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Sports fan culture & brand community : an ethnographic case study of the Vancouver Canucks Booster Club

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Title: Sports fan culture & brand community : an ethnographic case study of the Vancouver Canucks Booster Club
Author: Munro, Clayton Edward Steven
Degree Master of Arts - MA
Program Human Kinetics
Copyright Date: 2006
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to contribute to research and theory in the area of sport fan communities. Existing analyses of sport fans have used a variety of constructs and theoretical approaches to assess fan experience, including social identity theory (Underwood et a l , 2001), emotionality (Trujillo and Krizek, 1994), escapism (Segrave, 2000), and body culture and hypercommodification (Giulianotti, 2002). However, even though some of this literature has mentioned the importance of "group experience" and "community" in fans' lives, there is a lack of research on communal aspects of fan interactions, particularly outside of the "spectator experience". The theoretical perspective for the thesis was developed from recent research on group consumption (Schouten & McAlexander, 1995; Muniz and O'Guinn, 2001; McAlexander et al., 2002) and from work on subcultures and social groups (Hebdige, 1979; Brake 1980; Willis, 1990; Maffesoli, 1996). An ethnographic study was designed that used participant observation, one-to-one interviews and focus groups to record and analyze the "lived experiences" (Prus et al., 1994) of members of the Vancouver Canucks Booster Club during the 2003-2004 NHL season. The findings from the study confirm the value of using group consumption theories, especially the brand community framework, to better understand the relationships that exist within sport fan groups. The sport fan group in this study displayed the three core commonalities of a brand community that were identified in prior research on high involvement consumer brands by Muniz and O'Guinn (2001): consciousness of kind, rituals and tradition, and moral responsibility. In addition, it was found that the root factors which enable the development of these commonalities (e.g., existence of opposition, sharing of brand stories, protection of and assistance to others in the community) were also apparent in the Booster Club. Consistent with the observations of McAlexander et al. (2002), this study also found that the customer-centric model of relationships that exist within brand communities extended beyond the "customer - customer - brand" triad of relationships (described by Muniz and O'Guinn, 2001) and included the "customer - sports franchise employee" relationship and the "customer - product" relationship. The study also identified a "customer - media" relationship that had not yet been described in other brand community work. The thesis introduces a fancentric model that illustrates the relationship fans have with the elements of a brand community including the brand, product, marketers, media and other fans. The findings demonstrate the potential for using conceptual frameworks from social group theories, especially "common culture", subcultures and neo-tribalism, in combination with the brand community framework. While some researchers have distinguished brand communities from other social group constructs such as subcultures and neo-tribes (Muniz and O'Guinn, 2001), other researchers have been more inclusive (Schouten & McAlexander, 1995; McAlexander et al., 2002). The findings from this study suggest that fans within a Booster Club not only tend to demonstrate the shared cultural perspectives of the fan-based community, but may also have neo-tribal and subcultural relationships within the community. An analysis that overlooks these elements will miss some of the internal dynamics of subgroups that operate within the broader communal framework. By incorporating these social group theories in a more Socially Inclusive Brand Community (SIBC) model, a more complete and in-depth understanding of the sport fan community becomes possible. The thesis concludes with a brief discussion of the marketing implications of the findings and of the ethical issues that surround this type of research.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/17788
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]

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