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Fan Identification: examining the reactions of fans after wins and losses

Dr Cody Havard

Dr Jason Doyle

Posted: July 13, 2014

There are many different reasons an individual may follow a sport team: whether to feel the excitement of competition, experience the vicarious success of a team’s victory, or to feel like part of a group alongside fellow supporters. Many fans develop deep connections with sport teams, including building a social identity based on their status as a fan. For this reason, identification with a team serves to protect the self-esteem of a fan, and therefore there are several ways that fans react to the success and failure of the teams they admire and dislike.

Possibly the most well known fan phenomenon is Basking In Reflected Glory (BIRGing), which represents the tendency of people to identify with a team following a victory (Cialdini et al., 1976). BIRGing behaviors were first documented in US collegiate football settings by observing student behavior on Mondays following games. Specifically, students tended to wear team/school branded clothes affiliating them with the team following a win, and non-team/school branded clothing following a loss or tie.  Additionally, when asked about the outcome of the game, students preferred to use associative words (e.g., “We won”) to describe a win and dissociative words (e.g., “They lost”) to describe a loss. This dissociative behavior outlines a second fan phenomenon known as Cutting Off Reflected Failure (CORFing), which describes the tendency of fans to distance themselves from a team following a loss (Snyder & Fromkin, 1980; Snyder et al., 1986). BIRGing and CORFing have received a great deal of attention in the fan behavior literature, since both tendencies represent ways for fans to protect their self-esteem.

Building upon the BIRGing and CORFing research, sport investigators have identified other ways in which fans can maintain self-esteem and positive social identities even in undesirable circumstances. Cialdini and Richardson (1980) identified the Blasting technique, which serves as a way for fans to cope with the perceived failure of a favorite team. Blasting occurs when a fan admits defeat but finds a way to derogate the opposing victor in order to preserve the self-esteem they have tied to their favorite team. An example of Blasting would be a fan of Mexico’s national soccer team exclaiming, “We lost to Holland, but at least we didn’t cheat”. Later, Campbell, Aiken, and Kent (2004) coined Basking in Spite of Reflected Failure (BIRFing) and Cutting Off Reflected Success (CORSing) to describe the tendencies of highly identified fans. Fans that BIRF choose to identify with the team even during periods of prolonged perceived failure. Supporters of the Chicago Cubs serve as an example of BIRFing fans, because even though the franchise has not won a championship in over a century, their home ballpark is still sold out on a consistent basis. CORSing fans are those whom decrease their links with a team following a move they do not agree with made by the organization. For example, if a franchise that consistently loses makes the decision to buy high-quality, high-money talent and then wins a championship the next year, CORSing fans may choose to not follow that team because they do not agree with the acquisitions made by the organization. CORSing does not indicate these fans do not enjoy when the team wins; but rather suggests they do not view the choices of the organization as congruent with their desired social identity.

Wann et al. (1995) also described the tendency of fans to Cut Off Future Failure (COFFing), which describes the tendency of fans to minimize future expectations of a team in order to protect them from a vicarious feeling of failure following a future team loss.  When an opponent or rival team is introduced to the mix, fans may show a level of derogation toward said team. Havard (2013) identified Glory Out of Reflected Failure (GORFing) as a tendency for a fan to cheer the loss of a rival team to someone other than the favorite team. A fan showing the GORFing tendency may cheer against their biggest rival in a championship, post-season, out-of-conference/league, or conference/league game. A common example of GORFing in the US would be a Boston Red Sox fan wearing a shirt that reads, “My favorite teams are the Boston Red Sox and whoever plays the New York Yankees”.

The above review presents a classification of behavioral mechanisms fans can employ to manage the status of their team and social identifications. Fan identification tendencies present many implications for sport practitioners. Namely, it is important to develop a strong tie between a fan and team to encourage BIRGing and prevent some level of CORFing. Additionally, if a fan becomes loyal to a team, they may choose to BIRF when the team is unsuccessful for a prolonged period of time. Practitioners also have to be careful that loyal fans do not display CORSing behavior and must try to limit the COFFing behavior of fans. Finally, GORFing tells practitioners how fans will react to the success and failure of their biggest rival when playing a game not involving the favorite team. This is important because practitioners can understand the impact a rival team’s outcome can have on fans of their organization. Also, this tendency is important for conferences and leagues because even though fans may watch a game involving a conference or league rival team to cheer against that team, they are still adding to the value of the game through attendance or mediated consumption.

ICampbell RM, Aiken D, and Kent A (2004) Beyond BIRGing CORFing: Continuing the exploration of fan behavior. Sport Marketing Quarterly 13: 151-157.

IICialdini RB, Borden RJ, Thorne A et al. (1976) Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34: 366-375.

IIICialdini RB and Richardson KD (1980) Two indirect tactics of impression management: Basking and blasting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39: 406-415.

IVHavard CT Glory Out of Reflected Failure: The examination of how rivalry affects sport fans. Sport Management Review (2013), [Link]

VSnyder CR and Fromkin HL (1980) Uniqueness: The human pursuit of difference. New York: Plenum.

VISnyder CR, Lassegard M, and Ford CE (1986) Distancing after group success and failure: Basking in reflected glory and cutting off reflected failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51: 382-388.

VIIWann DL, Hamlet MA, Wilson TM et al. (1995) Basking in reflected glory, cutting off reflected failure, and cutting off future failure: The importance of group identification. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal 23: 377-388.

About Dr Cody Havard

Cody T. Havard is an assistant professor in Sport Commerce at The University of Memphis.  His research interests involve fan perceptions of rival teams, consumer behavior, and the use of online social networking by athletes and sport organizations.  Find more work on rivalry at www.sportrivalry.com

About Dr Jason Doyle

Jason Doyle is with the Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management at Griffith University. His research interests include understanding sport consumer behavior, and the influence of sport on well-being. Jason also runs www.fandevelopment.com