Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Tribalism: Definition, Identification and Relevance to the Marketing of Professional Sports Franchises

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Tribalism: Definition, Identification and Relevance to the Marketing of Professional Sports Franchises

Article excerpt


This paper examines the literature relating to tribalism and considers its existence and its relevance to the marketing of sport. Tribal marketing is not a feature of the philosophy dominating today's sports marketing programmes. It is suggested, however, that more focus be placed on the interactions and relationships of groups of sports spectators as tribal members, and this paper presents factors that should be considered by the sports marketer to encourage and facilitate tribalism.



marketing strategy

linking value

sporting events

Executive summary

This paper presents a summary of marketing literature relating to tribalism. Popular media writers often refer to the tribal nature of sports fans but little if any reference to tribalism is made within sports marketing literature and research. Yet there is clear evidence that the tribal nature of sports fans is an important aspect of the sports consumption experience. It is therefore proposed that sports marketers should develop an understanding of factors that facilitate tribalism with a view to considering their relevance and integration into existing organisational marketing strategies and programmes.

Professional sport generates significant amounts of revenue from a variety of sources (Morgan & Summers, 2005). Central to this is the continued support and commitment of fans. Research suggests that the number of years one attends sporting events is positively associated with the pleasure and value linked to the experience (Kerstetter & Kovich, 1997). Yet while many professional sports teams enjoy strong support, clubs cannot necessarily assume that time-honoured loyalty will continue no matter what (Parker & Stuart, 1997).

Traditionally, sports marketers have applied the principles and strategies of the modern marketing concept, in particular the concept of segmenting, as a means of targeting fans, aiming to better satisfy their needs while achieving corporate objectives. Yet this single, unifying approach may not acknowledge adequately the need for a sector-specific approach (Tapp & Clowes, 2002). In fact some consider the marketing concept to be passe and in need of an overhaul: they suggest replacing it with a paradigm which takes into consideration the interaction and relationship aspects of marketing (Burca et al, 1997). Furthermore, sport has a number of unique features that separate it from traditional consumer goods and services and it has therefore been argued that this should be acknowledged in the development and implementation of marketing strategies (Morgan & Summers, 2005; Mullin et al, 2000).

One of the most visible of these unique characteristics is the 'tribalism' of sports spectators, so graphically displayed within a variety of sporting events (e.g. soccer, tennis, American football, rugby union and rugby league). The emotional attachment sports fans have for their team, club or even for an individual athlete is manifested in a number of ways, not least by the willingness to purchase and wear clothing sporting a relevant logo (brand). Consumption of branded clothing and accessories acts as an involvement-enhancing link that can assist in the socialising of new fans (tribal members) while also cultivating the commitment of current ones (Cova, 1996).


Overall there is little research into the factors that influence people to become avid fans and how such involvement affects fan-related consumption (Laverie & Arnett, 2000). The objective of this paper is therefore to examine the factors that influence tribalism and the possible impact on revenue generation, since this can be of major importance to new (expansion) sports franchises entering new markets.

Literature review

The business of sport

Professional sports teams such as soccer's Real Madrid of Spain, Manchester United of England and Juventus of Italy have operating turnovers similar to many large corporates (Moreton, 2001). …

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