Football fan loyalty - what's more important: attitude or behavior?

Dr Armagan Onal

Posted: August 20, 2014

Tagged: behavior / fans / loyalty / marketing

On a Sunday morning, many of the United fans take off the red jersey, wear the blue one, go to Etihad Stadium and cheer “I never felt more like singing the blues… City win, United lose… Oh City… You’ve got me singing the blues”. We, people who are interested in football, are all sure that there will never be such a Sunday.

Football fans change their car, house, country, spouse, religion, and even gender, but they never ever change the team they support, even though the performance of the team is terrible. A fan switching from United to City, from Real Madrid to Barcelona, from Celtic to Rangers, from Lazio to AS Roma or from Galatasaray to Fenerbahce does not sound very realistic to any of us. So, does this mean that all football fans are loyal to their teams?

If the answer is yes, it means that sports marketing professionals have reached nirvana where other marketing professionals are dying to acquire loyal customers. However, the answer is neither yes nor no. Yes, fans do not switch to the competing team, but this is not enough for sports marketing professionals whose one of the main aims is increasing the revenues of the team. It is clear that unfaithfulness of football fans is not in the form of switching the team, but it happens via spending less or no money for the club such as not to watch the game in the stadium, not to buy jersey or club merchandising, not to follow the team on the media etc. So, sports marketing professionals have not reached nirvana yet, at least for today.

Oliver (1997, p.392) defines loyalty as “a deeply held commitment to rebuy or re-patronize a preferred product/service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same brand or same brand set purchasing, despite situational influences and marketing efforts having the potential to cause switching behavior”. According to this definition, loyalty has two dimensions: attitudinal (commitment) and behavioral (rebuy).

Attitudinal loyalty is explaining the factors or motives affecting the behavior and it is conceptualized by psychological commitment (Funk and James, 2006). Since attitude does not always turn into behavior, attitudinal loyalty is more an abstract concept and does not tell whether there is behavioral loyalty or not. For instance, there are many people who say that s/he supports a specific team but does not go to stadium, watch the match on TV, buy jersey or spend any money for the team.

Behavioral loyalty which means repeat purchase of a particular brand is the main focus of all teams in the world since it generates revenue. If the fan buys seasonal ticket, the new season’s original jersey or the club branded products then this fan is behaviorally loyal.

Behavioral loyalty generates cash or revenue in the short term, while attitudinal loyalty does it in the long term, but it is not guaranteed since it may not turn into behavior as mentioned above. So, the sport marketing professionals should focus on both of these concepts while preparing their marketing strategies.

However, another significant concept for sports marketing is ‘conative loyalty’ which is defined by Evanschitzky and Wunderlich (2006) as customer’s behavioral intent to continue buying in the future at a retail store to which he or she has a deep commitment. Conative loyalty is related with the ‘behavioral intentions’ and a desire to intend an action must accompany to attitudinal loyalty, for example, repurchase a particular brand. So, conative loyalty means revenue in the middle term, since it shows the intent of the fan to spend money for the team in the future. Team identification which was the subject of my previous article ( is shown as one of the most important drivers of conative loyalty by Pritchard, Stinson, and Patton, (2010) and Matsuoka, Chelladurai, and Harada (2003).

Considering loyalty based on just attitudes or behaviors is a significant mistake for sports marketing professionals. We should keep in mind that intentions of the fans also play a critical role. While focusing on the attitudinal and behavioral loyalty like all other marketers do, sports marketing professionals should also keep an eye on conative loyalty which is mostly driven by team identification. It will save their revenues of the near future.

IEvanschitzky H. and Wunderlich, M., 2006. An examination of moderator effects in the four-stage loyalty model. Journal of Service Research, 8 (4), pp. 330-345.

IIFunk, D. C. and James, J. D., 2006. Consumer loyalty: The meaning of attachment in the development of sport team allegiance. Journal of Sport Management, 20, pp. 189-217.

IIIMatsuoka, H., Chelladurai, P. and Harada, M., 2003. Direct and interaction effects of team identification and satisfaction on intention to attend games. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 12 (4), pp. 244-253.

IVOliver, R. L., 1997. Satisfaction: A behavioral perspective on the consumer. New York: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.

VPritchard, M. P., Stinson, J. and Patton, E., 2010. Affinity and affiliation: The dual-carriage way to team identification. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 19, pp. 67-77.

About Dr Armagan Onal

Armagan Onal holds a PhD degree in marketing from Bahcesehir University, Istanbul. His dissertation is about sports marketing and his main research interest is in ‘sports fan behavior’. He is a marketing instructor for MBA classes at Bahcesehir University. He also continues his professional marketing career in a GSM company in Turkey.