Chapter 1 – Team Identification

In sport fans will watch and follow teams for various reasons, whether they want to feel part of a team, part of a group of supporters and therefore bigger than themselves, if they want to experience vicarious achievement (when my team wins, I win!).  Work by Daniel Wann has illustrated the various ways a fan attaches to and reacts to a favorite team.  Fans can follow their favorite teams with such intensity that their identification can cause them to act in ways they wouldn’t outside of the sport setting (Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001).  Two great examples of a fans intense tie to their favorite team involve the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series win.  One fan from Des Moines, Iowa held on to hear about the Cubs victory and then passed away hours later.  Mabel Ball, a 108-year-old fan was born shortly before the Cubs won the 1908 World Series and died six days after they captured the 2016 Championship. Fans can follow a favorite team because of family members, friends, or significant others.  Or it could be social reasons, they go to a game, start to interact with people and really like the social interactions they have at games and with fans.

Regardless of the level of identification a person has with a favorite team, they typically interact at some point with fans of opposing or rival teams (Sherif, 1966).   And so, this text is about those groups that we know as rival teams and what they mean to us.  What they mean to our favorite teams, and how the presence of rival teams and rival supporters impact us as fans.  The way we perceive our favorite team, our rival team, fans of our favorite team, fans of our rival team, and the way we behave toward our favorite team and our rival team are discussed in this book.

Activity #1

List 5 different groups that you see yourself belong to.  For example, some groups could be (1) racial makeup, (2) maybe you were/are an athlete in school, (3) top 25% in your class so you identify with people in that group (4) maybe you participated in drama/theater, (5) maybe you played football.  The examples could go on with religious affiliation, SES status and more like we talked about.  After you have identified those 5 groups, write down three things for each group that those say about you.  For instance, in our example, being an athlete may say (1) you have a strong work ethic, (2) your competitive, and (3) you like being physically active.  Now go through and identify 3 characteristics for each group that you belong to.  Groups can share the same characteristics.  When you are finished with that, look at the 5 groups you belong to and the characteristics you wrote down for each group.  Taken together, those 5 groups and 15 characteristics will say a lot about you as a person.  When you put those groups and characteristics together, you start to see “who you are” and “what it means to be you as an individual”.

So first, a discussion of rivalry really begins with one of social identity theory.  Social identity theory really says that the groups we are part of say something about us (Tajfel, 1974).  So think about it, the groups that you identify with, whether that is a group in your school, students in a certain class, a religious group, a political group, SES status, racial or ethnic group.  All of these groups say something about us.  Activity #1 illustrates what social identity tells us on an individual level.

Now, particular to sport, part of social identity theory states that we want to identify with successful groups or successful others.  We want to do that because if we can identify with a successful group or person, we can identify with their success (i.e., vicarious achievement: Bandura, 1977).  This makes us feel better, and makes us feel as though we can accomplish more ourselves.  Some common examples in sport are following a championship; many people who may otherwise not identify with the team before they won the championship will do so after the victory.  We do that because success feels good and we want to have positive evaluations of ourselves and have others positively evaluate us.  So if others see you wearing a shirt of a successful team, internally they are likely to form positive perceptions about you.

This is where Basking In Reflected Glory (BIRGing) comes in.  In other words, BIRGing means that after a win or success, more people are going to identify with a team (Cialdini et al., 1976).  Cialdini and associates observed college students tendency to identify with the school’s football team following wins and non-wins.  When the school’s football team won, students were more likely to wear clothing that identified them with the team and/or school.  They also used words such as “we” or “us” when asked to describe game outcomes.  On the other hand, after some sort of failure, people will push away from a team because it reflects negatively on them.  This is known as Cutting Off Reflected Failure (Snyder & Fromkin, 1980; Snyder, Lassegard, & Ford, 1986).  For example, Cialdini et al. (1976) found that following non-wins (losses or ties), students tended not to wear clothing that identified them with the team or school and used words such as “they” to describe game outcomes.

Activity #2

Think about your favorite team, and identify who your favorite team is.  This could be a team at any level, in any sport.  If you would like, you could identify a favorite team in different sports (e.g., NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, College Sport, Premier League, etc.).  Think about your favorite team, and complete the following scales on a separate piece of paper to determine on your likelihood of BIRGing and CORFing depending on team performance.  Once you have completed all items in each measure, add up your score and divde by 10 to get your average score.  Do you agree with your scores?

Madrigal (1995) asserted that people participate in BIRGing and CORFing as a way to control for and protect their self-esteem.  So in other words, if you’re BIRGing for a certain team that is successful and all the sudden they are not successful, you could CORF against that team and find another team to BIRG with.  So in essence, you are choosing to CORF against one team and find another team to BIRG with.  People commonly refer to fans that BIRG and CORF as “bandwagon” fans.  This (apparently planned) video perfectly sums up the BIRGing, CORFing, and bandwagon fan.   Wann and Branscombe (1990) surveyed fans of Kansas Jayhawks Men’s Basketball and found that highly identified fans are more likely to BIRG and less likely to CORF than lowly identified fans.  This Alabama Crimson Tide fan must be one highly identified fan! John Spinda validated two scales to measure fan likelihood of BIRGing and CORFing (2011).

Basking In Reflected Glory (BIRGing)

 

After the (favorite team) win… (Circle)  (1 = Strongly Disagree, 4 = Neutral, 7 = Strongly Agree)                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

I am more likely to display the (favorite team) logo, emblem, or insignia where I live. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to display the (favorite team) logo, emblem, or insignia where I work or go to school. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I usually wear clothing or jerseys that display the (favorite team) team logo, emblem, or insignia. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to purposely read stories in the newspaper about the (favorite team) performance. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to read stories online to savor the (favorite team) win. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to purposely watch highlights of the (favorite team) after the game. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to “talk trash” to fans of other teams who have been defeated by the (favorite team). 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to “talk trash” to fans of other teams whose teams are not doing as well as the (favorite team). 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to chat online with other fans about the game. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to post messages online to show support for the (favorite team). 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

 

Cutting Off Reflected Failure (CORFing)

 

After the (favorite team) lose… (Circle) (1 = Strongly Disagree, 4 = Neutral, 7 = Strongly Agree)     

 

I generally don’t “talk trash” to fans of other teams whose teams are doing better than the (favorite team). 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I generally don’t “talk trash” to fans of other teams who have defeated the (favorite team). I am not as likely to chat online with other fans about the game. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I not as likely to post messages online to show support for the (favorite team). 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I won’t call fellow fans of the (favorite team) to discuss the game. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am not as likely to display the (favorite team) logo, emblem, or insignia where I work or go to school. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am not as likely to display the (favorite team) logo, emblem, or insignia where I live. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I usually won’t wear clothing or jerseys that display the (favorite team) team logo, emblem, or insignia. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I generally avoid articles in the newspaper about the (favorite team) performance. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am not as likely to read stories online so I can forget about the (favorite team) performance. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I usually choose not to watch highlights of the (favorite team) after the game. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am more likely to avoid my family or close others for a while.

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

 

There are also two other phenomena that Campbell, Aiken, and Kent (2004) described as Basking In spite of Reflected Failure (BIRFing) and Cutting Off Reflected Success (CORSing).  BIRFing describes the loyal fan of a historically unsuccessful team.  Examples include the fan base for the Chicago Cubs, or the fan base for the Boston Red Sox before they won the 2004 World Series.  Chicago Cubs fans and fans of historically underperforming teams seem like they were their fandom, and sometimes negative consequences of their fandom, as a badge of honor.  This tells other people “I am a true Fan.  For better or for worse, success or failure, I am a TRUE fan”.  It also helps to tell people, “I am not a BANDWAGON fan”.  On the other hand, CORFing may occur when some of those die-hard fans don’t appreciate some of the things their team has done to be successful.  So let’s say that the Chicago Cubs spend massive amounts of money to bring in talent and become very successful (which may be happening now).  This talent takes them so far as winning the World Series.  Most fans are going to BIRG for the Chicago Cubs.  Many fans will talk about ending the curse of the billy goat, ending the curse of Steve Bartman, ending the World Series drought.  So most fans will BIRG, but you may see some die-hard fans actually cut off that reflected success.  Maybe they don’t see the Cubs success as being genuine or they believe the organization gave up on some of their values.

Now that we have discussed some reasons why fans may identify with teams, we will discuss some of the work of researchers that have studied how identified a person can be with a team.  Daniel Wann has conducted research on fan identity and the way identification can impact the way a person feels and behaves toward loves ones, their favorite team, opposing groups and teams.  In 1993, Daniel Wann and Nyla Branscombe published the Sport Spectator Identification Scale (SSIS).  This is a 7-item measure that uses an 8-point Likert Scale to address to what degree a person identifies with a favorite team.  Questions from the SSIS can be found below.  Also, the Team Identification Index (Trail, Robinson, Dick, & Gillentine, 2003) is a 3-item measure that uses a 7-point Likert Scale to measure a fan’s identification with a team (Trail, Robinson, Dick, & Gillentine, 2003).  The Psychological Continuum Model (Funk & James, 2001; 2006) was developed and validated on participants of recreation activity but has been used to measure commitment to a favorite team.  The PCM takes a little different approach, and asks what their favorite team means to them, how central the team is to their lives.  By taking this approach, the PCM can tell how identified a person is with a favorite team, sport, or activity.

Activity #3

Thinking about your favorite team you identified in Activity #2, respond to each of the SSIS prompts on page 6 on a separate sheet of paper (Wann & Branscombe, 1993).  After that, add up the numbers of your responses to get your aggregate (total) score or divide by 7 showing how identified you are with your favorite team. level. 

Discussion Topic #1

Thinking about your favorite team, do you consider yourself a “real fan” or to what degree do you follow your favorite team?  In other words, do you BIRG following a win?  Do you find yourself CORFing after a loss?  What do you think of “bandwagon fans”, people who follow teams because they are successful and/or popular?

These are some of the reasons why a person may identify with a sport team and how identification is measured.  This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive discussion of fan identity in sport.

Discussion Topic #1

Looking at your scores on the SSIS on page 9, how identified are you with your favorite team?  If you filled out the SSIS for multiple teams, and possible in different leagues, can you see a difference in your identification scores? 

Sport Spectator Identification Scale (SSIS)

 

Using the favorite team identified above, please provide answers for the following prompts.

How important is it to you that your favorite team wins? Not Important 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Very Important
How strongly do you see yourself as a fan of your favorite team? Not at All a Fan 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Very Much a Fan
How strongly do your friends see you as a fan as of  your favorite team? Not at All a Fan 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Very Much a Fan
During the season, how closely do you follow your favorite team via ANY of the following: in person or on television, on the radio, or televised news or a newspaper? Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Almost Every Day
How important is being a fan of your favorite team to you? Not Important 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Very Important
How much do you dislike the greatest rivals of your favorite team? Do Not Dislike 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Dislike Very Much
How often do you display your favorite team’s name or insignia at your place of work, where you live, or on your clothing? Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Always