Your football club: when you buy from it, what are you buying?

Dr Armagan Onal

Posted: August 3, 2014

Today, one of the main stakeholders in football is the ‘fans’. They are the most significant factors that make football enjoyable and exciting. Fans – the twelfth man – are also the main economic resource of the football. They pay directly to their clubs via tickets and merchandising; they also pay indirectly via the sponsors and the media.

However, what do the fans buy? Do they buy football, success, championship cup, victory, club card or something else? In a sports marketing conference which took place in Istanbul, Turkey in 2012, Tom Fox, the Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of Arsenal FC, said that they sell ‘belonging’. The rationale behind this idea is very simple: Every year just one team becomes the champions. So if you try to sell success, then your marketing strategy will most probably fail. On the other side, while selling ‘belonging’, the clubs offer more than just the success.

The last trophy won by Arsenal FC in Premier League was in 2003-2004 season. However according to the financial reports on the official website of Arsenal FC, the group revenue of Arsenal Holdings PLC in 2004 was £156.9 million while it reached to £280.4 million in 2013. The average attendance for the last two seasons is about 60K where the capacity of Emirates Stadium is 60,3K.

So selling ‘belonging’ works well based on the numbers above. In the literature, the ‘belonging’ concept is analyzed via team identification. Team identification is based on social identity theory which states that the self-concept involve a personal identity and a social identity (Fink, Trail, and Anderson, 2002). Wann and Branscombe (1991) describe team identification as a psychological attachment or connection that gives fans a sense of belonging to a larger social structure.

The studies in sports marketing literature show us that fans with higher levels of team identification:

-are more likely to spend money on team (attend or watch games, pay more for tickets, buy team sponsors’ products, and purchase more team merchandise)  (Kim and Trail, 2010; Matsuoka, Chelladurai, and Harada, 2003; Laverie and Arnett, 2000; Madrigal, 1995; Wakefield, 1995; Wann and Branscombe, 1993).

-are more likely to attend away games (Fink, Trail and Anderson, 2002).

-have more intention to attend games (Pritchard, Stinson, and Patton, 2010; Matsuoka, Chelladurai, and Harada, 2003).

-are more optimistic and expect higher team performance (Wann and Branscombe, 1993).

-are more eager to feel greater vicarious achievement (e.g., basking in reflected glory – BIRG) through his/her association with the team (Fink and Parker, 2009; Madrigal, 1995; Murrell and Dietz, 1992; Wann and Branscombe, 1990).

-get more satisfaction from positive game results (Madrigal, 1995).

-see attending the games as an enjoyable activity (Wann and Schrader, 1997).

-are more loyal to the team and do not reduce attendance even when its performance is poor (Matsuoka, Chelladurai, and Harada, 2003; Fink, Trail, and Anderson, 2002; Wann and Branscombe, 1993).

-are more likely to have a strong sense of attachment and belonging to the team (Fink, Trail, and Anderson, 2002).

-read more literature related with their team (Wann and Branscombe, 1993).

-are knowledgeable if the knowledge is performance-irrelevant, and perceive the team in a positively biased manner if the knowledge in question is performance-relevant (Wann, 2002).

-are more likely to have more positive attitudes about sponsors and have higher levels of sponsor recognition, satisfaction, and patronage (Gwinner and Swanson, 2003).

-are more loyal to the team’s sponsoring brands (Levin, Beasley, and Gamble, 2004).

Higher team identification means that fans continue to spend directly or indirectly for the team whether it is successful or not. They are more interested in the whole process or the experience.

So, football clubs should concentrate their marketing strategy on increasing the identification of the fans with the club. Otherwise success on the pitch will be the main focus which cannot be sustainable forever.

IFink, J. S. and Parker, H. M., 2009. Spectator motives: Why do we watch when our favorite team is not playing? Sport Marketing Quarterly, 18 (4), pp. 210-217.

IIFink, J. S., Trail, G. T. and Anderson, D. F., 2002. An examination of team identification: Which motives are most salient to its salience. International Sports Journal, 6, pp. 195-207.

IIIGwinner, K. and Swanson, S. R., 2003. A model of fan identification: Antecedents and sponsorship outcomes. Journal of Services Marketing, 17 (3), pp. 275-294.

IVKim, Y. K. and Trail, G., 2010. Constraints and motivators: A new model to explain sport consumer behavior. Journal of Sport Management, 24, pp. 190-210.

VLaverie, D. A., and Arnett, D. B., 2000. Factors affecting fan attendance: The influence of identity salience and satisfaction. Journal of Leisure Research, 32 (2), pp. 225-246.

VILevin, A. M., Beasley, F. and Gamble, T., 2004. Brand loyalty of NASCAR fans towards sponsors: The impact of fan identification. International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, 6 (1), pp. 11-21.

VIIMadrigal, R., 1995. Cognitive and affective determinants of fan satisfaction with sporting event attendance. Journal of Leisure Research, 27, pp. 205–227.

VIIIMatsuoka, 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.

IXMurreil, A. J. and Dietz, B., 1992. Fan support of sport teams: The effect of a common group identity. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 14, pp. 28-39.

XPritchard, 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.

XIWakefield, K. L., 1995. The pervasive effects of social influence on sporting event attendance. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 19, pp. 335–351.

XIIWakefield, K. L. and Wann, D. L., 2006. An examination of dysfunctional sport fans: Method of classification and relationships with problem behaviors. Journal of Leisure Research, 38 (2), pp. 168-186.

XIIIWann, D. L., 2002. Preliminary validation of a measure for assessing identification as a sport fan: The sport fandom questionnaire. International Journal of Sport Management, 3, pp. 103-115.

XIVWann, D. L. and Branscombe, N. R., 1990. Die-hard and fair-weather fans: Effects of identification on BIRGing and CORFing tendencies. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 14 (2), pp. 103-117.

XVWann, D.L. and Branscombe, N. R., 1991. The positive social and self concept consequences of sports team identification. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 15 (2), pp. 115-127.

XVIWann, D. L. and Branscombe, N. R., 1993. Sports fans: Measuring degree of identification with their team. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 24 (1), pp. 1-17.

XVIIWann, D. L. and Schrader, M. P., 1997. Team identification and the enjoyment of watching a sporting event. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, pp. 954-954.

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.