"You'll never walk alone" : the use of brand equity frameworks to explore the team identification of the 'satellite supporter'

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Globalisation and advances in communications technology have greatly expanded the potential marketplace for professional teams, especially for internationally popular sports. Lewis (2001) claimed that fans are now more likely to support a team based less on a shared geographic connection than on personal reasons. As Ben-Porat (2000) claimed, for these fans a foreign-based team is like “an 'overseas sweetheart,' far away but close to the heart” (p. 344). These 'satellite supporters,' (Kerr 2008, in press), or 'satellite fans' (Kerr & Gladden 2008) represent significant revenue, especially for those team brands that seek international expansion. In addition, an individual's decision to purchase the sports product is largely dependent upon their level of identification with a chosen team. Team identification, or “the extent to which a fan feels psychologically connected” (Wann, Melnick, Russell & Pease 2001, p. 3) to a particular team, is critical to the financial viability of a sports organisation. However, despite the increased attention paid to team identification, the reasons why satellite supporters identify with a foreign-based team have been largely unexplored. To address this need this study asks: What are the most important antecedents in the identification of satellite supporters with their chosen sports team? Recent research also suggests that a relationship exists between team identification and brand equity (Carlson, Quazi & Muthaly 2002; Kerr 2008; Underwood, Bond & Baer 2001). Therefore, the study also asks: Can a conceptual brand equity framework predict the determinants of team identification of satellite supporters? The thesis adopts a case study approach using mixed methods; a strategy that can provide “a fuller understanding of the sports fan” (Jones 1997b). Online questionnaires and semi-structured interviews were administered to members of fan organisations dedicated to the English Premier League's Liverpool F.C. Liverpool F.C. was an appropriate subject for the case study as it has a global fan base, a rich history, and is arguably one of the world's premier team brands. This thesis proposes a number of important antecedents in the satellite supporter's identification with a foreign-based team. These are: media coverage; style of play; the presence of particular player(s); team success; history of success; participation in the highest division; stadium; history of ethical behaviour; and the broadcast quality of games. Furthermore, a conceptual brand equity framework is shown to shed light on the possible determinants of their team identification. This study also confirms that social identity theory is an appropriate perspective to examine foreign fandom; satellite supporters might derive positive psychological benefits from their fandom; and the existence of a brand community dedicated to a professional sports organisation.
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