1 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL 2014 Literature Review: Soccer Fans on the Internet LIBR 200: Information Communities Carolyn Goebel Dr. Debra Hansen San José State University Fall 2014
2 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL Introduction With the increasing prevalence of new technology, soccer 1 has become more globalized than ever. Today s soccer fans around the world can quickly and easily connect with one another for discussions and the exchange of information. A long-held distrust of official sources of information drives international soccer fans in growing numbers to unofficial and fan-mediated sources (Green, 1999). The virtual communities that spring up around these sources and other social media, websites, wikis, and message forums offer an unprecedented opportunity for soccer fans to discover vast quantities of information ranging from technical knowledge and statistics to the personal lives of soccer players and fellow fans. It is this burgeoning accessibility and innovation that warrants further studies into how soccer fans seek and discover information, what types of information they are searching for, and how they use this information their day-to-day lives. Scholarly discussions regarding soccer fan communities on the Internet cover a wide range of topics. This review will explore several prominent studies that researchers have conducted, including: the motivations fans seeking information on the Internet; how traditional soccer culture is reflected and maintained by online fan communities; debates over authenticity of fanship in the online context; the innovative methods fans use to retrieve information; and how soccer fans use the Internet to maintain identities. By studying the information seeking behavior of online soccer fans, these scholars have shed light on a vast and intriguing community that should be the subject of further study. 1 For the purposes of this literature review, the phrases soccer and football are interchangeable; however every effort is made to refer to the sport as soccer when possible for consistency, with the exception of proper names and direct quotes. Any reference(s) to American Football are notated as NFL.
3 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL Review of Writings Previous research focused on the information-seeking behavior of soccer fans on the Internet centers on the frequency with which they access team websites. Studies by Joinson (2000) and Boen, Vanbeselaere, and Feys (2002) discuss theories of how fans engage in basking in reflected glory (BIRG) or cutting off reflected failure (CORF) depending on the outcome of a game. Both studies determined that there is an increase in a team s website traffic after a victory, although Joinson observes that due to the anonymity of online activity, the need to protect one s self-image by cutting off reflected failure does not influence information seeking on the Internet (188). While these studies are revealing of fans information seeking habits in relation to their team s success, Joinson has also acknowledged that there is a need for further studies to assess how information gathered on the Internet is used socially afterwards (189). Other scholars have taken to online forums to observe how soccer culture translates into virtual fan communities. Wilson (2007) analyzed fan interaction and information sharing on American-based website BigSoccer.com. His findings revealed that the Internet provides an essential function for Major League Soccer (MLS) fans in the United States who are widely dispersed geographically, and whose league lacks traditions and stronger identity and has no history of generational or geographically based loyalty in comparison to more established leagues around the world (381). In this study, Wilson argues that virtual communities fulfill an essential function in connecting fans and addressing information needs in a country that is perceived by fans to undervalue soccer in favor of Big Four professional team sports leagues the National
4 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL Football League (NFL), Major League Basball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), and National Hockey League (NHL) (383). Palmer and Thompson (2007) make similar comparisons regarding the significance of online activity for Australian soccer supporters known as the Grog Squad. The authors emphasize the use of the Internet as a means of maintaining fan identity (197). Kerr and Emery (2011) also share a study in which foreign fans 2 of Liverpool Football Club described their various motivations for supporting the English Premier League club. Their findings showed the Internet s role as an important agent in the socialization of [foreign] fans (884). For one respondent in their study, online interaction and information access provided an experience as close as [they] can get to actually being at Anfield (890). 3 There are other aspects of football culture that have been almost too easily transferred and, in a way, revived by the establishment of soccer fan communities on the Internet. In his article regarding racism in online message boards, Cleland (2013) studies discussions between English soccer fans about the prevalence of racism within the sport. With the aid of virtual interactions between fans, he demonstrates the enabling effect of social media and developing technologies in allowing anonymous racist commentary. The author observes that while the Internet provides a unique opportunity for soccer fans to engage in everyday asynchronous discussion concerning footballing and nonfootballing matters, it also provides platforms for propagating the same racist attitudes that soccer authorities continually campaign against (427). Significantly, Cleland found 2 Referred to by the authors as satellite supporters. 3 Anfield is the official stadium of Liverpool FC.
5 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL that when it comes to social issues within the context of football, often it is the fans who challenge each other s views on certain topics (428). Another controversial topic in the study of online soccer fans is the concept of authenticity of fanship. Several scholars have contributed to the discussion of what separates an authentic fan from an inauthentic fan, a distinction that is rapidly losing significance as soccer fans worldwide become engaged in virtual fan communities. Gibbons and Dixon (2010) argue that drawing lines between soccer fans based on their tendency toward live attendance or online activity misses the point entirely, as a significant amount of fans who engage in online information sharing are in fact the same fans that attend live matches (604). This idea is consistent with Palmer and Thompson s assertion that these communities [involve] a high level of participation and that the frequent reliance on Internet resources serves to [blur] the traditional demarcation of leisure and nonleisure spheres football fans typically adhere to (197). Indeed, a study by Bodey et. al. (2009) revealed that large numbers of Hispanic soccer fans in the United States prefer to use the Internet in conjunction with television and other forms of media to consume soccer culture, although many are deterred by the stark disparity in quality Spanish language content in relation to its English language counterpart (59). 4 Richard Green s (1999) article analyzes the shortcomings of official club and league information resources and how they breed mistrust among information seeking soccer fans: A number of pressures contribute to the perceived level of misinformation. 4 Hispanic fans reported consuming two-thirds of their online content in English (59); Bodey et. al. cite Mummert (2007) in suggesting that Hispanics perceive Spanish language versions of websites to be inferior to English language versions.
6 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL Firstly, there is the pressure of finding enough accurate information to fill the necessary column inches. Secondly, information has more filters to pass through; clubs, owners, shareholders, sponsors, players, and players agents all have a vested interest in manipulating information in their own interests. Thirdly, clubs have become more adept at PR and in handling the media (4). Green proceeds to argue that this mistrust in official information sources led to the creation of fanzines in the 1980s, which provided fans with abundant sources of unofficial information in addition to an outlet for sharing their perspectives. The author attributes fanzines as having an enormous influence on the way the game is represented in the media and official discourse [setting] the tone for a new style of football writing, in which the fans point of view is paramount (2). At the time of publishing, virtual soccer fan communities were still in early development, but Green observed how [hypertext] links allow fans to navigate their own paths through the masses of sites devoted to football, allowing for a flexibility and multiplicity of choices that suits the voracious, and often haphazard information seeking behavior of football fans (5). While only forty-five percent of the clubs surveyed in his study had websites at the time, he accurately predicted that the Internet would be instrumental in the expansion of access to information for soccer fans (5). Although the Internet provides international soccer fans with a stunning array of free resources, Theysohn (2006) published interesting findings on fans willingness to pay for match reports on the Internet. International supporters were reportedly willing to pay an average of up to seventy-five percent more than national supporters to access streaming and download services (27). He calls attention to the potential for soccer clubs
7 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL to provide paid information services to increase revenue, and to innovate new forms of distribution to consumers to increase their international appeal (30). Interestingly, Gibbons (2011) report on representation of English national identity among English soccer fans reflects a general tendency toward the primacy of club teams over national teams (873). While fans tended to feel better represented by the English national team when they experienced success, they often identified more with their local club rather than the national team, the latter of which tends to be comprised of highly paid professionals from London. One fan in Gibbons study thought that players on the English national team only [represent] themselves (872). This article stresses the importance of locality for the majority of English fans, and a need to feel represented in an age where multi-layered identity is so common (876). With this need it is easy to understand how soccer fans, especially those expatriate fans that are no longer able to attend live matches and engage in face-to-face interaction with their peers, can use the Internet as a means to stay connected with their club s local fan community and to stay abreast of news and information about their club. Conclusion The wealth of studies published regarding the information seeking behavior of soccer fans presents a great diversity of topics to explore. While there is debate regarding authenticity of soccer fans who engage in online activities, scholars agree that the Internet has broadened access to information for soccer fans around the world, and that virtual communities provide new opportunities to exchange various types of information. While previous studies have focused on how and what causes soccer fans to seek information online, there is further need to study their evolving information needs, the unique
8 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL information gathering benefits of online interaction with other fans, and the uses for information in their lives.
9 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL References Bodey, K. J., Judge, L. W., Steward, M., & Gobel, T. (2009). Reaching Hispanic fans: Professional sports use of Spanish language on the Internet. Journal of Research, 4(1), Boen, F., Vanbeselaere, N., & Feys, J. (2002). Behavioral consequences of fluctuating group success: An Internet study of soccer-team fans. Journal Of Social Psychology, 142(6), Cleland, J. (2013). Racism, football fans, and online message boards: How social media has added a new dimension to racist discourse in English football. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 38:415. doi: / Gibbons, T. (2011). English national identity and the national football team: the view of contemporary English fans. Soccer & Society, 12, doi: / Gibbons, T., & Dixon, K. (2010). Surf s up! : A call to take English soccer fan interactions on the Internet more seriously. Soccer & Society, 11, doi: / Green, R. (1999). Football information services: fanzines, Match of the Day and the modem. Aslib Proceedings, 51(1), Joinson, A. N. (2000). Information seeking on the Internet: A study of soccer fans on the WWW. CuberPsychology & Behavior, 3(2), Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Kerr, A. K., & Emery, P. R. (2011). Foreign fandom and the Liverpool FC: A cybermediated romance. Soccer & Society, 12, doi: /
10 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL Palmer, C., & Thompson, K. (2007). The paradoxes of football spectatorship: On-field and online expressions of social capital among the Grog Squad.. Sociology of Sports Journal, 24(2) Theysohn, S. (2006). Willingness to pay for soccer reports on the Internet. International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, Wilson, W. (2007). All together now, click: MLS soccer fans in cyberspace. Soccer & Society, 8, doi: /
11 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL Annotated Bibliography Bodey, K. J., Judge, L. W., Steward, M., & Gobel, T. (2009). Reaching Hispanic fans: Professional sports use of Spanish language on the Internet. Journal of Research, 4(1), Kimberly J. Bodey, EdD, is an assistant professor and sport management concentration coordinator in the Department of Recreation and Sport Management at Indiana State University. Lawrence W. Judge, PhD, is an assistant professor and coordinator of the graduate coaching education program in the School of Physical Education, Sport, and Exercise Science at Ball State University. Marshall Steward, MA, is a graduate of the Department of Recreation and Sport Management at Indiana State University. Tamara Gobel, BS, is a graduate of the Sport Administration program at Ball State University. The purpose of this article is to reveal the extent of Spanish language resources on the Internet for professional North American sports in relation to the number of English language resources available. The authors demonstrate the need for professional sports leagues to reach out to Hispanic fan communities by providing more Spanish language content of equal quality to its English content. Boen, F., Vanbeselaere, N., & Feys, J. (2002). Behavioral consequences of fluctuating group success: An Internet study of soccer-team fans. Journal Of Social Psychology, 142(6), This article discusses the concepts of basking in reflected glory (BIRG) of a team, and cutting off reflected failure (CORF). After synthesizing the work of previous scholars on this subject, the authors detail a study in which they measured visits to Belgian and Dutch team websites after teams had won or lost a match. They revealed that fans more often visited a team s website after a victory, which demonstrates private BIRG, and possible preparation for public BIRG. Furthermore, they found that fans who visit a team s website after a loss may be searching for external attributions that they can blame for the defeat, citing the example of referees granting unjust penalties. Cleland, J. (2013). Racism, football fans, and online message boards: How social media has added a new dimension to racist discourse in English football. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 38:415. doi: / Jamie Cleland is a lecturer in the Department of Social Science at Loughborough University in Loughborough, UK. His article examines the concepts of whiteness, belonging, national identity, Islamophobia, and multiculturalism within the context of online message boards for soccer fans. The author also addresses the concept of othering
12 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL and perceptions of casual racism. His study involves discussion threads in which fans provided their insights regarding racism in soccer. The group conversation raises conflicting views on multiculturalism and perceived threats to national identity. The author admits that he did not collect information regarding race, sex, or age from participating fans, and thus was forced to make assumptions based on their comments. The author argues that while campaigns by official football associations to discourage racism, sexism, and homophobia purport to have made a difference, the emergence of new technologies and social media that allow anonymous interaction have demonstrated that these issues still plague soccer and will continue to do so without further acknowledgement. Dhurup, M., & Mafini, C. (2013). The relationship between website sport consumption motives and future behavioural intentions among soccer fans. African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance, 19(4:1), The authors published this study as Faculty of Management Sciences at Vaal University of Technology in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa. Their research attempts to explain the various motivations behind fan consumption of South African Premier League team websites, as well as their relationship to future intentions to visit the websites. The authors find that information sharing, entertainment, and escapism are the behaviors that reveal the likelihood of future website visits. They emphasize the significance of the amount of information the Internet offers which may not be easily found elsewhere, but also the need for websites to be complete, accurate and up to date as well as attractive (908). This analysis hopes to provide insights for sports marketing on how information availability and presentation can draw more website visitors and better satisfy the needs of consumers. The authors admit that their study is of limited scope as their primary focus is the information-seeking behavior of fans of the South African Premier League, and they are careful not to generalize this study to represent the behavior of all soccer fans. Gibbons, T. (2011). English national identity and the national football team: the view of contemporary English fans. Soccer & Society, 12, doi: / Tom Gibbons is from the School of Social Sciences & Law at Teesside University, UK. His article explores if, how, and why English fans felt represented by their national team during the 2006 World Cup, the 2008 European Championships, and during the summer of His study reveals a fractured response that suggests while many fans felt represented when the English national team performed well, there were
13 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL also significant factions that felt removed from the team s players. He cites England s lack of distinct culture in relation to the United Kingdom, the layers of multiple European identities, the opulent lifestyle of footballers, and the disconnect between England s local communities and their London-centric national team as reasons for conflict of representation. The author argues that identity is complex and multi-faceted, and that it should be understood as a process that changes. Gibbons, T., & Dixon, K. (2010). Surf s up! : A call to take English soccer fan interactions on the Internet more seriously. Soccer & Society, 11, doi: / Tom Gibbons and Kevin Dixon represent the Sport & Exercise Section of the School of Social Sciences & Law at Teesside University in Middlesbrough, UK. In this article, the authors discuss the concept of authenticity in soccer fandom with regards to the growing assembly of fans in online environments. Gibbons and Dixon reference several scholars who have attempted to divide soccer fans into categories based on their method of soccer consumption. The authors argue that fans that participate in online interactions should not be considered inauthentic in comparison to fans who attend live matches, and that in fact it is sometimes the same fans that are participating in both types of activities. They further assert that scholars should take advantage of these growing virtual communities by utilizing online interactions between fans as part of their studies. Green, R. (1999). Football information services: fanzines, Match of the Day and the modem. Aslib Proceedings, 51(1). Richard Green describes the progression of information services from club soccer s early history to the creation of fanzines in the 1980s. Green demonstrates how manipulation and misinformation from official sources led distrustful fans to create unofficial sources of information that better represented their own voices and perspectives. He argues that the emergence of new technologies and expanding audiences in the world of soccer has led to the commodification of information that clubs must learn to exploit in the future. As this article is fifteen years old, its statistics regarding Internet resources are outdated, but most of the observations surrounding the culture of fanzines are applicable to present online soccer fan communities. Joinson, A. N. (2000). Information seeking on the Internet: A study of soccer fans on the WWW. CuberPsychology & Behavior, 3(2), Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Adam N. Joinson is from the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. His article examines how anonymity lowers fans
14 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL inhibitions in the online environment, allowing them to seek information they might have avoided otherwise due to social repercussions. He discusses the way fans benefit by basking in reflected glory (BIRGing) of a team and how they protect themselves by cutting off reflected failure (CORF) when a team performs poorly. Through a study of fans accessing team websites before and after games, Joinson reveals that fans do not feel the need to cut off reflected failure when seeking information online. However, it is evident that fans are more likely to search for information after a winning match than they are after a defeat. Finally, the author notes that although there have been studies to measure how often fans are accessing information, there is a need for further studies to determine how fans are putting that information to use. Kerr, A. K., & Emery, P. R. (2011). Foreign fandom and the Liverpool FC: A cybermediated romance. Soccer & Society, 12, doi: / Anthony K. Keer and Paul R. Emery are from the School of Management at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Their study of Liverpool Football Club discusses what factors attract foreign fans to support the club, and how they function as satellite supporters with the aid of modern technology. By describing several different fan responses to their surveys, the authors argue that the reasons people come to support certain teams can change and evolve, but that foreign fans exhibit a similar level of loyalty as locally based fans do. They conclude that satellite supporters should be the subject of further study in order to understand their identification and consumption behavior and how clubs like Liverpool FC can better market themselves to expand global fandom. Theysohn, S. (2006). Willingness to pay for soccer reports on the Internet. International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, At the time of publishing, Sven Theysohn was a doctoral candidate in the marketing management program at the University of Frankfurt, Germany. His study seeks to determine the marketability of paid information services on the Internet for soccer fans. His findings provide a breakdown for which types of match reports various demographics are interested in viewing, from full reports to highlights. He argues that the high willingness to pay for match reports represented by participants in his study should be considered both for the implications of new methods of information distribution, and for the opportunity for clubs to generate more revenue. Significantly, his studies revealed that international fans had a much higher willingness to pay that had no correlation on their team s performance.
15 GOEBEL: LITERATURE REVIEW / FALL Wilson, W. (2007). All together now, click: MLS soccer fans in cyberspace. Soccer & Society, 8, doi: / This article was written by Wayne Wilson of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles. Wilson provides in great detail a report on the state of Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States. He argues that although its fan base is continually growing, American MLS fans have been forced to create their own online communities due to an inattentive media and the poor quality of information available. Wilson emphasizes the unique and important role the Internet fulfills in connecting American fans who are widely dispersed geographically and who lack the history and tradition that European football culture possesses. Through a study of fan discussions on American-based website BigSoccer.com, the author demonstrates how MLS fans engage in a thoughtful discourse that reveals the broad extent of their information needs. He discusses prominence of Latino soccer fan communities that follow Mexican and Central American teams as opposed to MLS, and suggests that the support of these communities is essential if MLS hopes to compete with the other Big Four leagues in the United States.