Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Fanaticism in Sport

It is often said that sport possesses 'sacred' qualities, and sport is like religion to many people. But is this really the case? Do sports fans devote themselves to sport like some do religion?

One simple way to analyse a sports fan is to look closely at the term itself.  The word 'fan' is short for 'fanatic'. This is often ignored, but the term 'fanatic' can provide a great insight to understand sports 'fanatics'. We can define 'fanaticism' as:

“An extreme and passionate behaviour toward a goal” 

And now for the technical bit. Josef Rudin, who wrote a good book on the topic, breaks down 'fanaticism' into two aspects: fanaticism as a problem of intensity and fanaticism as a problem of value-attitude.

The first aspect surrounds the perceived intensity, with Rudin linking intensity with excitement, rage, passion and loyalty. These characteristics clearly have synergies with how we could perceive a sports fan.

The second 'fanaticism' aspect is that of value-attitude.

“The values attached to the fanatic’s pursuit take on a meaning that allows them to reduce the value of other seemingly normal human needs”.

There is a sense of sacrifice with this concept. The quote explains how a fanatic often prioritises sport over other aspects of their lives, through characteristics such as number of memberships, miles driven, money spent and frequency of participation.

There is clearly evidence of 'fanaticism' in many areas of life. However, what makes sports organisations unique is the typically high percentage of true 'fanatics' in their customer base. Sport differs from other sources of entertainment by its evocation of high levels of emotional involvement and commitment. A quote from Sloan adds:

“Most sports viewers are not merely spectators, but rather are participants as the true believers who consume the almost religious ritual that is a sporting event”. 

There are more variables to assess, such as the specific sport, country, culture and overall situational performance of the club or organisation before we can conclude this, however.

 This scale identifies 8 different levels of sports fan. It is evident that only a few levels describe a true 'fanatic'.  However, most levels will have synergies with some characteristics of 'fanaticism'.

Milne & Mcdonald offer a different perspective and believe a small proportion of fans do not have emotional connection, high involvement or high commitment, meaning they cannot be classed as true fans.

So, while we can’t say that every football fan is a raving fan, or every golf fan is only a prospect, we can say that sport has the unique nature of having fans that attract some ‘fanatical traits’. And we can measure exactly what being a true fan actually is. The next time you are having an argument with your mate about who is the bigger supporter of your team, look at the characteristics of fanaticism and match them against your relationship with the team. The more you have the further up the scale you will sit. Are you a sporting suspect or a raving fan?

By Ben Warren

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