger of losing their fans. Dominant sports like the NFL, NBA, and MLB are under pressure to maintain market shares because an entire group of emerging sports are gaining new fans and fragmenting the market even further. As the global marketplace becomes more accessible, sports that were formerly national or regional in scope are now seeking opportunities to conquer new overseas markets. In a market so crowded with sports and entertainment options, why and how sport fans connect, disconnect, or reconnect to a sport is often overlooked. Thus, it is important for researchers and practitioners look deep into the realm of sport fandom. The huge economic and cultural impact has led many people to wonder: Who are these people and why are they so passionate about sports? This chapter examines who sports fans are, how they become a sports fan in the first place, and what motivates them to continuously consume sports. As well, we further inquire about some of the unique elements that make up a sports fan, the ways in which sport fans engage in their fandom, and how sport organizations market their products to meet the needs of their fans. Finally, we touch on some current trends in sport fan research and what the future might hold for sport fans.

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