Archive for January 4th, 2011

Revised draft: Dissertation introduction

Posted by on Tuesday, 4 January, 2011

When not trying to knock out various chapters in my dissertation, I’ve been working on editing existing chapter. My introduction has probably gone through about 10 different edits and while it hasn’t changed much in terms of organization and structure, I think it is a bit stronger now… and given those changes, I wanted to post it as a blog entry. It just is more there than if I just upload it as part of my draft.

The online ecosystem is expanding the definition of sport fandom, changing how teams engage with their fans, and causing potential demographic and geographic shifts for Australian athletes, clubs and teams. These three components of sport fandom are inextricably linked and are worth studying to understand how sport fandom behaves and what Australian sport fandom will look like in the future.

There are currently four operational definitions of sport fandom. Each definition originates from and is used by a different group based on the needs and interests of the group.

Sports marketers and managers, broadly speaking, define sports fandom around potential for spectatorship. Stewart (1983), Shilbury, D., Quick, S., & Westerbeck, H. (2003) and Sullivan (2004) discuss various aspects of this, including the goal of teams to sell tickets to matches. They sometimes diverge from this definition to talk about spectator related behaviors that can be monetized including merchandise sales, radio listeners, and television viewership, as well as streaming online audio and video, and live game updates.

Sociologists and historians offer the second definition. This group tends to define sports fandom as a form of identity and as a product of a specific culture. Cashman (2002) looks at sport fandom in Australia as an extension of a wider Australian national identity. Collins (2005) looked at sport as a component of people’s identity as it pertains to the rest of the world: Australian and inward looking or international and outward looking.

Sport fans and the media provide a third definition of sport fandom. They define sport fandom around allegiances and in-the-moment activities that demonstrate these allegiances. This includes events such as having a sport club themed wedding.

Popular culture studies scholars like Jenkins (2006) and Hills (2009) offer the fourth definition of sport fandom. Jenkins and Hills define fans as an active population who engage in activities related to an object produced by the larger popular culture. This production includes activities such writing fan fiction, creating costumes, producing fanvids and organizing fan conventions. Popular culture academics also define fans as possessing 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.

None of these definitions, perspectives in themselves, tells the whole story in the increasingly online-based world of Australian sport. Fans can more easily be monetized by teams that do not rely on getting people into the stadium. Identity continues to play a role in fandom but this is evolving as the Internet allows teams to draw a more interstate and international audience. In the moment activities can often extend out years as fans maintain large fansites and become more actively involved in organizations dedicated to but independent of their team. How fans express allegiance also is changing. No longer is it just based on club membership and being kitted out in a club’s jumper or scarf. Fans can and do express allegiance by following their clubs on social networks, checking in on geolocation based social networks, creating message boards and fan pages, attending events organized on social networks in order to meet their fellow fans, and creating content related to their clubs to distribute across various networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Twitter, and YouTube. How fans change their allegiances is changing. When fans stop supporting clubs online, they stop checking the club’s website regularly, unfollow them on Twitter or stop using Twitter altogether, do not post as often to team related fan sites and ignore team updates on Facebook.

The definitional expansion means more fans than ever could potentially be counted as barrackers for a club. The potential exposure to a club is greater than ever as fans hear about teams and athletes from their friends, family and coworkers on social networks, as a result of online content that has gone viral, or seeking it out in response to major sport related controversies or events. The confluence of changing definitions and increased exposure to new sport potentially means that a sport or club has a different demographic population than the one historically associated with it. Why? The demographic characteristics of the Australian community are sometimes at odds with populations described by sport historians and sociologists. The exploration, for sport historians, as to why and how Australian sport communities function the way they do necessitates the benchmarking of the community as it exists in the period of 2010 and 2011 in order to observe the ongoing demographic changes in a club’s future fandom population.

Hess (2000) and Cashman (2002) both elude to the traditional gender patterns of sport allegiances in Australia, with AFL, Australian Rules Football, generally having gender equity in their fan base. In contrast, the NRL, National Rugby League, is described by sport historians as being dominated by male barrackers, who compose 90% of the population. As the research will show, this has changed with some NRL clubs having a female fan base of around 40% while a new AFL expansion team has an initial online male fan base of 81%. These shifts and the causes for them are not explained in the literature that this dissertation will attempt to answer these questions.

The study of sport fandom is grounded in sport sociology, history and culture. It is complimented by a framework of popular culture studies, sociology, history and other areas in social sciences.

Much of previous research involving Australian sport fans, and specifically AFL fans, has focused on offline populations, and was conducted using survey research, observational work or historical work. This is the case for Stewart (1983) where the methodology was based on around club history and observations of match attendance. A population study done by the marketing agency Roy Morgan Research (2009) relied on a telephone survey. To the knowledge of this dissertation’s author, no large-scale study documenting the characteristics of Australian sport fans and why fans change loyalties has been completed. Studies that have been completed focus on attendance and club membership; this dissertation will examine internet data in an effort to determine how the internet affects these.

Most social media research uses one or more of ten methodologies identified by the author of this dissertation. These research types are:

1. Individual case studies involving how a business uses social media and the web;

2. Search and traffic analytics analysis;

3. Sentiment analysis and reputation management;

4. Content analysis;

5. Usability studies;

6. Interaction and collaboration analysis;

7. Relationship analysis to try to determine how people interact and to identify key influencers;

8. Population studies;

9. Online target analysis of behavior and psychographics; and

10. Predictive analysis.

These research methods have been used for analyzing online group behavior and content. The most popular methods include case studies, content analysis, usability studies, influencer identification, reputation management, and interaction and collaboration analysis. Based on my preliminary research, the last three are ones least likely to be done.

When population studies are done, they tend to be short, do not detail methodology, focus on one particular site on the Internet and do not compare different populations. The reason for this is there are few automated tools to measure population characteristics of several sites at once. Of the existing tools, most are focused on providing information related to other methodologies including interaction and collaboration analysis, sentiment analysis, and search and traffic analytics analysis. These tools generally do not provide demographic and geographic population related data. Those that do offer demographic information tend to focus only on one site such as Twitter or Facebook, while this dissertation shall expand on those two.

The existing methods and the reliance on automating data collection around a single site acts as an intellectual and practical barrier in doing large-scale population studies across multiple sites. My research will help provide a methodological framework for doing a population study online, and demonstrate how the three components of sport fandom are inextricably linked and will enhance the understand how sport fandom behaves and what Australian sport fandom will look like in the future. This methodology will encompass populations across different networks and subgroups as most current research focuses on Twitter, Facebook and club fansites. The framing of this research in the context of events that taking place in sport fandom will create a narrative that not only will help understand existing characteristics of a fandom but begin to explain why shifts in the fan population take place. The approach will be useful in terms of laying a framework exploring the methodology for online target analysis, psychographics and predictive analysis as it pertains to demographic and geographic characteristics. This methodology will further validate quantitative analysis as a valid method for understanding how fan communities function.

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