Sports fans and consumers have a wide variety of morals, attitudes, and behaviors that they tend to display when attaching themselves to a specific sports team or organization. Researchers have consistently looked to examine what components affect and determine a sport fans behavioral loyalty to their favorite team. The purpose of this study is to examine how changes in the core sports product of a team can influence a fans behavioral loyalty and impact their overall consumption. For this study, the core sports product will represent the overall athletic performance of an athletic program, specifically, the University of Florida football program. We look to answer whether or not an unsuccessful season for the University of Florida’s football team can influence a loyal fans behavioral aspects and consumption.
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Examining how the outcome of a team’s season can impact a fans loyalty behavior can be beneficial to sports organization and their markers in recognizing what drives a fan to consume sport (Samara, Wos, 2014). Determining a sports fan’s behavioral loyalty to a sports organization can also be beneficial in aiding a team to forecast attendance frequencies over a longer period of time (Yoshida, Heere, Gordon, 2015). Past literature has examined the importance of team identification in predicting and understanding consumer sports behavior. However, there is a lack of research that has compared team identification and loyalty in the result of an athletic teams performance. Team identification can be a predictor and heavy influencer of a fan’s physiological health, brand identity, and consumption, as well as, attendance behaviors (Funk, Lock, 2015). However, this study differs from past research by focusing specifically on highly identified fans and how a change in a team’s athletic performance can impact their fan loyalty and consumption behaviors.
When examining past research that has been done on team identification the Social Identity Theory is a very relevant and critical aspect in understanding fans identification with a sports team. The main idea behind Social Identity Theory is that group membership is motivated by the desire for positive individuality from social groups which can then impact their overall behavioral consequences (Madrigal, 2001). For fans that are strongly attached to their favorite sports team, they tend to establish their own identity by living through and establishing themselves with their favorite sports team (Madrigal, 2001). Depending on the amount in which a fan identifies with his or her favorite sports team can also influence the ego and psychological personal importance the fan associated with their self.
However, It is important to take into consideration that not every fan is the same in regards to how or why they identify with a particular sports team. Identification is defined as, “the level of psychological attachment felt by a sports fan towards his or her favorite sports team” (Kim & Kim, 2009; Wann et al., 2001). The level in which a fan identifies him or her self with a sports team can vary depending on their social identity and psychological connection they have with that particular sports team. The level in which a fan identifies with a team can potentially predict their behavioral patterns (Wann, Branscomb, 1970). For example, highly identified fans are more likely to be involved with the team, attend games, purchase merchandise, and spread a positive and consistent word of mouth. Whereas fans with lower levels of team identification may not attend games as often, purchase gear, or spread any word of mouth about the team (Madrigal, 2001). Through this study, we want to examine a highly identified fan and how a change in a team’s athletic performance can affect their overall fan behavioral loyalty in regards to game attendance and word of mouth.
1.1 The effects of athletic performance change on highly identified fans’ attendance rates
As stated before, a highly identified fan is someone who positively associates themselves and their social identity and worth with their favorite athletic team. There is past research that examines the movement and transformation from heavily identifying with a team to becoming fan loyalty. Funk and James (2004) developed a model called the Fan Attitude Network Model (FAN Model), which suggests that the evolution of team identity to team loyalty can result from the fans attitude toward that particular team, which can then impact their overall consumption behaviors (Gargone, 2016). Iwaski and Havitz (2004) defied team loyalty as being made up of five major behavioral components: duration, proportion, frequency, intensity, probability, and brand use.
Through past research, we have learned that it can be very difficult to change long-term attitudes and beliefs. For example, if someone was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and their family has always been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys football team, it is very unlikely that a family member would not identify with the same team as their other family members. The reasons being that: they want to carry on the family tradition, they want to feel included and liked by other family members, and they do not want to change what has been the same for many years. The evolution of a fans attitudes forms from internalizing a specific number of events, which then delegates their values and meanings to certain actions, socialization, and involvement and affiliation with “in-groups” (Funk, James, 2004). As research has shown, this means that it can be more challenging to change a highly identified fans overall attitude towards a specific team because their values and image of that team have been the same for so long. However, will a decrease in athletic performance over time impact their fan loyalty in regard to match attendance and spreading positive word of mouth?
Being a highly identified fan and the psychological needs that come along with it have proven to be a predicting of fan behavior? BIRGing literature suggests that the outcome of a team’s athletic performance has a deeper influence on consumers that are highly identified with a sports team rather than fans that have a lower team identification (Jang, Wann, Ko, 2018). BIRGing tendencies refer to “Basking-In-Reflected-Glory”, which is when people want to associate themselves with teams or others that are successful (Wann, Branscombe, 1990). This can be examined by how often fans are purchasing team merchandise and attending competitions. The more successful a team is the more fans, particularly highly identified fans, are willing to express their association with that particular team and increase their consumption behaviors. However, there is an opposite effect of BIRGing, which is the tendency referred to as “Cutting-Off-Reflected-Failure”(CORFing) (Wann, Branscombe, 1990). This tendency is an ego-centered idea and is typically seen when a team becomes unsuccessful and people begin to distance themselves from identifying with that sports team (Wann, Branscombe, 1990). With this study, we look to answer whether or not a highly identified fan will stick by their team when their athletic performance decreases, or will their fan loyalty and consumption behaviors be affected as a result.
H1: Identification towards a sports team that is unsuccessful is positively related to the highly identified consumer’s behavioral loyalty and their attendance to match competitions.
Our hypothesis shows a positive correlation with unsuccessful teams and their attendance in competitions because past literature has supported that it is very difficult to influence the attitudes and behaviors of highly identified fans.
1.2 The effects of athletic performance change on highly identified fans’ positive word of mouth
Research has also proven there too is a relationship between team identification and positive word of mouth spread about the team in which the consumer identifies with. Word of Mouth is a great way to have fans and consumer market your particular product or service to the world (Chevalier, Mayzlin, 2014). Word of mouth can be spread not only through face-to-face communication, but can also be spread through various social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Team performance can play a huge role in the influence of team identification and the associated positive or negative word of mouth. Marinating and achieving excellence in performance on and off the field is an essential service that many professional team offer for their fans (Chang, Kang, Ko, Connaughton, 2017). Word of mouth has been recognized to increase one’s social responsibility, quality of service, and even a fan’s ego (Chang, Kang, Ko, Connaughton, 2017). The word-of-mouth spread by your consumers can play an essential role in marketing and communicating your team’s values and morals. Depending on the success of the team can play an influential role in whether or not the word of mouth being spread is positive or negative. As stated before it has been proven by past research that changing the attitudes formed by highly identified fans can be very difficult (Funk, James, 2004).
The amount in which a fan identifies with a sports team can also play an influential role in the type word of mouth spread about their favorite team. Past literature has proven that fans with a higher sense of team identification have received more satisfaction and increased self-esteem when their favored team is successful (Jang, Wann, Ko, 2018). With fans being more satisfied that can lead to a more positive word of mouth being spread about the team in which they identify with. Whereas, low identified fans do not associate their self-esteem or satisfaction with a team or their success as much or as often as highly identified fans. Meaning, fans that do not identify themselves with a team may not talk about a team as often or as positively as someone who is highly identified with a team. For the purpose of this study, we are only considering highly identified fans and how a repeated unsuccessful season can impact their positive word of mouth spread about their favorite team.
Even though attitudes that have been formed over a longer period of time may be difficult to influence or change for a highly identified fan, emotions can play a major role in how a fan may react to their favorite teams unsuccessful season. According to Bagozzi (1999) emotions are defined as, “a mental state of readiness that arises from cognitive appraisals of events or thought”. Depending on the emotion that results from a specific event there can be a positive or negative action in result to the emotion (Bagozzi, 1999). Going through an attitude formation and change will take a much longer process, however, emotions can change and format a much faster pace and are way shorter-lived than moods or even attitudes. Which is why emotions may result in a highly identified sports fan spreading a negative word of mouth about their favorite team rather than their overall attitude change toward that team. Just because there is a relevant negative emotion toward a specific action or event does not mean that the overall consumer’s attitude towards that team has been changed in any way. The purpose of this study is to take into consideration the highly identified fans attitudes and emotions toward their favorite team and how a consistent unsuccessful season can impact their positive word of mouth spread about the team that they identify with.
H2: Identification towards a sports team that is unsuccessful is positively related to the consumer’s behavioral loyalty and their positive spread of word of mouth in relation to the team they identify with.
Our hypothesis shows a positive correlation with unsuccessful teams and their highly identified fans spread of positive word of mouth because research shows that a fans overall attitude towards their favorite team is hard to change, however, a single emotion may influence the consumer to feel negative, but not change their overall attitude. Resulting in an overall positive word of mouth being spread by the highly identified fans.
There will be surveys sent out to current students and Alumni from the University of Florida who are gator football season ticket holders. The surveys will be sent out via email to all the email addresses provided by season ticket holders upon season ticket purchase. For the purpose of this study, we will be examining how an unsuccessful football season for the Florida Gators will impact the behaviors of their highly identified fans. Highly identified fans, for the purpose of this study, will be categorized as fans that have purchased season tickets. Another issue of the same survey will be sent to the season ticket holders emails will also be distributed to the same group of people after the following Florida football season takes place. The University of Florida football team has sold 58,000 season tickets for this 2018 season and has seen a steady decline since their second National Title in 2006 (Goldkamp, 2018). The study’s sample will consist of a very diverse group of people consisting of all age groups, ethnicities, and religions. The following email surveys will happen annually for the next five years. There will be an incentive for the season ticket holders to complete both surveys by providing them with coupons to some of Gainesville’s most famous and well know restaurants.
We measured the amount in which a fan identifies with a team and their behavioral consumption loyalty based on a 7-point Likert Scale (Jang, Wann, Ko, 2018). When examining a fan’s behavioral loyalty in this study we will include questions that will examine the fan’s attitude loyalty to the team and if that is willing to change based on the success of the team. The survey questions will be persistent over time if there is resistance to change their attitude, bias in cognitive processing, and lastly their guides to behavior (Funk, James, 2001). The survey questions that are targeted towards analyzing fans team identification will be based on the Social Identity Theory and how they view themselves in relation to the team (Madrigal, 2001). Questions pertaining to the highly involved sport fans willingness to spread a positive word of mouth about their favorite team will also be asked throughout this survey. All question will be formatted based on a 7-point Likert Scale ranging from one representing strongly disagree and five representing strongly agree. From the collection of this data we wish to examine the relationship amongst team identity and behavioral loyalty and how an unsuccessful football season for the Florida Gators can impact their fans attendance rates and positive word of mouth. As you can see in Table 1, there are questions asked that refer to all team identification, attendance, and word of mouth.
In order to collect this data, we will be analyzing the results using a Two- Way ANOVA Scale. The purpose of the Two-Way ANOVA Scale is used to compare different scale levels provided for a single dependent variable in regards to two independent variables. We are using the ANOVA Scale because we wish to see if there is a significant statistical difference in the fans that are highly identified and whether an unsuccessful season for their favorite team can have an impact on their attendance rates and positive word mouth spread about the team.
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Because we wish to examine both the effects of highly identified fans and how an unsuccessful season can have an impact on their attendance rates or positive word of mouth, we will be conducting two different studies. For our first study, our independent variable in this study is the fan’s team identification (highly identified) and the dependent variables will compare whether the team was unsuccessful or successful and the difference in attendance rates. For our second study, our independent variable will remain the same, highly identified fans, and the dependent variable will compare whether the team was unsuccessful or successful and the difference in their positive word of mouth in regards to their favorite team.
In conclusion, through this study, we looked to expand the research done on team identification and how a consistent change in athletic performance can impact highly identified fans and their attendance rates and positive word of mouth being spread about the team they identify with. This study provides valuable data that recognizes the commitment of highly identified fans to their favorite sports team even when their athletic performance fails. This study can benefit sports marketers of both collegiate and professional sports organizations in the importance of maintaining the support of their biggest fans even when the team may be struggling consistently.
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