In most advanced capitalist societies, sport is hard to avoid. Sport related media shows and channels, magazines, newspapers, Internet sites, films, fictional and non fictional books, advertising campaigns, video games, and even soap operas saturate our everyday lives. Sport is also a regular conversation topic for many families, friends, and work colleagues, and sport related goods (often demonstrating sporting allegiances) such as jerseys, scarves, hats, badges, jackets, ties, cups, mouse mats, pennants, etc., are commonplace in our towns, homes, and places of work.
As Coakley (1994) writes: ‘‘Throughout history sport has always been used as a form of entertainment. However, sports have never been so heavily packaged, promoted, presented, and played as commercial products as they are today.’’ Giulianotti (2002) suggests that since the late 1980s, sport (and in particular he cites the example of association football) has witnessed a rapid commercialization and what he refers to as ‘‘hypercommodification.’’ Giulianotti suggests this hypercommodification has been largely brought about by shifts within late capitalist society and in particular moves towards ‘‘disorganized capitalism’’ (Lash & Urry 1987), which have led to the contemporary dominance of consumer culture.
However, the question of whether sport audiences can be defined as consumers is a difficult one. Followers of sport are most typically identified as fans, and it is notable that within much of the wider literature on fans (such as that on media fans) that there is a tendency to identify fans as quite distinct from consumers. This is particularly evident in the work of Jenkins (1992), who suggests that fans are different to ‘‘ordinary’’ readers in that fans ‘‘actively’’ engage with the texts they consume. A similar attitude is evident in many studies of sport fan culture, where for instance Wann et al. (2001) construct as series of dichotomies between fans and spectators, direct and indirect sport consumers, and lowly and highly identified sport fans. Though Wann et al. make no value judgments between these ‘‘types’’ of audiences, others, and most notably several key writers on football (soccer) culture such as Taylor (1971) and Redhead (1997), draw value laden distinctions between what they define as ‘‘traditional’’ fans (often white, male, and working class) and ‘‘new’’ (often middle class, ‘‘family’’ based) consumers.
However, both Williams (2000) and Crawford (2004) suggest that these categories are often based upon romanticized ideas of ‘‘authenticity,’’ which see the celebration of one form of sport support (such as attending live sport events) and the rejection of all that is seen as new (such as following sport via the mass media). Moreover, Crawford (2004: 32) suggests that with regard to the literature on subcultures, ‘‘typologies of supporters tend to impose rigid distinctions between ‘types’ of supporters, which tend towards caricature and force diverse patterns of behavior into restrictive categories. Such typologies and dichotomies do not recognize the fluidity and often temporality of many supporter ‘communities.’’’ It is important to recognize that not all fan activity directly involves acts of consumption. As Crawford (2004: 4) writes: ‘‘Much of what makes someone a fan is what is located within her or his personal identity, memories, thoughts and social interactions.’’ However, most often these relate (either directly or indirectly) to acts of consumption. For instance, the memories, thoughts, and conversations of sport fans will often relate to events people have attended, games they have seen on television, consumer goods they have bought or seen, and similar acts of consumption.
Consequently, several other authors (e.g., Holt 1995; Sandvoss 2003) suggest that a profitable way forward is to locate discussions of sport fan culture within a wider consideration of consumption of sport, recognizing that sport fans are first and foremost consumers. This approach allows links, both theoretically and empirically, to be formed with wider debates on audiences and consumption, which can inform the understanding and theorization of sport audiences. For instance, Sandvoss (2003) suggests that what constitutes the idea and image of a sport club to its fans is made up of numerous (often diverse) ‘‘texts’’ (such as the stadium, its various players and staff, its history, and various media texts and reading of these), making the club (to a degree) polysemic. That is to say, fans can (within certain boundaries) read into the object of their support a wide variety of different meanings. This (largely) blank canvas, Sandvoss suggests, allows fans to see in the club what they value in themselves. The sport club therefore becomes, like Narcissus’ pool, both a self reflection and the object of their affection. This theorization then provides a useful understanding of the nature of fan affiliations, the diversity of meanings attached to popular cultural texts (such as sport clubs), and, importantly, locates the consideration of sport audiences within wider debates on consumption.
- Coakley, J. J. (1994) Sport in Society: Issues and Controversies, 5th edn. McGraw Hill, Boston.
- Crawford, G. (2004) Consuming Sport: Sport, Fans and Culture. Routledge, London.
- Giulianotti, R. (2002) Supporters, Followers, Fans, and Flaneurs: A Taxonomy of Spectator Identities in Football. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 26(1): 25-46.
- Holt, D. B. (1995) How Consumers Consume: A Typology of Consumption Practices. Journal of Consumer Research 22: 1-16.
- Horne, J. (2006) Sport in Consumer Culture. Palgrave, Basingstoke.
- Jenkins, H. (1992) Textual Poachers. Routledge, London.
- Lash, S. & Urry, J. (1987) The End of Organized Capitalism. Polity Press, Cambridge.
- Redhead, S. (1997) Post Fandom and the Millennial Blues: The Transformation of Soccer Culture. Routledge, London.
- Sandvoss, C. (2003) A Game of Two Halves: Football, Television and Globalization. Routledge, London.
- Taylor, I. (1971) ‘‘Football Mad’’: A Speculative Sociology of Football Hooliganism. In: Dunning, E. (Ed.), The Sociology of Sport. Frank Cass, London.
- Wann, D. L., Melnick, M. J., Russell, G. W., & Pease, D. G. (2001) Sport Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators. Routledge, New York.
- Williams, J. (2000) The Changing Face of Football: A Case of National Regulation? In: Hamil, S., Michie, J., Oughton, C., & Warby, S. (Eds.), Football in the Digital Age: Whose Game is it Anyway? Mainstream, London.
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