Understanding fans has become critical to sport organizations in recent years. As a result of increased competition and rising financial pressures (e.g. Fulks, 1996; Howard, 1999), sport organizations can not afford fluctuations in fan support and need to maintain a large base of loyal fans. Loyal fans can be quite valuable to an organization because they are more likely to attend games, purchase team merchandise, watch games on television, and listen to games on the radio. All of these activities can lead to increased profitability for the team through increased revenue. For example, the University of Notre Dame (USA) has been able to use its national following and large number of highly loyal fans to assure sellouts of all of its home football games, to consistently be one of the leaders among American Universities in merchandise sales, and to sign the most lucrative television contract in American college football (Eitzen & Sage, 1997).
Although sport executives in the past seemed to take such high levels of fan loyalty and support for granted, the negative reaction following the 1994 baseball strike suggests otherwise. Baseball teams reported drops in attendance as high as 49% in the beginning of the 1995 season (Antonen, 1995) and television ratings for baseball on TBS dropped about 23% after the 1994 strike (Mihoces, 1995). Yet, some teams appeared to be able to avoid a negative impact from the strike. There was considerable variance among teams in regard to fan reaction and some teams were able to maintain the same levels of attendance and a few even reported a gain (Antonen, 1995).
Just as there are differences among teams with regards to the level of loyalty among their fans, there appear to be individual differences between fans with regards to their team loyalty. While some fans remain loyal to the same team their entire lives, others seem to switch whenever the situation related to their favorite team is negative (e.g. team performs poorly).
The question is: why are some fans consistently very loyal, while others seem to demonstrate such little loyalty to their favorite teams? Moreover, what can sport marketers do to prevent fans with a tendency to be disloyal from leaving them? Also, what can they do to steal disloyal fans away from other teams? The focus of the current study was to examine research related to sport fans and research in social psychology to try to determine why there are differences among individuals and in particular to identify fans likely to be disloyal. Further, the current study then attempted to present research based suggestions for maintaining loyalty among these generally disloyal fans.
Sport Fan Research
In spite of its obvious importance, little is known about fans' loyalty to their favorite teams (Zillman & Paulus, 1993). Still, there has been some important research on sport fans. Hirt, Zillman, Erickson, & Kennedy (1992) reported that highly identified fans indicated that their mood, self-esteem, estimates of future personal performance, and estimates of future team performance were all positively impacted when the team won and were negatively impacted when the team lost. This research would seem to indicate the relationship between the team and the individual can be quite strong in the mind of the fan, so that success or failure by the team becomes equated with success or failure by the fan.
Because of the potential for both positive and negative impacts, it would seem logical that some fans will adjust their relationship with the team in different situations. In fact, Cialdini, Borden, Thorne, Walker, Freeman, and Sloan (1976) found individuals increase their association, or Bask in Reflected Glory (BIRG), with sport teams when the teams performed well. Specifically, Cialdini et al. found that students were more likely to wear university-related clothing and use the inclusive pronoun …