Let Me Tell You a Story
I love Canadian football - high school, university or the CFL. I know the rules, I can tell when a blocking assignment is missed (duh!) or when the quarterback and the receiver get their signals mixed up. I love watching a play unfold. So because I love the game, I love watching the Laval Rouge et Or play. They play the game like it was meant to be played.
Does that mean I don't support our Carleton Ravens? Of course not! I've been hoping and praying for the day football would return to Carleton. I remember Panda games very fondly (or at least I'm fond of the parts of the game I remember). I've got season tickets - come say hello if you see me at a home game. But I figure we're a few years away yet from building a tradition of winning like Laval has. So, in the mean time, I'm a two team kind of fan (ok, three teams if Queen's makes it into the final!)
I don't remember when I first started to love football. I suspect it's like hockey, I learned to love it by watching it on TV with my Dad. Back in the day (we're talking the pre-Glieberman era) I was a proud Riders fan. Had the 1971 Riders roster memorized - numbers, positions, etc. It probably helped that Coach Brancato's daughter was in my Math class. Now, I cheer for what I stubbornly insist on calling the Green Riders. I really, really want a watermelon helmet. I love the atmosphere at a Saskatchewan home game - they put the fanatic back into fan.
I'm also a basketball fan, but in this case I'm just learning the game. I started attending a few years ago to watch Sprott students Stu Turnbull and Aaron Doornekamp (need it say it? They were Marketing majors. Woo hoo!) I don't always understand why the referee calls fouls on the Ravens. But I've been to enough games now that I know quality and heart when I see it. That's why when the Ravens defeated the Lakehead Thunderwolves at the CIS Final 8 in 2013, I proudly stood and applauded their players as well as ours. Playing with heart deserves to be recognized.
And then we come to wrestling. I became a fan of pro wrestling in spite of the fact that my Dad wouldn't watch it. I don't watch it much myself any more, but I still admit to being a fan. Is that possible? Can you still be a fan if you don't watch?
What I really love is talking with other fans about the wrestlers of old: Edouard Carpentier, Maurice Mad Dog Vachon, Brett Hart, Billy Two Rivers, Killer Kowalski, Gorgeous George, George Hackenschmidt and, yes, even Hulk Hogan (although I agree that the man can't wrestle). I love making up plot lines for the Match of the Century - the match that can never happen because the wrestlers come from different generations.
And the moral of the story is...?
From the research I conducted with pro wrestling fans, I learned that consumers become fans for many reasons. Sometimes it's because a parent, older sibling or friend influences them, or sometimes it's in spite of what others say. Often times, it is out of patriotism or loyalty to a country or home town. As our expertise as fans grows, we see new dimensions and learn to appreciate a truly gifted performance. We may deepen our connection by learning the history of our favorite consumption pastime. And many times, we stay fans because of the social connections we've made with other fans.
Why Should Consumer Researchers Care?
In his 1995 article called "How Consumers Consume", researcher Doug Holt developed a four-part typology of consumption based on his observations at professional baseball games (nice job if you can get it!) My fan experiences related above highlight many of the dimensions identified by Holt.
Holt calls it 'accounting' when fans use an interpretive framework to make sense of what they see. That's how I can say Gotch 'cheated', because using the conventions of pro wrestling, a fan can distinguish between 'cheating' and typical actions carried out in the ring. Fans 'evaluate' when they compare what they are seeing with examples from the depth of their experiences. So I can say that Laval 'plays the game like it should be played' or that I recognize 'heart' in the way a losing team played. We 'appreciate' when we have an emotional reaction -- like when I thought my heart would stop when Stu hit that shot.
Check out Holt's typology. His contribution was to use the fan experience to help us understand the linkage between the emotions we experience, the ways in which our understanding and appreciation of 'the game' are structured by institutional frameworks (e.g., the explicit and unspoken 'rules') and our interactions with others (family, friends, other fans). This applies to many situations beyond the arena of fandom.
Are fans just really loyal customers? Does existing customer loyalty theory cover all the dimensions of fandom? Perhaps a group will take that topic on for their winter semester project.
Holt, Douglas B. (1995), "How Consumers Consume: A Typology of Consumption Practices," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (1), 1-16.
If you are interested in fans and fandom, check out these books:
Austin, Dan (2005) True Fans: A Basketball Odyssey. Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press.
Hills, Matt (2002) Fan Cultures. NY: Routledge.
Jenkins, Henry (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. NY: Routledge.
Queenan, Joe (2003) True Believers: The Tragic Inner Life of Sports Fans. NY: Henry Holt & Co.