Wait, You Stormed Franklin Street! Why? The Social and Psychological Motivations of UNC Sports Fans

 

Wait, You Stormed Franklin Street! Why? The Social and Psychological Motivations of UNC Sports Fans

Kristine Thompson
Categories: 
Published by the PIT Journal: 

Abstract: 

Sports are a distinct subculture in the United States that encompass diverse populations and affect the lives of millions of people.  This article examines the social and psychological factors that influence sport fandom and presents a case study of the motivations of fans at the University of North Carolina. A survey of Carolina students was conducted to determine which motivations were the most influential in UNC sport involvement. Participants were asked to rank nine motivations from the most to the least important.  The motivations examined in this study were eustress, self-esteem, escape, entertainment, economic, aesthetic, group affiliation, family, and tradition.  Motivations were chosen based on previous research that identifies common motivations among sports fans and were adapted to the selected UNC population. Statistical analysis of the data showed the top motivation of UNC students is entertainment, followed by eustress, escape, and group identification.  The study showed the least important motivation among UNC students is economic.   The results of this study demonstrate that sports at UNC serve as an entertaining activity that allow students to temporarily escape the daily stresses of life with friends and fellow students. 

Article: 

Introduction

Sports are captivating spectacles that possess the capacity to affect the lives of millions of Americans, the ability to entertain people of all ages, and the unique power to blur the lines that divide our society. From the iconic images and famous radio broadcasts to the modern day heroics that captivate the nation, sports make up a vast and diverse subculture in the United States.  Sports are an undeniable staple of American society, generating a total of $17.7 billion from commercial sports and an additional $21.4 billion from recreational activities, and also appearing in daily headlines of the country’s most popular media corporations (Washinton and Karen 187).  Sports are often referred to as a microcosm of society, and in 1988 ranked ahead of the automobile, petroleum, and airline industries in gross national income (Frey and Eitzen 508).  The centerpiece that allows for sports to make such a tremendous economic impact on society is the fan.  A fan is defined as an “enthusiastic devotee of some particular sports object”; that is, in economic terms, fans are the consumers of sports when they purchase tickets or merchandise affiliated with a particular team (Hunt, et al. 440).  According to a study conducted by Murrell and Dietz, fans view themselves as an integral part of the game and  a driving force behind the economic and social power of sport (28).  Yet, as of 1995, only four percent of published research in sport psychology and sociology focused on the fan (Wann "Preliminary Validation" 377). Though this focus has increased in recent years, there remains a lack of understanding and investigation into the motivations of sports fans (Wann "Preliminary Validation" 377).  This study focuses on the social and psychological factors that promote sports fandom and analyzes nine key motivations of sports fans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

College athletics is a primary area of sports culture that exemplifies the extreme enthusiasm and passion of sports fans. According to Beyer and Hannah, “in no other country [than the U.S.] is college sports taken so seriously, given such large budgets, or so embedded within the structure of universities” (105).  At UNC, which is widely recognized for its historic basketball program, students have been known to stand in line for hours to purchase tickets, take road trips to away games, and in one of the more famous displays of fanatic behavior, storm the main road on campus when the basketball team defeats archrival Duke.  Sports at UNC comprise an important role in the larger framework of the university. For example, sports merchandise sales fund grants and financial aid packages awarded to students through contractual obligations, such as the ten-year, $37.7 million deal signed with Nike in 2008 (UNC General Alumni Association 1). Yet, even while serving as a crucial aspect of the university and eliciting such extreme behavior, sports are often uncritically accepted as part of the university culture without careful consideration of the complex ways sports culture is woven into the lives of the community members. The purpose of this study is to investigate the vast and diverse sports culture at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in order to provide a more complete understanding of the motivations of Carolina fans. 

Background

Previous studies aimed at identifying and understanding fan motivation helped to guide this study towards an investigation of North Carolina sports fans. The motivations given in this study were determined from current published research focused on the various factors and motivations of sports fans, namely the Sport Fan Motivation Scale model developed by Daniel Wann ("Preliminary Validation" 377-96).  Using a variety of study methods, including a survey of gender and demographic fan information, Wann was able to identify and validate eight common motivations found among a diverse fan population ("Preliminary Validation" 377-96).  The eight motivations identified in Wann’s study were eustress, self-esteem, escape, entertainment, economic, aesthetic, group affiliation, family, and tradition.  Eustress is defined as the positive form of stress involved in sport that energizes the fan, such as a last second shot to win the game or the gut-wrenching nervousness a fan experiences when winning and losing hangs in the balance (Wann "Preliminary Validation" 377).   Self-esteem is a psychological influence in which a fan’s own self-esteem is improved when the team is successful (Wann "Preliminary Validation" 378).  Escape is a fairly common explanation of sport fandom, where fans use sports as a way to escape reality and gain temporary relief from daily stress.  Entertainment involves the theatrical aspect of sport, because just like movies or TV shows, sports are entertaining and are built primarily around this entity. Economic refers to motivations regarding the economic success of the fan, for example gambling and other activities that involve monetary rewards for team achievement (Wann "Preliminary Validation" 378). Aesthetic appeal refers to the attraction of fans to the beauty and grace of athletic performance (Wann "Preliminary Validation" 378). Arguably, the most well-known motivation is group identification, which describes the desire to be part of something ‘bigger than oneself and the human desire of group interaction that play a large role in fandom. The final motivation in Wann’s study is family, in which fans relate sports to spending time with their family. These motives provided the lens through which the fan culture of  UNC was viewed. Additionally, the Sport Fan Motivation Scale has been used by numerous researchers to further investigate sport fandom in the United States (Armstrong 309; James and Ridinger 260; Kwon and Trail 147; Wann et. al "Motivational Profiles" 6).  

 

Methods

To study the main fan motivations at the University of North Carolina, a survey of UNC students (n=111) was conducted to assess various levels of fan involvement and perceived motivations (See Appendix A).  Surveys were distributed among the UNC population using an online survey, with no emphasis or data collection on demographics such as gender, age, etc.  Participants were asked three questions and responses were automatically recorded using online qualtrics software provided by the Odum Institute of Research in Social Science at UNC. Participants were first asked to rank their level of involvement with NCAA athletics at UNC, including attending games, playing sports, etc, by choosing one of the following responses: never, rarely, sometimes, quite often, and very often. This assessment of fan involvement was incorporated for two purposes.  The first was to provide an accurate gauge in the trends of sport involvement at UNC and to analyze basic sport involvement of the UNC community.  The second was to limit bias as much as possible and ensure a diverse population of sports fans was studied, not merely those who are “die-hard” sports fans or who regularly attend games.

In the second question, which served as the main data collection aspect of the current study, participants were presented with a list of nine possible motivations and asked to rank them in order of most important to least important.  As stated previously, the motivations indentified by Daniel Wann in the Sport Fan Motivation Scale served as the framework of this study. Additionally, a ninth motivation was added to include the tradition of Carolina athletics.  Subsequent studies by Wann have shown that tradition may also influence fan and team behavior (Wann "Understanding the Positive Social" 275). Tradition proved to be a worthwhile motivation to include in a study of collegiate athletics.

The third and final question presented in the current study was an open response in which participants were given the option of stating any other reasons they had for their level of sports involvement.  Free responses were compared with quantitative data from previous questions to identify trends on data.  

 

Results

Statistical analysis of 111 participant responses was used to determine the results presented in this study and to identify the overall ranking of each motivation. Results for question one, regarding participant’s level of fan involvement, are reported as a straight value corresponding to the number of participants that choose each response.  Analysis shows the majority of participants report being quite involved with sports at UNC (n=39).  The responses of each participant are shown (see table 1) and graphically represented (see figure 1) to provide a complete depiction of the distribution of responses for question one.

Table 1 Particpant Level of Sport Involvement at UNC 

  #    

Question

 Never 

 Rarely 

 Sometimes 

 Quite Often 

 Very Often 

 Responses 

 Mean 

1

I am involved with sports at UNC...

11

17

28

39

26

121

3.43

 

Figure 1 Graphical Representation of Particpant Level Of Sport Involvement At UNC  

 

Results for question two, regarding the motivations of UNC sports fans, are reported as calculated numerical responses of each participant.  In the survey, participants were asked to rank each motivation from 1 to 9, with 1 being the most and 9 being the least important.  Responses showing the ranking of each motivation given by each participant were recorded.  That is, the number of participants that ranked each motivation number one, number two, number three, and so on were recorded.  This raw data is shown below (see table 2).  To determine the overall ranking of each motivation and take into account average ranking, not simply the motivation with the most “1” responses, individual responses were multiplied by a predetermined constant.  For each motivation, the number of participants that ranked the motivation number 1 was multiplied by 9, the number of participants that ranked the motivation number 2 was multiplied by 8, so on and so forth, with the number of participants that ranked the motivation number 9 being multiplied by 1.  For example, as shown in table 2, 27 participants ranked eustress the most important motivation, which was multiplied by 9, 29 participants ranked it the second motivation, which was multiplied by 8, and so on.  The manipulated values of each motivation were then added together to determine the final overall ranking of the nine motivations.  The calculated rankings are shown below (see figure 2).   Results show the most important motivation for sport fandom at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is entertainment, followed by eustress, escape, and group affiliation. Data shows the least important motivation for sport involvement is economic concern; with 75 of the total 111 participants ranking economic the least reason for being involved with sports at UNC.

 

Table 2 Raw Data of Particpant Rankings of Nine Motivations

   # 

  Answer

1

 2 

   3  

   4  

   5  

  6

  7  

  8  

  9 

Responses

1

   I enjoy the tension and anxiety when my team is involved in
 a close game and winning and losing comes down to one play

27

29

16

10

10

6

6

5

2

111

2

   I feel better about myself when I watch sports and I 
  enjoy increased self-esteem after my team wins

1

11

14

10

15

13

14

24

9

111

3

   Going to games or playing sports relieves stress
 and helps me forget about reality for a moment

15

18

23

19

11

9

7

8

1

111

4

   Sports are a form of entertainment and I enjoy 
  watching the game itself

32

23

12

19

12

8

4

0

1

111

5

   I am a sports fan because I like gambling or betting on games

1

0

1

0

7

6

9

12

75

111

6

   I enjoy the beauty and grace of athletics

4

2

11

13

15

16

19

21

10

111

7

   I enjoy watching sports with large groups of people
  and I like feeling like I am part of something bigger than myself

16

14

17

17

16

10

14

7

0

111

8

   Watching games gives me an opportunity to be with my family

7

6

10

9

10

17

23

22

7

111

9

   I like Carolina sports because of the rich sports history and tradition

9

8

8

14

15

26

14

11

6

111

 

   Total

112

111

112

111

111

111

110

110

111

111

 

Figure 2 Calculated Particpant Rankings of Nine Motivations

 

The free responses of participants from question three provided additional information about the sports culture at UNC.  A number of participants cited sports as an important part of their identity, or they have played sports or have been sports fan their whole life, or sports provide unique opportunities to be involved with other people at Carolina.  A complete list of responses is given in Appendix B.

 

Discussion

The results of this study show several interesting trends that can be used to better understand the sports culture at North Carolina.  According to the data presented in this study, the most important motivation for students and members of the UNC community is the entertainment value of sports.  Simply put, sports are fun and provide people with entertainment; like watching television or listening to music, sports are a leisure activity (Wann et. al "Sport Fan Motivation" 115).  This finding in the UNC community comes as no surprise and is consistent with numerous findings in other studies. In one such study, Funk and James determined fans are often motivated by the prospect of hedonic, or pleasurable, experiences (139). While this result may seem intuitive, it can be attributed to the physiological desire to be involved with things we are interested in and may help explain the enormous revenues generated by sports.  And, going one step farther, if an individual finds the behaviors associated with sport fandom -- such as storming Franklin Street -- entertaining, s/he is more likely to engage in those behaviors than someone who finds no entertainment value in sports Interestingly, another study conducted by Frey and Eitzen proposed the idea that increased media surrounding sports has created an emphasis on display and entertainment value, altering the nature of sports. (Frey and Eitzen 508).  Frey and Eitzen call this change in the production of sports entertainmentization, where sports media has made a concerted effort to enhance the appeal of their sport product consistent with the commercial and entertainment agendas of media and sport establishments (509-10).  Therefore, it only makes sense that when fed a more entertaining product, albeit often unconsciously, people are motivated to engage in sports to fulfill their desire for entertainment.

Another finding in relation to the entertainment motivation of sports at UNC is the similarity to the results of a study conducted by Daniel Wann, Frederick Grieve, Ryan Zapalac and Dale Pease that examined motives as they related to specific sports. Wann et. al examined differences in motivational profiles of fans of 13 different sports, including college basketball, professional football, boxing, tennis, etc ("Motivational Profiles" 6). For college basketball, in which Wann et. al surveyed 138 participants, the motivations were ranked in the following order from high to low motivation: entertainment, eustress, group affiliation, self-esteem, family, aesthetic, escape, and economic ("Motivational Profiles" 11). These findings are strikingly similar to those presented in the current study and provide valuable insight into the responses of UNC students.  Given the replicated findings of fans of college basketball coupled with the well-known historical relationship between North Carolina and college basketball, the motivations of sports fan at UNC may be a direct result of the most popular sport. Confounding variables may be present in this study and limitations of the survey conducted do not allow for a causal relationship to be determined. It could be that students who identify themselves as sports fans are attracted to UNC in the first place because of the fact that UNC is a traditional basketball school, which simply leads to more fans who are motivated by entertainment to attend UNC.  Yet, even with possible confounding factors, it is clear that an interesting connection exists between the profile of sports fans at UNC and the most popular sport on campus. Further investigation into this relationship may reveal more about the motivations and behaviors of UNC fans and of college basketball fans in general.

The second ranked motivation identified in the current study is eustress.  Studies have shown that fans experience physiological responses, such as increased heart rate, and emotional responses as a result of close, thrilling games (Murrell and Dietz 28).  It has long been accepted in the field of psychology that positive emotional and rewarding experiences can stimulate the release of dopamine in an area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens, which is involved in the reward pathway of the human brain (Kalat 76).  Dopamine and the reward pathway are part of the biological mechanism responsible for pleasures that arise from food, drugs, and other addictions.  If an individual finds sports to be an emotional and positive experience, these physiological factors can increase their desire to participate in that event.  This would suggest that the emotional experiences many fans associate with sports reinforce a biological connection to the game making it no surprise that many fans enjoy the emotional, heart wrenching aspect of sports.  It should be clear that this study did not explicitly test neurotransmitter release and is not suggesting a definite release of dopamine in sports fans, but given the previous research it is a plausible explanation.

The third most important motivation found in the current study is escape.  Logic would most likely support this motivation, as many would agree with the proposition that people engage in many activities to escape reality.  Many previous studies have shown sports can serve as an escape from the “daily routine” and may provide a unique experience outside the realm of daily life (Funk and James 128).  Another explanation for this motivation is the fact that sports, according to Margaret Duncan, symbolize recurring themes in life (30).  Duncan argues sports appeal to people because they dramatize the spectator’s everyday existence and they provide an escape mechanism for people to transcend reality (30).  However, while it is clear that escape is an established motivation for sport fandom, an interesting trend in this study is how highly ranked escape was among the nine motivations.  Recall that this study showed striking similarities to a study of college basketball fans conducted by Daniel Wann and others in 2008.  The only major variation between Wann’s study and the current study is the ranking of escape. In Wann’s study, escape was ranked seventh, whereas in this study escape is ranked in a much higher third.  A possible explanation for the increased importance of the escape motivation is the environment in which this study was conducted. UNC—a large, public campus—is a unique environment that consists of thousands of college students whose daily lives include a plethora of stressful situation. Furthermore, as reported in the Daily Tar Heel on March 30th, 2011, a survey conducted by the UNC Counseling and Wellness Services reported 80% of UNC freshman reported feeling overwhelmed at some point in the past 12 months, four times the national average of 20.5% (Smialek 1). Given the academic rigor associated with UNC, it is not surprising that escape ranks higher among the UNC community because sports provide an outlet from daily stresses for students and other members of the UNC population, allowing them to relax and enjoy a fun activity. This is also supported by scientists that have found that being involved with sports fandom results in a more mentally healthy individual (Wann "Understanding the Positive Social" 272).  These factors, along with the traditional influences of the escape motivations, may explain why escape serves as a main motivation for students at UNC.

The fourth highest ranked motivation of sports fans at UNC is group affiliation, arguably the most well-known and understood of the motivations discussed in the current study. Recall group identification refers to the psychological desire to be socially involved.  Group identification has long been a focus of sport motivation research, even dating back to research conducted in the 1960s that suggested urban dwellers attach themselves to various sports teams to feel a sense of belonging and identity (Murrell and Dietz 29).  Research into human psychology has long revealed humans are social beings, with a vital, inherent need to associate with others in order to maintain individual mental health.  Thus, it is not surprising that sport scientists agree that due to the social nature of sport, fandom is likely related to the desire to maintain psychological well-being (Wann"Understanding the Positive Social" 272-73).  At UNC, it would seem these explanations for sport fandom are supported in both quantitative response in the survey and subsequent action.  Although ranked behind entertainment, eustress, and escape in the current study, results show that out of 111 participants, none ranked group affiliation as the least important motivation.  Group affiliation was the only motivation that revealed such results; all other motivations were ranked last by at least one participant.  Further, careful analysis of free responses by participants reveal group affiliation is manifested in nearly every aspect of fan involvement.

Although family, self-esteem, and tradition were studied separately in this investigation, they are often considered to be directly related to the idea of group affiliation and will be discussed as an extension of social motivation. This is supported by the results of the current study that rank tradition, self-esteem, and family directly behind group affiliation. Yet the most interesting result of this study is not the quantitative ranking of these motivations, but rather the responses given by some participants that directly relate to these motivations.  Several participants explicitly stated that sports provide an opportunity to be connected to the Carolina community.  The following are selected responses that exemplify the idea of group affiliation, tradition, self-esteem, and family at UNC:

Carolina sports brings the whole campus together”

“Being involved in Carolina athletics gives me a sense of being a part of the UNC community”

“School pride”

“…Because it’s my school and I am a part of it”

“It’s part of the Carolina experience”

“Social connectivity; enthusiasm and atmosphere”

“Carolina has a history of being really good at most sports”

“…UNC sports are part of me and how I identify myself”

“I go to UNC Chapel Hill…not being involved in UNC athletics and the tradition of being a Tar Heel would be a waste of my time here”

These responses show a personal and intimate connection to not only the game itself but also the idea that sports create a sense of belonging and self-worth that comes with being connected to a large, historic community.  It is known that individuals derive personal strength and a sense of identity from connection to social groups, often motivated by the positive effects on psychological well-being discussed previously (Fisher and Wakefield 25).  Furthermore, these motivations have a direct impact on the behaviors displayed by many UNC fans. A fan’s loyalty and involvement with a specific team will often guide their behavior; the stronger these connections the more likely the fan is to engage in behaviors beneficial to the group (Hunt et al. 442). This may explain why so many students and other fans are willing to stand in line outside the Dean Dome for hours to get the opportunity to see their beloved Tar Heel basketball team, or why they exhibit such seemingly crazed behavior as they storm Franklin Street after marquee wins.  The strong relationship between sports and the UNC community promotes the upholding of university tradition and increases the willingness of individual group members to engage in behaviors that are viewed as part of the larger group (Fisher and Wakefield 24).  Not to mention, storming Franklin Street may connect to the top motivation in this study, entertainment, as the behavior is most likely fun for many college students.

The final motivation in this study was economic, which refers to the potential monetary gain of a fan through gambling on sports.  In the current study, economic was ranked the least important motivation by an overwhelming majority of participants.  75 of the 111 participants ranked economics as the least important motivation for being involved with sports at UNC.  Given the population studied and focus on student fans of collegiate athletics, this result is not surprising.  Seemingly, college students are highly motivated by factors that do not involve monetary personal gains.  However, it should be noted that in the larger context of sport fandom in the United States, gambling has been shown to be a large part of the sports market and should not be discredited in studies of the larger sports culture in America (Frey and Eitzen 510-11).

 

Conclusion

The results of this study show sport fandom at the University of North Carolina is more than a simple, erroneous activity, but rather a strong connection that stems from a variety of psychological and social factors.  The innate human desire for entertainment motivates a considerable number of sports fans, both at UNC and in the overall context of sport fandom, and may represent a shift in the production and culture of sports in America.  Environmental factors associated with college also trigger psychological and social connections to sport. Students that are under the constant stress of daily life use sports as a way to bring entertainment into their lives, and while it may be unknown to the fans themselves, sports help to enhance psychological health.  Furthermore, potential biological changes in the brain support the notion that sport involvement is not simply motivated by outside factors but stems from the interworking of human physiology.  This, coupled with the numerous social factors promoting group identification and enhanced self-identity, supports the idea that sport fandom is inherently a positive experience for many members of the population.  As a result, many of the behaviors that arise from sport related activities are extensions of these psychological and social factors and work to further enhance the overall effects of sport fandom.

While this study presents an array of potential motivations, continued research into the field of sport psychology is highly recommended to further enhance the understanding of sport fandom.  Future studies into the motivations of sports fans should attempt to replicate the findings presented in this study and possibly present new motivations that further explain sport fandom.  Further empirical analysis of additional college populations or populations that represent the larger context of sport fandom in America will continue to provide a more complete understanding of fan involvement and behavior. When viewed through the lens of psychological and social motivating factors, sport involvement can be more clearly understood. The continued investigation of the ideas presented in this study will help to shed new light upon an activity that has long been a part of human society.

 

Appendix A

 

This is a survey for my English 102 class and should take no more than a few minutes.  The information you provide is strictly confidential and you will not be asked to provide your name, PID, or any other information.  Your answers will be used in a study of sport fan motivation at UNC.  Thank you for your time. 

 

  1. How often are you involved in sports at UNC (this includes attending games, playing club or intramural sports, reading sports articles in the Daily Tar Heel, etc.)? Please circle one.

Never              Rarely             Sometimes                 Often              Very Often

 

  1. Please rank the following reasons you have for your current level of sports involvement, with 1 being the most important and 5 being the least important.

I enjoy the tension and anxiety when my team is involved in a close game and winning and losing comes down to one play _________

I feel better about myself when I watch sports and I enjoy increased self-esteem after my team wins _________

Going to games or playing sports relieves stress and helps me forget about reality for a moment __________

Sports are a form of entertainment and I enjoy watching the game itself _________

I am a sports fan because I like gambling or betting on games  _________

I enjoy the beauty and grace of athletics _________

I enjoy watching sports with large groups of people and I like feeling like I am part of something bigger than myself _________

Watching games gives me an opportunity to be with my family ________

I like Carolina sports because of the rich sports history and tradition _________

 

3. Please state any other specific reason you have for being involved in Carolina Athletics 

Appendix B

Text Response

I've always been a fan.

I play many different sports and it is what I have grown up knowing and being a part of almost everyday of my life

School spirit, past history as an athelete

I am a hoss at volleyball.

Hanging out with friends

To stay in shape

fun

Because I get to be a part of something that so many athletes wish they could be in my shoes.

To keep in shape

I love sports!

I have been a Tar Heel fan my entire life, and UNC sports are a part of me and how I identify myself.

This school is a D1 university.

My friends!

I have played sports for most of my life and the continuation of sports at a collegiate level is something that I have looked forward to for most of my life.

none

I get to spend time with my friends

To stay fit

Sports made me who I am today, and I refuse to let that go.

Carolina sports brings the whole campus together

I can play intramural sports with my friends

Carolina has a history of being really good at most sports

There are so many games/sporting events being played on any given day

The games are a fun opportunity to go out with friends.

Carolina athletes are very high caliber and the games are intense.

I'm in the band.

I'm involved in club sports at Carolina.

I'm a sports girl. I just can't help myself really.

Being involved in Carolina athletics gives me a sense of being a part of the UNC community.

Fun.

I'm really not. I've only been to two games and didn't really enjoy it. I watched one basketball game because I wasn't allowed to change the channel.

School pride

I love football.

because it's my school, and I'm a part of it.

none

I go to UNC Chapel Hill...not being involved in UNC athletics and the tradition of being a tar heel would be a waste of my time here.

social events

It is something else to be passionate about

Gives you a chance to interact with others. You meet alot of people at the gyms and during intramural events.

I am a Varsity Athlete at Carolina, therefore I take part in many athletic events.

Social connectivity; enthusiasm and atmosphere

good opportunity to stay active and remain healthy

Carolina Fever

Overall enjoyable experience. I also love being able to say, "I was at that game!" when my friends and family at home talk about them.

Its a part of the Carolina experience

 

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About the Author(s)
Kristine Thompson
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