Football fan loyalty and the fan conversion experience

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Richardson, Brendan
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The phenomenon of football fan loyalty has been of conceptual interest to scholars for a considerable period of time. However, the question of how fan loyalty emerges in the first place still eludes us. Also of interest is the complex manner in which this loyalty manifests itself. Fan loyalty to a team does not always extend itself to loyalty towards a team's owners, or express itself through unproblematised consumption of market offerings. This paper proposes that football fan loyalty emerges from what is termed the fan conversion experience (Belk et al 1989). The devotion shown by fans stems from their initial experiences of attendance at a football match. The transcendent nature of the occasion often results in feelings of transcendence and hierophany, whereby the transcendent experience is associated with one particular identity. It is also accompanied by a desire to repeat the experience. Hence the initial conversion leads the individual into a fan subculture with its own system of subcultural capital designed primarily to assert and protect these feelings of hierophany and transcendence. The collective relationship with the market is in turn determined by the degree to which market offerings are perceived to facilitate and protect the sacredness of football fan experience and identity. Thus the conversion model offers an interpretation that explains both fan loyalty and fans' sometimes troubled relationship with football marketers. For fans, football is sacred and they, not the club owners, are the guardians of the sacred flame.Reference: Belk, R., Wallendorf, M., and Sherry, J. (1989); The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey, Journal of Consumer Research,Vol.16 No.1, pp.1-39. 
Paper delivered at Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia, as part of NBS Seminar Series
Football fan loyalty
Richardson, B. (2011) Football fan loyalty and the fan conversion experience. Norwich Business School Seminar Series, University of East Anglia: Invited Seminars
© 2011 Brendan Richardson