READING GUIDE TO: Gantz, W., Zheng, W., Bryant,  P., and Potter, R (2006) ‘Sports Versus All Comers: Comparing TV Sports Fans With Fans of Other Programming Genres’, in Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 50(1): 95—118.


This is a study of the viewing experience of sports fans, to examine any differences with viewers of other genres on dimensions of purposive viewing, involvement and whether or not programmes  generated follow-up activities such as reading or looking up material on the web.  Self administered questionnaires were used.


Sports programmes have large numbers of people viewing them: ‘several billion across the course of the Olympics’ (95), but there can be similar audiences, for example for Friends.  It is possible to find fans across all genres, and they are important because they offer a steady viewing base.  Does fanship have common features?  The usual definitions involve active and interested watching.  It is possible to predict distinctive cognitive and affective and behavioural outcomes, involving knowledge and experience and emotional involvement.  Fanship can be empowering, and it can also help people escape from stress and fulfil themselves, but it also involves anxiety and pain, especially if there is overidentification with the fate of the team.  It is possible to think of fanship as occupying a continuum of knowledge, interest and frequency of watching.


Lots of studies are cited, referring to matters such as motivation, arousal, activity, previewing preparation [there is a hint of a particularly interesting variability to find ‘intrinsic pleasures’ 98, not further discussed].  Location of watching might also be important.  Lots of psychological scales have been developed to measure stress and eustress, self esteem, a sense of escape, group affiliation, response to family needs, and the relation to different types of sport.  Fans seem to display a similar combination of these states to athletes.  There are gender differences, with men more fan-like.  There are differences between the genders in terms of whether sport is close to core identity, or whether it is seen as a family centred activity. Studies of college students are highly represented.


There are some similarities noted between sports fans and fans of other genres such as soap operas.  Soap fans also display a ‘cognitive and affective investment in storylines’ (99).  Some soap fans use bulletin boards to actively attempt to influence the stories in soaps.  Fans of reality shows [ pseudo sporty ones?]  also are attracted to seeing real people, and watch to be entertained or avoid boredom.  They often claim insight into people’s behaviour.  In some cases there are spinoff activities here as well, for example the show Survivor has led to fantasy games online. It is possible therefore to predict similarities and differences between sports fans and other fans.  It might be the case that soap operas are scripted so there is less anxiety for the viewer.  However, reality programmes are represented as live and unscripted too [and so fans should be closer to sports fans].


This study took a sample of students, arguing that students ‘are not likely to vary…  from others in the population’ (101), at least in terms of the overt behaviour, such as the frequency with which they watch television [however, their cultural capital is likely to be different, although this is a psychological study so factors like this are not investigated].  Self administered questionnaires were carefully devised in a cycle of test and pretest.  For example closed questions were mostly used in the real thing, and these were similar to other psychological tests on activities and motivations.  However, a pilot stage used open-ended questions devised by a panel including telecommunications students, who were also asked for the views of family and friends.


There were 383 volunteers, and the questionnaires were administered under the supervision of one of the researchers.  The sample had nearly equal numbers of men and women, the subject ages ranged from 18 to 57, and students were recruited from across all the years of the degree programme.  Questions focused on eight genres and asked things like whether or not students had enjoyed them, on a 10-point scale.  Students were also asked to estimate the number of hours they spent on activities such as reading sports news or items on the web: high scores were used to differentiate sports fans.  After this preliminary survey, the team were able to focus on comparisons between sports programmes and one favourite alternative genre, and to compare the answers for each question.  Fans were defined according to their scores on the enjoyment scale (more than eight) and the time spent on follow up activities (at least 1 hour a day on sports news and web browsing).  Similar definitions were used for fans of other genre.  Then non fans were excluded from further analysis (only 25 of them).  Subsequent questions were asked on preparation, motives, behaviour, and feelings during and after watching, again with a 10-point scale for each.


For previewing behaviour, subjects were asked questions such as whether they read a lot about the show or match; whether they browse the web; plan and schedule; anticipate events; plan location and relations with friends; engage in superstitious behaviour; bet with or without money.  For motivations, it was things like whether they watched because there was nothing else on; to escape; and to enable later talk with friends; because they didn’t want to miss out; because they cared about the participants; because of the effect of a partner; because they wanted to relate to life; because they felt some responsibility; because they felt connected to the players or characters; to make fun of players or characters; to be in the know; to enjoy unpredictability; and excitement; as an excuse to drink; or to learn lessons for life [and several others—did any of these overlap?] (103 – 4).  Behaviours were investigated such as subsequent talk; drinking; experiencing of happiness or excitement.  Post viewing behaviour included whether people read about the events; followed them up; or had developed certain moods afterwards (104).  107 sports fans were identified, mostly males.  94 identified as fans of sitcoms, 49 fans of adult oriented animation, 45 fans and drama, 30 of reality programmes, 21 of evening talk or comedy programmes.  Most of the fans seemed pretty involved, with average scores of 9.5.  There was however little interest in daytime talk shows or soaps.


A MANOVA analysis was conducted for each stage [prior, during and after as above] related to the genre of fans.  There were significant effects of the genre of fans on previewing, motivations, and behaviours and post viewing.  Gender differences were significant among these four as well (105).  Sports fans in particular were more likely to do all four than other fans.  There were some similarities to fans of reality programmes; drama fans were most likely to watch with friends; fans of sitcoms more likely to talk to friends; sports fans to do follow-up activities.  Similar results were found when comparing motivations, and sports fans were especially interested in who wins, in enjoying unpredictability and escape.  Emotional commitment was also high.  Reality fans and sitcom fans also care about what happens or who wins, but sports fans score significantly higher.  When examining behaviours, sports fans were particularly likely to report feeling happy when their team won, feeling excited, but also feeling anxious.  Reality and drama fans were also close this time, but again lower in terms of scores are generally.  Sports fans were particularly different from fans of adult animation.  The same sort of results were found in post viewing behaviour – sports fans were more emotionally involved and likely to follow up.


So sports fans do seem to be different from other fans, especially in their pre and post viewing activities: sports fans seem particularly to enjoy stretching out their involvement.  Sports fans have the strongest identification with performers, and there watching is strongly related to their personal identities, producing a vested interest in positive outcomes.  These results arise not just because there is more sports coverage than any other kind, the team feel.  The items might have been derived from a sports context in the first place, which could bias measurement, but the team made sure there was a good mix of items.  They also excluded those indicators of extreme fandom, which left a generally rather low threshold for inclusion [which strengthens their view that their sample is not that different from the ordinary population?].  Sports fanship is heavily male.  However, the team were surprised by the heavily female support for reality programmes.  Since reality programmes and sports programmes are similar genres, is possible that females support reality programmes as a kind of compensation.  However, female seem less interested in suspense.  More research is needed.

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