Fans / Teams


WNBA fan motives

Author Morgan Fuller, University of San Francisco

Posted: October 3, 2016

Tagged: fan motives

Sport plays a valuable role in a given culture, both in an economic and social sense. Sport can carry strong meanings for individuals in the way that their values and attributes allow consumers to express their sense of identity, both personally and as a member of a peer groups (Pons, Giroux, & Mourali, 2014). Pons et al. (2014) provide a variety of models for analyzing sport consumer behavior and the motivations behind this behavior. Following the Olympic break, the WNBA will look to tap into many of these consumer motivations and models of consumer attitudes to try to carry some of the momentum following Team USA’s gold medal performance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (Lombardo, 2016).

Prior to the Olympic break, the WNBA saw its average attendance up by 2.1 percent compared to last year (Lombardo, 2016). With every member of the 2016 Olympic gold medal-winning women’s basketball team playing in the league, WNBA President Lisa Borders states, “the league’s awareness is elevated every time they play” (Lombardo, 2016). Coming off of the gold medal win, the WNBA looks to capitalize on consumers’ attitudes following the Rio Olympic Games. Funk and Lock (2014) examine the formation, function, and effects of attitudes. In looking at how attitudes function, there are two primary ways that determine how accessible and central the attitude is: “how close to top-of-mind the attitude is, and how available it is as a vehicle for self-representation” (Funk & Lock, 2014). These two aspects can help the WNBA carry excitement from the Olympic Games back into the WNBA season. Because the Olympic Games just concluded a few weeks ago, the topic is top-of-mind for most consumers. Additionally, the national pride that is aroused during the Olympics is likely tied to the self-representation of consumers as Americans. By emphasizing these factors, the WNBA can capitalize on consumers’ attitudes coming out of the Olympics and transfer the excitement to the remainder of the WNBA season.

In assessing the motivations of sport consumers, Wann has proposed the Sport Fan Motivation Scale, with eight factors that encompass what consumers look for in sporting events (Pons et al., 2014). These factors include eustress, self-esteem, and entertainment. By focusing their advertising efforts on these factors, the WNBA can tap into the motivations of Olympic consumers. For example, eustress is characterized by feeling “pumped up when watching your favorite team” (Pons et al., 2014). This motivation can be capitalized upon if the WNBA were to emphasize the league as Team USA. Since every member of the US Olympic Team plays in the WNBA, the league can continue to represent Team USA. Additionally, the WNBA can capitalize on the motivation of self-esteem, or when consumers feel good when their team wins, by continuing to emphasize and reference the gold medal win by Team USA (Pons et al., 2014).

The Motivation Scale for Sport Consumption describes additional factors that can be assessed when examining consumers’ motivations (Pons et al., 2014). In looking to continue the Olympic momentum to the remainder of the WNBA schedule, the drama factor could be either helpful or hurtful. Consumers may assume that because many of the players just won an Olympic gold medal, that the outcome may be less unknown. However, drama may also be increased since Olympic teammates are now playing against each other, which could lead to closely matched teams and highly dramatic games. By emphasizing how the best basketball players in the world will now be playing against each other rather than with each other, the WNBA could increase the perceived drama around the rest of their season.

The WNBA has a great opportunity to continue the momentum and excitement following the US Olympic Women’s Basketball Team’s gold medal finish in Rio. By focusing their advertising and promotions on consumers’ motivations and attitudes, they can turn fans of Team USA into fans of the WNBA.



Funk, D., & Lock, D. (2014). Sport consumer attitudes: Formation, function, and effects on information processing. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 37-50). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lombardo, J. (2016, August 22). WNBA campaign aims to carry momentum from rio. SportsBusiness Journal, 19(19), 5. Retrieved from

Pons, F., Giroux, M., & Mourali, M. (2014). Consumer behavior and motivation: Why are sport consumers so special? In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 21-36). New York, NY: Routledge.

About Morgan Fuller, University of San Francisco

Morgan graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minors in Human Biology and Sociology, and is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Sport Management at the University of San Francisco. While at Stanford, Morgan was a varsity athlete on the Synchronized Swimming Team and interned with the Stanford Athletic Department and Cardinal Sports, LLC, a division of Learfield Sports. Morgan currently works as Program Administrator for Positive Coaching Alliance and Partnership Marketing Assistant for the San Jose Earthquakes. Morgan hopes to build on her athletic experience as a member of Team USA to pursue a career in international sports. This is an edited version of a paper prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage from U.S. Olympic Committee,