Effects of Atmosphere at Major Sports Events: A Perspective from Environmental Psychology

Article excerpt

Executive summary

This conceptual paper develops a theoretical framework for investigating the atmosphere at sports stadiums. It does so by applying an emotion-oriented approach grounded in environmental psychology and drawing on current research in the field of consumer behaviour. Atmosphere is a pivotal factor in the popularity of consumption of live sport, but has rarely been investigated from a scientific perspective. Existing sports environment models do not adequately account for the causes and effects of specific atmospheres found in sports stadiums. We argue that the characterisation of an atmosphere requires information on both the human perceptions of the environmental conditions and the emotional responses elicited. Thus we define stadium atmosphere as a specific emotional response to the entirety of stimuli in a particular environment. Experiencing this atmosphere is essential to the satisfaction of individuals' hedonistic consumption needs.

As a theoretical background we employ the environmental psychology behavioural model of Mehrabian & Russell (1974). This model proposes the substantial influence of environmental stimuli on peoples' emotional states, behavioural reactions and evaluations, depending on their personal predispositions. A number of empirical studies in consumer behaviour research have verified the links suggested in this model and confirmed the model as a suitable theoretical framework for the examination of atmosphere in retail stores. The results of these studies reveal that store stimuli can be utilised to induce emotional states, influence evaluations and channel consumer behaviour.

In the case of a retail store, the experience of atmospherics is mostly an additional value-creating factor in the shopping trip. By contrast, the experience of atmosphere in a sports stadium is usually considered a core part of the total service. Hence, we expect the relationships shown to exist in retail stores to be even stronger in the context of sports events.

This paper takes into account both the results provided by consumer behaviour research and the specific nature of sports events. Mehrabian & Russell's model is transferred to the environment 'sports stadium'. An important modification concerns the component of the model that depicts the stimulus volume of this environment. Mehrabian & Russell introduce the concept of "information rate" to measure the stimulus volume of particular locations. This approach is extended here, taking into account the different sources and groups of stimuli that prevail in a sports stadium and are responsible for the creation of stadium atmosphere. These include the organiser, the spectators and the action within the game.

Further modifications of the model are related to the personal predispositions of the spectators. These predispositions determine their emotional and behavioural reactions to a specific stadium atmosphere. The spectators' motives, level of identification, frequency of attendance and willingness to participate in typical spectator activities may influence their perception (and evaluation) of a specific configuration of stimuli in the stadium. We also make a number of recommendations on how to improve the measurement of spectators' emotional reactions.

Finally, a comprehensive framework is developed that shows approaches for empirical studies examining stadium atmosphere. Within this framework, Mehrabian & Russell's original model is extended by the addition of a number of specific components. The framework also identifies additional linkages among the model's components that can be expected in the context of sports events.

This article thus represents a first step towards understanding a number of basic issues, including the definition and operationalisation of stadium atmosphere, spectator preferences concerning the atmosphere in a stadium, and the behavioural reactions caused by the atmosphere in sports stadiums. …