Chapter 7 – Future of Rivalry Research

This final chapter focuses on the future questions facing rivalry in sport.  How will rivalry look in 5 or 10 years?  With the importance of television viewership, will rivalry become something that is of more or less focus to sport teams, organizations, and athletic departments?  Is rivalry, in its current form, a phenomenon that will last in the future?  How will historical rivalries be impacted by sponsorship contracts, and vice versa?  These are just some of the questions facing sport researchers.  In fact, an annual research meeting, the Forum on Sport Rivalry invites individuals interested in the study of sport rivalry to discuss current and future ideas on the phenomenon.  Following is a brief discussion of future work on sport rivalry.

First, we need to better understand how rivalry impacts the loyal and casual fan.  Havard (2014) interviewed college fans about their favorite and rival teams, but more interviews need to be conducted at the professional and amateur leagues.  Second, more interviews, survey research, and experiments are needed to help determine how the phenomenon impacts the psychology of sport fandom.  Earlier, we discussed the ideas of schadenfreude and GORFing, and we need to conduct more in-depth research to understand the similarities and differences between the two.  Further, as Pradhan and colleagues are working on scales to measure how fans behaviorally react to rival team’s indirect failure, research is needed to determine if differences exist between those scales and the GORFing scale.

Research on rivalry at the international level has lagged behind that of the phenomenon within the United States.  How is rivalry different for fans in the United States and abroad?  We mentioned that domestic teams often use rivalry to promote the sport product, but practical examples indicate rivalry is something to be controlled at the international level.  Also, how do nations use sport rivalry as a means for relating to one another?  Every Summer and Winter Olympic Games, we see fans of different countries display grandiose examples of national pride, is this something that helps or hurts international relations?

A very important area for future research in sport rivalry is investigating the way groups, and group members, treat each other.  Fans often use exaggerated language to explain their relationships with their favorite and rival teams, but how does this language manifest itself, and how can this language impact the professional and personal relationships we have with other people?  Outside of sport, negative and exaggerative language is often on display in chat rooms and on message boards during an election cycle.  Current research is trying to identify similarities and differences between the types of language used to describe out-groups in sport and politics.  In other words, do fans of the Denver Broncos differ in their descriptions of the Kansas City Chiefs than Democrats do of Republicans?

Another important area is determining how the understanding of rivalry and behavior can impact group relations.  For example, if we can gain a better understanding of how people form their beliefs about out-group members, we can possibly begin work to alleviate some of the negative feelings and behaviors we see between groups.  There are many different areas and paths of research on rivalry in an out of sport.  These are just a few ideas that are being discussed, but many, many more have yet to be addressed, or even discovered.  The study of rivalry is very important, and can help form the way (1) sport managers promote the sport product and (2) people act toward members of their in-groups and out-groups.

A project that I am really excited about it teaching people, with a specific focus on school-age children, how the rivalry phenomenon really impacts people and groups.  To do this, we have created comic strips and movies of the historical rivalry podcasts on www.sportrivalry.com.  At the end of each comic strip and movie, a term or description of a phenomenon that explains rivalry and describes why people treat others differently depending on their group affiliation.  The goal with this project is to reach younger people through sport rivalry, while teaching them that members of in-groups and out-groups have more in common that some would have them believe.  To help teach about group behavior, we have also developed comic strips and movies about fan behavior and how fans should treat members of their favorite and rival teams.

Discussion Topic #6

What are some future ideas for research in rivalry, inside and outside of sport that you see?  How will knowing more about rivalry help improve our society?