Archive for September 7th, 2010

Review of Literature: Draft (2)

Posted by Laura on Tuesday, 7 September, 2010

I know I haven’t posted an update on how my lit review is going but it is going. At the moment, it mostly consists of tossing citations together about teams in order to get a better picture of the fanbase for particular clubs and how that has evolved over time.

Review of Literature

The review of literature will define what fans and sport fandom are, and examine how sport fans show allegiance to clubs they barrack for. The definitions of fandom and fans are key to understanding how and why people express interest in a team online. After that, the lit review will look at population studies of and characterizations of sport fandom in Australia.

The Definition of Sport Fandom

There are very few works that focus on the definition of fandom as it pertains to sport. Most literature presupposes that its readers understand what the concept means and then proceed to examine some aspect of sport fandom. While researching sports fandom and its definitions, four different groups were identified as offering their own perspective on how to identify and define fandom. The first group includes sports marketers and managers, who broadly speaking, define sports fandom around potential for spectatorship. The second group involves sports sociologists and historians; they tend to define sports fandom as a form of identity and as a product of a specific culture. The third group involves the media and sports fans, where the definition involves the expression of allegiance to a club that is often grounded in the moment or the short term. A fourth group was identified as doing research about sport fandom. This group includes popular culture studies academics, who tend to focus on fan interaction with the team and the game, and who focus on sport fandom as a smaller subcomponent of fandom.

Sports marketers and managers.

Stewart (1983) wrote for an audience of VFL fans, while providing a great deal of information regarding the organization of the league, its financial situation and other information that would be of more interest to people interested in sports marketing. Fans are frequently described based on their proximity to stadiums, training grounds and the location found in a team’s name. These descriptions were used to explain the potential for spectatorship: “The Club has little local support — there are few private dwellings in the vicinity — and most of its supporters are centred in the outer south-eastern suburbs.” (p. 41) In a few cases, fans are all described based on their economic status and how fans of other teams perceive them: “It is thought that while the affluent eastern suburbs residents are appreciative of the team’s success, they prefer to spend Saturday afternoon in active leisure activities like tennis or gardening.” (p. 40)

Shilbury, D., Quick, S., & Westerbeck, H. (2003) published a book about sports marketing. Much of the content is focused on fans from the perspective revenue for a club, league or sport converting them into spectators and consumers of merchandise related to the organization and its sponsors. The authors do not create their own definition of fan. Rather, the authors (p. 70) borrow from Smith and Stewart (1999) to define categories of fans: passionate fans, champ followers, reclusive partisans, theatergoers and aficionados.

Sullivan (2004) wrote for an audience of potential sport marketers. The author said “the term fan will be used in the broadest sense and will, therefore, imply a range of attachments.” (p. 131) Sullivan then characterized fans as spectators and consumers of various media who could be profiled using three key factors: Geographic, demographic and behavioral factors. The discussion around these factors involved how they impacted the potential for spectatorship and the consumption of media related to a team.

Nicholson (2004), a sport management academic, wrote to reflect on the problems the AFL faces in terms of becoming a national game. The geographic population imbalance between clubs in Queensland and New South Wales compared to Victoria was a major problem: The league was not balancing team location with population areas, nor was it financially sponsoring player development. The author rarely used the word fans to describe these problems: Spectators, the market and television audience are used instead.

Sports sociologists and historians.

Collins (2005) wrote for an audience interested in the history and evolution of several football codes in Australia. In describing a proposal to merge rugby league with Australian rules football, the different codes were described as appealing to two different views about Australia’s place in the world: transnational versus nationalistic. These differences point to a definition of sports fandom relating to identity.

Like Collins, Cashman (2002) was writing for an audience of those interested in history. Cashman (2002) differs in that his history focused on more on the connection between Australian sport and other issues in Australian life including identity, culture and parallel Australian history. Both authors connected sport to national identity. In the case of Cashman, the term fan is almost never used in the text. Words like crowds, interest, Australian with adjectives further identifying spectator culture and sport participants are used instead. Again, the author’s undefined use of fandom involves identity.

Adair, D. & Vamplew, W. (1997) are sports historians that tried to debunk some historical myths about sports culture in Australia. One of these myths involved the defining of Australians as sports obsessed. This definition, where fans are defined as people obsessed with sports, is reinforced by talking about match attendance compared to the total population, and by the consumption of sport on television. Spectatorship plays a role in the definition with less frequency than that of the identity of a nation obsessed with sports and as an important component of Australian popular culture.

The media and sport fans.

Sport fans and the media often talk about fandom on a personal level or to describe their actions around the short term.

Popular culture studies academics.

Popular culture studies scholars like Jenkins (2006) offer the last definition. They define fans as an active population who engage in activities related to an object produced by the larger popular culture. This production includes activities like writing fan fiction, creating costumes, producing fanvids and organizing conventions. Popular culture academics also define fans as posessing a sense of ownership of their product that is removed and distinct from the official one, that they view actors, athletes, copyrighted and trademarked materials as communally owned by fans.

Population and Characteristics of Australian Sports Fandom

While there are many definitions and underlying assumptions as to what a fan is, there has been less work done looking at what makes these communities demographically distinct from populations. Much of the work done approaches the issue from the perspective of comparing the population of different sports or leagues. When specific clubs are looked at, the literature tends to focus less on research done about fans of those teams than it does on repeating traditional narratives about fan allegiances that may date back one hundred years.


Delpy & Bosetti (1998) conducted a demographic study of sports fans online that found sports fans were 6% more likely to be female (36% compared to 30%) and were 1.3 years older (34 compared to 32.7) than the whole population of the Internet.

Adair, D. & Vamplew, W. (1997) cite a study that found that during the 1970s, 28 percent of men and 21 percent of women in Australia regularly attending sporting events as spectators.

The VFL and AFL.

The VFL and AFL have been attributed with having historically high levels of female fans, both as spectators and barrackers, when compared to other football codes in Australia and around the world. In the early days of the sport, female spectatorship was between 30 and 50 percent. (Cashman, 2002, p. 48) This contrasts with Australian, specifically New South Wales, rugby which is characterized as being conservative, middle class, patriarchal and often containing strains of misogyny that discouraged the growth of female spectatorship. (Cashman, 2002, p. 52) Both codes were characterized as having large white spectator bases. (Cashman, 2002, p. 56)

Characteristics of sport fan communities can differ by club. A survey of research done about VFL/AFL teams reveals some of these different characteristics.

The Fitzroy Lions, who eventually became the Brisbane Lions, were originally from an area where their fanbase drew heavily from a population middle-class white-collar workers. (Shaw, 2006, p. 115) During the 1940s, Fitzroy Lions were similar to their counterparts at Collingwood and North Melbourne in terms of fan composition. Shaw (2006, p. 79) characterizes them as being drawn from the working classes and prone to violence similar to that of future British football hooligans. The 2009 team ranked second for total fans, with 861,000 fans. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19).

Early in the history of the Carlton Blues, most of their fans were from the Carlton area and represented the major population found there: “middle-class white-collar workers and the occasional silvertail.” (Shaw, 2006, p. 115) The Carlton Blues had one of the largest fan bases during the 1940s. According to Shaw (2006, p. 101), they could draw crowds irrespective of their on-field performance. The 2009 team ranked seventh for total fans, with 493,000 fans. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19).

In the period around the Magpies founding in 1892, fans were characterized as being bootmakers and working in the footwear industry. (Grow, 1998, p. 69, 77) During the clubs early part of the 20th century, the Collingwood Magpies fans were predominantly from Collingwood. They matched the characteristics of the neighborhood: Semi-skilled members of the working class that were mostly Irish Catholics. (Shaw, 2006, p. 115) The Collingwood Magpie fans are characterized as having “strong working-class origins”. (Stewart, 1983, p. 35) The club has historically enjoyed strong local support, both in terms of developing a fan base and with local businesses. During the early part of the 1900s, 70 percent of the club supporters were local and 80 percent were members of the working class. (Sandercock, 1981, p. 199) In the decade around 1900 to 1910, fans were described as being drawn from the working class. (Shaw, 2006, p. 79) During the 1940s, the club had one of the largest fan bases in terms of game attendance. According to Shaw (2006, p. 101), the team could draw crowds irrespective of their on-field performance. There was a demographic shift by the 1970s, with over 50 percent of the local population being not native born and Anglo-Irish-Australian; instead, the local fan base was composed largely of Southern Europeans. (Sandercock, 1981, p. 200) The characterization of working class values continued on despite these changes. According to Roy Morgan Research. (2009, July 19), the modern team has the third largest AFL fan base, with over 731,000 fans.

During the 1870s and 1880s, Essendon was one of the three big clubs in terms of the number of paying fans. (Grow, 1998, p. 55) During the early part of the 20th century, Essendon Bombers fans were drawn from the local area and fans were mostly from the lower middle-class. (Shaw, 2006, p. 116) Essendon Bomber fans are from the “moderately affluent north-west suburbs” who have a reputation “for being conservative and responsible.” (Stewart, 1983, p. 36) The team has the fourth largest AFL fan community with 638,000 barrackers. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19).

During the 1870s and 1880s, Geelong was one of the three big clubs in terms of the number of paying fans. (Grow, 1998, p. 55) The team has the eighth largest AFL fan community with 488,000 barrackers. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19).

The Hawthorn Hawks fans are characterized as being from the affluent eastern suburbs, but who would are not as interested in attending matches as fans of other teams. (Stewart, 1983, p. 40) The 2009 club ranked tenth in the AFL for most fans, with 381,000. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19).

The Melbourne Demons are characterized as not being able to draw local support, with most of the team barracking for the team being “centred in the outer south-eastern suburbs.” (Stewart, 1983, p. 41) The team had the fewest people barracking for them of any team in the AFL during the 2009 season; only 187,000 people identified themselves as fans in research conducted by Roy Morgan (2009, July 19).

The North Melbourne Kangaroos fans during the early part of the 20th century are described as being from the working class and being a precursor of the British football hooligans. (Shaw, 2006, p. 79) During the 1920s, the fanbase had a noticeable amount of butchers. (Shaw, 2006, p. 83) The 2009 club ranked second to last in the AFL for most fans, with 219,000. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19).

At the Richmond Tigers founding in 1885, fans were characterized as being larrikins who threatened the club’s existence by keeping away paying customers. (Grow, 1998, p. 72) During the early 20th century, Richmond Tigers fans were mostly semi-skilled Irish Catholic members of the working class. (Shaw, 2006, p. 115) The Richmond Tigers supporters are characterized as “defiant and arrogant.” (Stewart, 1983, p. 42) Prior to the 1950s, being born in Richmond meant being a Richmond Tigers fan. This pattern of fans being located close to the historical home of the team changed with in the post war era. (Sandercock, 1981, p. 183) The 2009 team ranked ninth for total fans, with 392,000 fans. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19).

During the 1870s and 1880s, South Melbourne was one of the three big clubs in terms of the number of paying fans. (Grow, 1998, p. 55) The South Melbourne Football Club, that eventually became the Sydney Swans, began with most of their supporters being aspirational members of the lower-middle-class. (Shaw, 2006, p. 116) During the 1930s, the club was considered a Catholic one. (Shaw, 2006, p. 116) During 2009, the club ranked first in the AFL with 1,217,000 fans. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19)

During the 1880s, St. Kilda fans were characterized as being stockbrokers. (Grow, 1998, p. 69) The 2009 team ranked twelth for total fans, with 311,000 fans. (Roy Morgan Research, 2009, July 19).

Demonstrating Club Allegiance

In the AFL, fans has historically expressed their allegiance to their clubs in a variety of ways.

Up until about thirty years ago, if the Collingwood Magpies performed poorly, The Sporting Globe no one would buy it. (Shaw, 2006, p. 117)

The morale of the city of Geelong is said to be dependent on the club’s performance. (Shaw, 2006, p. 116)

During the 1920s, the North Melbourne Kangaroos were called “The Shinboners” because, according to Shaw (2006, p. 83), many fans from the area the team drew from were butchers and “would attach royal blue ribbons to animals’ shinbones and use them as window displays before North Melbourne home games.” (Shaw, 2006, p. 83)

The Connection Between Sport Fandom and Online Activity


Adair, D. & Vamplew, W. (1997). Sport in Australian History. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Cashman, R. (2002). Sport in the National Imagination, Australian sport in the Federation decades. Sydney: Walla Walla Press.

Collins, T. (2005). “‘One Common Code of Football for Australia!’: The Australian Rules and Rugby League Merger Proposal of 1933.” In R. Hess, M. Nicholson, & B. Stewart (Eds.), Football Fever: Crossing Boundaries (pp. 27-38). Hawthorn: Maribyrnong Press.

Depley, L. and Boetti, H.A. (1998). “Sport Management and Marketing via the World Wide Web”, Sport Marketing Quarterly, 7 (1), pp. 21-27.

Grow, R. (1998). The Victorian Football Association in Control, 1877-1896. In R. Hess & B. Stewart (Eds.), More Than a Game (pp. 45-85). Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Nicholson, M. (2004). “Take the Game to the North: The Strategic and Demographic Imperative Facing Australian Rules Football.” In M. Nicholson, R. Hess, & B. Stewart (Eds.), Football Fever: Grassroots (pp. 111-121). Hawthorn: Maribyrnong Press.

Roy Morgan Research. (2009, July 19). More Than 7.6 Million AFL Supporters A Great Market for Prospective Sponsors 2008 Grand Finalists Hawthorn (Up 72,000) & Geelong (Up 99,000) Have Biggest Jumps in Support. [Press Release]. Retrieved from

Sandercock, L., & Turner, I. (1981). Up Where, Cazaly? The Great Australian Game. Sydney: Granada.

Shaw, I. W. (2006). The Bloodbath, The 1945 VFL Grand Final. Melbourne: Scribe.

Shilbury, D., Quick, S., & Westerbeck, H. (2003). Strategic sport marketing (2nd ed.). Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin.

Smith, A. and Stewart, B. (1999) Sports Management: A Guide to Professional Practice, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Stewart, B. (1983). The Australian Football Business, a Spectator’s Guide to the VFL. Maryborough, Victoria: Kangaroo Press.

Sullivan, M. (2004). “Sports Marketing.” In J. Beech & S. Chadwick (Eds.), The Business of Sport Management (pp. 128-153). Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

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