With so many avenues and options to get the latest information on sports, why do fans visit online forums, such as team message boards? Recent research from BYU communications professors found the reason many fans get online to read and post about their favorite sports team tells a lot about the type of fan they are.
As part of the study, a group of sports fans who visit sports forums at least weekly ranked a series of statements. These included things like “I feel a sense of community with the other users of sports forums,” or “I like to visit sports forums for entertainment when I’m bored.” Researchers then interviewed participants to obtain a better understanding of their rankings.
A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data lead to the classification of three different types of online sports fans: tailgaters, trivia seekers and bandwagon fans.
Tailgaters enjoy meeting and socializing with fans of their teams. They love to participate and comment before, during and after the season. The forums fill a void during the off-season and bring emotional connection with other participants. They often don’t appreciate it when others use the sites for other means than to support the team.
Trivia seekers use online forums to obtain information and stay current with sports-related news. They usually aren’t motivated to participate in conversations with other users, but do like becoming familiar with different viewpoints to help them develop their own opinions. For them, sports forums are great to confirm the validity of new information found in different media. They also prefer to keep their cool by behaving objectively and rationally instead of venting their emotions. Trivia seekers will get online regardless of their team’s performance. They are fans, but are not emotionally and inseparably tied to their team.
Message boards act like a safehouse for bandwagon fans. They like to be entertained and relieve their boredom. They know it’s not productive, but they enjoy being there. They also use the sites for information, but they stay away when they believe there will be negative comments about their team.
The idea for this study came a few years ago, after one of BYU comms professor and co-author Kris Boyle's former BYU classmates passed away. His friend was an active participant on a local sports forum and Boyle was surprised to see several other participants mourn his loss.
Boyle realized that for many people, message boards and forums are not just about obtaining sports news, but they also act as a community and a source of friendship.
When considering his own reasons for participating, Boyle believes that he is a trivia seeker.
“I don’t necessarily engage with fans,” Boyle said. “But I’m curious about what people are saying. I often go to a sports forum because I can use what’s happening on there that as a point of conversation with people in the neighborhood or family members.”
According to Boyle, the popularity of sports forums is not replacing traditional media outlets.
“Sports news isn’t going anywhere. This is just a different element. There are different things that it offers that traditional sports news outlets just don’t. A true sports fan I think is going to have both in their lives.”
BYU communications professors Clark Callahan and Tom Robinson were co-authors of the paper, which was published in the Journal of Sports Media.