Sports versus All Comers: Comparing TV Sports Fans with Fans of Other Programming Genres

Article excerpt

Sports has been a programming staple on broadcast and cable television for decades. It regularly attracts the faithful and, with major events, draws audiences that other genres of programming rarely approach. Year in and year out, the Super Bowl garners the largest U.S. audience of the year, far outpacing any other single program. The Olympics and the World Cup draw unrivaled numbers of viewers across the globe, several billion over the course of the Olympics and perhaps as much as a billion for a single World Cup match (Bryant & Raney, 2000; Real, 1998). Because of its ubiquity on the television dial, the scope of the audience it attracts, and the apparent zeal with which many viewers watch sports, televised sports viewers and fans have been the subject of considerable scholarly inquiry.

With less frequent public recognition and scholarly scrutiny, other genres of programming attract and cultivate sizable audiences and, as with sports, a sizable number of fans. For example, prior to its final original episode in 2003, the television situation comedy Friends regularly drew viewers "still dying to know who [Rachel] ends up with--Ross or Joey?" when a decade had passed "after [the character] stumbled into the Central Perk coffeehouse after running away from her own wedding" (Peyser, 2003, p. 46). To be sure, there are other parallels as well. For example, stars of wildly popular shows such as Friends receive salaries that rival the biggest sports stars.

Fans represent an important segment of television audiences that programmers cultivate across genres, from sports to soap operas, situation comedies and dramas to adult-oriented animated programs, and from reality shows to afternoon and evening talkfests. At a minimum, fans represent a steady base of viewers that programmers and sales personnel collectively describe and package to advertisers and ad agencies. At times, fans are openly promoted and celebrated. For this, all one has to see is ESPN's self-congratulatory 25th anniversary campaign titled "The Season of the Fan" (Janoff, 2004), with on-air promotions "celebrating 25 years in sports with a salute to the fans."

Although scholars have examined fans for sports, soap operas, and reality programs separately, they have not looked for commonalities in fanship across programming genres. Do fans prepare for their programs in similar ways? Are they motivated by similar or disparate sets of motivations? Do they view and respond in similar ways, or is viewing and response unique to each type of program? In short, scholars have not examined the extent to which the fanship experience cuts across genres. This study was designed to make that comparison.

Fanship

The term fan is routinely linked with those who follow sports. For example, the first meaning for the term provided by the Oxford English Dictionary (1996) states that a fan is "a keen and regular spectator of a (professional) sport, originally of baseball." Yet, the term, derived from fanatic, can and has been applied to those with a particular interest in performers, personalities, and programs, as well as athletes and sports teams. Along with athletes, celebrities have Iong had fan clubs and fan magazines and have been the recipients of fan mail.

At a minimum, fanship points to an active and interested audience. In all likelihood, fanship represents an array of thought processes, affective attachments, and behaviors that separate fans from nonfans, including nonfans who watch the same programming. Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998) noted that fans are "those people who become particularly attached to certain programmes or stars within the context of a relatively heavy media use" (p. 138). Others have linked fanship with knowledge about the players, teams, and game or characters and plot in a program; active, participatory, viewing; concern about outcomes; and emotional responsiveness to the action and activity as it unfolds (e. …

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