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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Marketers capitalize on 'fan' loyalty, June 30, 2006, 2D.

For diehard members of The Gator Nation, April 4, 2006 was a tremendous day.  It was the day AFTER the University of Florida men’s basketball team was named the 2006 NCAA National Champions.  Around the world, Gator fans received notes and messages of congratulations for their team’s victory.  Some Gator fans posted signs and banners announcing the victory in their office windows for people passing by to see (no names mentioned).

With college athletics, there are typically ties between the fans and the teams that extend beyond just winning and losing.  Many people root for the teams of the schools from which they attended or graduated.  Professional sports teams are different—they are businesses that depend on fans for revenue.  Professional leagues and teams generate tremendous amounts of money from ticket and merchandise sales, licensing fees, and advertising.  Diehard fans can experience emotional, psychological, and physiological reactions when watching the games of their favorite teams.  Fans experience those reactions knowing that the players are being paid (in some cases, millions of dollars a year) to play for entertainment.  In spite of that knowledge, fans experience many of the same feelings of victory and loss as the players who actually compete in the game.

Social Identity Theory gives some explanation for “fan” involvement.  When others know that you claim an association with a group, the group’s successes and failures reflect upon you in the eyes and minds of those who know you.  Individuals are able to share in the success of the groups they identify with even when they contribute nothing to performance.  The Gator fans who watched the national championship game on television, for example, had zero influence on the team’s performance.  When sports teams lose, fans might also perceive themselves as losers in the eyes and minds of those who know of their allegiances.  These processes can have positive and negative influences on an individual’s self-esteem. 

Marketers use concepts similar to social identity theory to create demand and sales for their products.  One way they do this is to the pay sports heroes to endorse and promote brands and products.  Using a product that a celebrity is known to use allows consumers to psychologically share in the fame and success of the endorser.  When ordinary players put on the same brands of clothes that sports heroes wear, some of the fame, celebrity, and success of the heroes seemingly rubs off onto the ordinary players.  Marketers use these concepts sell things like clothing, shoes, deodorant, drinks, underwear, cameras, and automobiles.  When celebrities and heroes do unfavorable things or stop winning at their games, companies often drop them and look for new stars to help endorse and sell future products.

We are all known to those with whom we interact as a composite of individual and group identities.  As members of business and work organizations, we should be aware of the ways that social identity theory might be used to help our organizations create favorable images with consumers.  As consumers, we should be aware of the ways that businesses and organizations try to use social identity theory to elicit our business.  And finally, Go Gators!

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved