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Caitlin Moyer
Senior Manager-Advertising & Marketing
Milwaukee Brewers professional baseball club
Dr. James Pokrywczynski
Associate Professor-Dept of Strategic Communication
Diederich College of Communication
Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Dr. Robert Griffin
Professor-Dept of Journalism & Media Studies
Diederich College of Communication
Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Social media has become a regular direct marketing component for sports teams. This
study explores the link between team identification, using social identity theory, and use of a
Professional sports team’s social media channels. Questions to answer include: Is there a
positive relationship between fans’ use of the team’s social media and the identification they
have with a team? Is this activity related to increased sales of tickets and merchandise? Answers
have implications for sports teams attempting to maximize the impact that growing resources
devoted to team social media channels as well as theoretical applications to explain how social
media like Facebook and Twitter can enhance social identity, team identity and related
experiences that fans have following a particular sports team or league.
Social Identity, Group Identification and Team Identification
In general, Tajfel and Turner’s (1979) theory of social identity helps to explain the
impact of voluntary group associations on consumption by examining why individuals associate
with specific groups such as sports teams, and how this behavior affects their consumption
choices. According to Tajfel and Turner (1979), social identity theory suggests that how an
individual defines oneself, or one’s social identity, is in part derived from one’s membership in
different groups. Identifying positively with a group serves the important psychological
functions of fostering self-esteem and creating a sense of belonging. The theory also states that
these positive psychological effects lead one to seek out those groups that will maximize one’s
sense of self-worth. Thus, in order to protect one’s self-esteem, one will view the groups to
which one belongs as the “best” groups.
Wann’s (2006b) “Team Identification-Social Psychological Health Model” is
particularly useful to this study, as it specifically relates to sports teams. Consistent with the
social and group identity perspectives, team identification is defined as “the extent to which a fan
feels a psychological connection to a team and the team’s performances are viewed as self
relevant” (Wann, 2006a, p. 332). This model addresses the antecedents, or causes, of team
identification for individuals as well as the ramifications, or consequences, at varying levels for
those individuals. While this model may be an important tool in understanding the impact of a
team on an individual’s social psychological well-being, in practical terms, this model combined
with Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior (1991) can also be used by sports marketers, as it can
help sports marketers understand the effects that their marketing efforts have on increasing an
individual’s level of team identification.
Wann’s model on team identity dovetails nicely with marketing and branding models to
show how social media and its relationship to sports teams’ identity can lead to behavior
intentions that sports marketers covet. The Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen 1991) has been
applied to purchase decisions and works well for this study. Applied to marketing, TPB suggests
that three factors are involved in purchase intentions and, ultimately, behavior: (1) a person's
ability to make the purchase -- of tickets, for example -- and voluntary control over doing so; (2)
a person's attitudes favoring his or her purchase of products related to the brand or team; and (3)
subjective norms, the perceived social pressures from others to behave in a certain way Social
media can easily be seen as playing a vital role in at least the latter two of these three factors,
leading to intended behaviors such as the purchase of tickets, team memorabilia and other team
related merchandise like subscriptions to team magazines or television channel coverage of the
Attitudes toward purchasing products carrying the team brand are likely to already be
positive given the emotional investment that is part of strong team identity. Participation in team
social media can provide opportunities to strengthen those positive attitudes and reduce the threat
to attitude change since team control of much of the content is likely to provide more positive
than negative information for consumption. According to TPB, attitudes toward purchasing are
directly influenced by salient behavioral beliefs about the behavior, i.e., what the purchaser
believes will be the likely outcomes of buying the product and how much he or she values or
devalues each of those outcomes. Again, social media can be a contributing factor in raising the
salience of such beliefs surrounding the team and its products because of convenient, 24-hour
access to team information whenever a team identifier has a question or a doubt about supporting
the team. The greater the number of visits to team Facebook and other social media outlets, the
more mere repetition of exposure could bring the team and its products to the forefront of
thought and action. As long as users trust the information provided, see it as relevant and
credible, these online experiences are likely to enhanced team identity and positive attitudes
toward the team brand. Together, these steps in the theory of planned behavior provide a
conceptual framework for explaining how social media can work to build team identity that
evolves into purchase behavior that favors sports teams with strong team identification.
The following research questions and hypotheses were tested given the literature above.
RQs: What are the relationships of intended and past use of the Professional baseball
team Facebook page with Professional baseball team identification? What are the relationships
of Professional baseball team identification and team Facebook usage with purchasing behavior
of Professional baseball team products?
Hs: There will be a positive correlation between the intention to visit the Professional
baseball team’s Facebook page and levels of team identification with the Professional baseball
team. Fans who are connected with a team via Facebook are more likely to have higher levels of
identification with that team. Fans who have been more active in connecting with the
Professional baseball team on Facebook (e.g., those who have previously spent more time on the
page, those who have higher levels of previous engagement) will have higher levels of team
identification than those who are less active in their connection with the team on Facebook.
Data was collected by an internet survey of fans of a Professional baseball team . A total
of 571 respondents, 31 percent of which followed the team on Facebook, completed a 10-minute
survey that measured team identification (Wann, 2006a), social media usage (including team
Facebook past and future usage), awareness of team communication promoting Facebook page,
and team related purchases of tickets and merchandise (past and future).
Results show a positive relationship between team identification and use of the team’s
Facebook page. In addition, a positive relationship was found between team identification and
purchase of game tickets and team merchandise. Users of the team Facebook page reported
significantly higher game attendance and greater money spent on team merchandise than those
who did not follow the team on Facebook. Add those findings together and it suggests sports
marketers need to continue to find ways of engaging fans with their Facebook page. Causeeffect directionality of the relationships was beyond the scope of this study, so future studies
must advance the literature by controlling the environment better.
Implications for theorists include understanding the role of social media in building team
identification as well as team branding. Social media experiences that enhance social identity,
create group identity and create enduring psychological connections seem to be the three parts of
the model that predict advanced team identity. Implications for sports marketing include an
understanding of how social media may be leveraged to enhance team identity, giving
individuals chances to contribute to the group dialogue through blogs, give them visibility as part
of the group to raise individual identity and nurture those psychological connects between
individual and team. It appears social media, through enhanced team identity, can generate
revenue, both for the team in terms of ticket/merchandise purchase as well as revenue for
sponsors linked to the team Facebook page.
Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human
Decision Processes, 50, 179-211
Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979) An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W.G.
Austin and S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp.33-47).
Monterey, CA: Brooks Cole.
Wann, D.L. (2006a). The causes and consequences of sport team identification. In A. Raney and
J. Bryant (Eds.), Handbook of Sports and Media (pp. 331-352). Mahwah, New
Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Wann, D.L. (2006b) Understanding the Positive Social Psychological Benefits of Sport
Team Identification: The Team Identification-Social Psychological Health Model.
Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 10, 272-296.