Rituals and Rivalry: An Application of Social Identity Theory on Soccer Spectatorship

Kristoffer Bødker

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

Live spectators are an important component of the product that sports clubs around the world are offering. In addition to the economic benefits from having spectators at sports games, such as the sales of tickets, merchandise or food, they create an atmosphere that can enhance value of the product. Attracting and retaining sports spectators are therefore important aspects of the business for any given sports club. Most research into sports consumption and spectatorship has been conducted in intercollegiate athletics or North American sports, and have been quantitative in nature. Little research has been conducted on spectators of the biggest sport in the world, soccer, especially using a qualitative approach. Similarly, few theoretical frameworks have been applied, that seek to explain soccer spectatorship. Through the application of Social Identity Theory, this paper looks at the importance of identity, intergroup comparisons and intragroup relations in relation to spectatorship, which is argued to potentially manifest itself as the phenomena of rituals and rivalry. Asking “how can soccer spectatorship be explained from a social identity perspective focusing on rituals and rivalry?”, this paper applies an interpretive phenomenological approach to the research question. Hence, the experiences of ten respondents from each of the two major rivalling Danish soccer clubs, are analysed hermeneutically. The findings of this study suggest that spectatorship is the hedonic consumption of an emotional experience and that the emotional intensity is reliant on individual identity in relation to the club and to other spectators. Hence, club-related identity is argued primarily relevant for fandom, while self-evaluated spectator-identity is what causes spectators to be more or less involved. Highly involved spectators are primarily concerned with the social experience and they seek to participate in spectator rituals in order to enact that identity, which creates stadium atmosphere. Less involved spectators are primarily concerned with the on-field play. While intergroup comparisons are argued to intensify the emotional response to spectating, intragroup relations may cause self-evaluation to be either enhanced or deterred depending on the perception of other in-groups. Based on the findings, the managerial implications suggest that sports marketers and managers extensively consider the identity of their club’s brand, find a common enemy, and ensure that their identities are contrasting. Furthermore, the importance of stadium facilities, activating the atmosphere, and building a bridge between spectators are amongst possible topics of attention for managers.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2018
Number of pages345
SupervisorsBoris Uzelac