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Research explores family and fandom

By Costa Maragos Posted: October 12, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Showing their true sports colours are Dr. Larena Hoeber, professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, and Katherine Sveinson, PhD student. Research on fan and fandom is highly sought after by professional sports teams.
Showing their true sports colours are Dr. Larena Hoeber, professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, and Katherine Sveinson, PhD student. Research on fan and fandom is highly sought after by professional sports teams. Photo by Rae Graham – U of R Photography.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ push for a World Series appearance is undoubtedly attracting new fans. But whether you’re a new Jays fan or not, research at the U of R is examining the influences at play that make a person cheer for one team over another.

Research shows parents, especially fathers, play an influential role in you becoming a sports fan. But that’s not the whole story. There’s growing evidence that children can have a huge impact as well, which can have marketing implications for professional sports teams.

Dr. Larena Hoeber, assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, and Katherine Sveinson, a PhD student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, are conducting a collaborative study with Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. The research is focussing on how being a sports fan affects parents and being a parent affects sport fandom.

“Usually, the socialization process filters from parent to child. But there hasn’t been a lot of research looking at how children may influence their parents to become sports fans,” says Sveinson, who has a Master’s of Science in Kinesiology and a Bachelor in sports and recreation studies, both from the U of R.

Sveinson and Hoeber are interviewing parents who are fans of pretty well any professional sports team and who have children between the ages of 10 and 20.

“Surprisingly, some of the participants have mentioned there has been a lack of influence from their parents in their fandom, which goes against what the literature has shown us. And we have found situations where their child has encouraged them to follow either a new sport or a team or get more involved in their fandom,” says Sveinson, who is from Regina. “We have also found that in some cases mothers are influential in encouraging and supporting their child’s sport fandom”, says Hoeber.

Determining which team you cheer for can run deep in families. Just ask some fans of the Roughriders. But that line doesn’t always run straight. Sveinson points out, some family members intentionally or unintentionally cheer for a team different from their parents.

Why?

“Could be an ‘act of rebellion’ but with some children it’s simply an attachment to a particular player of a particular team,” says Hoeber.

The research here has implications for sports teams in understanding how their fans cheer for their team. Parenting has an impact.

“Another way to encourage fandom is for professional sport teams and elite level amateur sport to support youth participation in sport. We have found that if children pick up a new sport, they are also likely looking for role models in those sports to follow. These organizations could sponsor youth teams or make appearances at youth sport tournaments and events”, says Hoeber.

Sveinson and Hoeber have conducted a series of interviews with parents.  

“Preliminary findings have shown that parents have talked about helping their kids become sports fans but also the type of sports fan their child should be,” says Sveinson.

For example, a parent may encourage their child’s fandom through purchase of sports merchandise, or simply watching or attending games together.

But there’s the other side.

“One parent told me that there’s no way their child would be a Leafs fan. There’s no reward or payoff for cheering for a team that’s constantly losing. They also told me they encouraged their child to stick with their team through thick and thin, to avoid jumping on the bandwagon of certain teams,” says Sveinson.

Sveinson and Hoeber are collaborating with two members of the Department of Sport Management at Brock University, Dr. Shannon Kerwin, assistant professor, and Dr. Craig Hyatt, associate professor.

The team hopes to have its analysis done this Fall with a goal of sharing their findings at the North America Society for Sport Management conference in 2017.