Fan Identity and Identification Drivers: Stoking the Flames of the Phoenix
Fans are of highest importance for the financial success of sports clubs (van Leeuwen, Quick, & Daniel, 2002). However, the nature of fandom and the meaning that fans place upon their relationship with a sports club varies and different degrees of fandom exist (Wann & Branscombe, 1990). Whilst much research has been done on the assessment of fan identification, little work has contributed to its practical application. For example, for sport marketers to actively strengthen their fan base, more than a mere assessment of the identification level of their fans is necessary. It is suggested that knowledge about the underlying identification drivers of fans with different identification levels is needed to inform any managerial action. This research aims to enhance understanding about the relationship between the level of fan identification and the drivers of identification, and it does so, via a study of New Zealand's only professional football club Wellington Phoenix FC. A cross-sectional convenience sample of 517 Wellington Phoenix fans was surveyed using both online and researcher administered/respondent completed questionnaires. The Sports Spectator Identification Scale (Wann & Branscombe, 1993) was used to measure fan identification, and participants were categorized into five identification levels. Findings show that ten of 16 identification drivers are correlated with the identification level. Of particular interest are findings that indicate a mediating impact of the identification level on specific relationships. For instance, lowly identified fans place a higher relevance on the success of the team, whilst for highly identified fans, success is of lesser relevance. In contrast to that, the sense of belonging created by fellow fans is more important to those who are highly identified. Other drivers such as the general interest in football possess a nearly constant relevance throughout different identification levels. A multivariate factor analysis revealed patterns among identification drivers that suggest fans can be categorized according functional, symbolic and interpersonal constructs that can be described as a live experience factor, an admiration factor and a social network factor. Based on these results, fan profiling was undertaken and various marketing implications were discussed. The insights attained allow researchers and marketing practitioners to better understand the relevance of different drivers on the development of fan identification, and to better understand how marketing strategies may promote such higher levels of identification.