Social media has become a new public venue for sports fans to discuss the action of their favorite teams and champion the wins in real time, according to research by UConn researchers.
The study, published earlier this year in the journal Telematics and Informatics, found that after a team victory, fans will bask in reflected glory on Facebook and Twitter. After a loss, however, fans separate from the team by cutting off reflected failure in their online comments.
“Audiences aren’t just passive couch potatoes, like we used to worry about television watchers,” says David Atkin, professor of communication and a co-author of the study. “It turns out we’re busy and responding. And new media allow for more interactivity.”
In their study, researchers asked 630 participants to respond on social media to a scenario involving the participant’s favorite National Football League (NFL) team in a pivotal game against their perceived biggest rival, with playoff implications at stake.
Participants made up a diverse group, 47 percent male and 53 percent female, who used social media networking sites for an average of 125 minutes per week. Most – 97 percent – had a Facebook account, and 75 percent used Twitter.
Notably, victorious outcomes resulted in more posts on Facebook than on Twitter, according to the study. The finding suggests that because profiles on Facebook are often connected to one’s actual identity – unlike Twitter, in which “handles” often resemble a formed screen name – individuals appear to deliberately seek to associate their actual name with success.
The finding further illustrates how the use of social media serves as a viable, deliberate way to promote association with an “in” group.
“As a fan’s team identification increases, so do their reactionary behaviors on Facebook and Twitter,” the researchers say. “The study indicates that social networking is a valid way for fans to further identify with their favorite sports teams, and demonstrates the importance of social media in the lives of sports fans.”
The social media interaction on Facebook and Twitter is one of several networking options fans employ in the 21st century, says Atkin. Fans are also involved with fantasy leagues, write blogs as “pseudo journalists,” and post comments on team message boards.
“We know everything has to be re-conceptualized in the paradigm of internet and social media, which are the biggest predictor of social capital or being involved in a community,” he adds.
The researchers note that there is growing concern about “dysfunctional fandom” on social media, which has given fans unparalleled access to athletes and members of sports organizations in an anonymous way that has never existed before. “Dysfunctional fandom” could be explored with further studies, including examining the effect of anonymity in online settings and how it allows individuals to go beyond traditionally accepted limits of fan behavior.
In the meantime, professional sports leagues continue to market their social media in an effort to promote their sport, expand their audience, and enhance the sense of community with their younger fans, who are key to their fan growth.
“All of the leagues are interested in building in more interactive venues,” he says. “It’s no longer just a matter of attendance. You have different ways to watch and react to it 24/7.”
The researchers included former UConn graduate students Michael Mudrick of York College of Pennsylvania, and Michael Miller of MCPHS University (Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences) in Boston.