Ritual Aspects of Sports Consumption: How Do Sports Fans Become Ritualized?

Seungwoo Chun, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, U.S.A.
James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, U.S.A.
Lee P. McGinnis, Washburn University, U.S.A.
ABSTRACT - Previous research on sports fans has focused on entertainment value, collective group influence, and self-enhancement in explaining why and how they become sports fans. The research has paid little attention to ritual aspects of sports consumption, which potentially offer individuals a chance to maintain and celebrate cultural meanings embedded in the consumption. Drawing upon in-depth interviews, we suggest that an individual’s desire for cultural identity can be a possible motivation for being a sports fan. Our data indicate that sports fans actively ritualize their sports consumption activities to acquire and maintain cultural identities. Sports fans employ several fan ritualization strategiesBformalism, symbolic performance, traditionalism, and social interactionBin order to legitimize their sports consumption as meaningful ritual practice, and, thus, to connect themselves to cultural identity in a society.
[ to cite ]:
Seungwoo Chun, James W. Gentry, and Lee P. McGinnis (2005) ,"Ritual Aspects of Sports Consumption: How Do Sports Fans Become Ritualized?", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 331-336.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 331-336


Seungwoo Chun, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, U.S.A.

James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, U.S.A.

Lee P. McGinnis, Washburn University, U.S.A.


Previous research on sports fans has focused on entertainment value, collective group influence, and self-enhancement in explaining why and how they become sports fans. The research has paid little attention to ritual aspects of sports consumption, which potentially offer individuals a chance to maintain and celebrate cultural meanings embedded in the consumption. Drawing upon in-depth interviews, we suggest that an individual’s desire for cultural identity can be a possible motivation for being a sports fan. Our data indicate that sports fans actively ritualize their sports consumption activities to acquire and maintain cultural identities. Sports fans employ several fan ritualization strategiesBformalism, symbolic performance, traditionalism, and social interactionBin order to legitimize their sports consumption as meaningful ritual practice, and, thus, to connect themselves to cultural identity in a society.

Sports have become important global contemporary consumption phenomena. Sports consumption provides individuals with entertainment, group affiliation, escape from everyday life, self-esteem, etc. (Wann et al. 2001). Over the past years, a number of sports fan studies (e.g., Fisher and Wakefield 1998; Laverie and Arnett 2000; McPherson 1976) have been conducted on why and how certain individuals become sports fans. First, sports fan socialization research posits that the degree of consumer role socialization is a function of the collective influence of significant othersBfamily, peer group, school, and community systemsBbecause they provide role models and an opportunity set for learning the behavioral, affective, and cognitive components of the role of sports consumer (McPherson 1976). Another stream of research focuses on fan identity salience research and argues that individuals get involved in sports consumption because team or/and player identification offer them a chance of self-enhancement (Fisher and Wakefield 1998; Laverie and Arnett 2000).

Both streams of research have focused on entertainment value, collective group influence, and self-enhancement in explaining why and how they become sports fans. The research has paid little attention to ritual aspects of sports consumption, which potentially offer individuals a chance to maintain and to celebrate cultural meanings embedded in the consumption. Understanding the ritual aspects of sports consumption can also help marketers understand the depth and magnitude of sports, which is often downplayed or viewed simply as entertainment.

In this paper, we view sports consumption as ritualized practice. This view posits that sports consumption is one way to acquire and maintain a cultural sense of identity by attaching symbolic meanings to objects and activities, securing valuable traditions, and anchoring behavior in cultural and social orders. In order to show how individuals connect themselves to cultural identity through sports consumption, we introduce the concept of fan ritualization. With this concept, it is suggested that sport fans employ several strategies in order to legitimize their sports consumption as meaningful ritual practice and, thus, to connect themselves to cultural identity in a society. This might provide an alternative framework of the current understanding of why and how an individual becomes a sports fan because an individual’s desire for cultural identity can be a possible motivation for being a sports fan.

Some consumer research on ritual (Rook 1985; Wallendorf and Arnould 1991) suggests that ritual provides a vehicle through which individuals are able to connect their identities to social and cultural values. Individuals actively manipulate objects and symbols to heighten ritual experience which allows them to construct their cultural identity (Arnould 2001). For example, participants in the Thanksgiving ritual employ several strategies of decommodifying mass-produced and branded food product including repackaging, and temporal separation to celebrate the cultural values of "homemade" of Thanksgiving Day (Wallendorf and Arnould 1991). However, there has been little research on how sports fans acquire and maintain cultural identity in their sports consumption.

This study reports the findings from in-depth interviews with Japanese sport fans on their sports consumption, in particular, spectatorship. Japanese informants were selected because of Japan’s active interest in baseball and because of Japan’s collective nature. Drawing on the interviews, we suggest that desire for connection with one’s cultural identity can be a primary motive for sports consumption, and individuals actively employ various strategies to secure a sense of cultural identity in their sports consumption. In addition, we propose several primary sources which shape sports fans’ consumption practices in utilizing the strategies. This study contributes to scholars’ limited knowledge of the ritual aspect of sports consumption.


This paper defines sports fandom as ritualized consumption practice, a way of action by a "ritualized social body who possesses, to various degrees, a cultural sense of ritual" (Bell 1992, p.107). Bell (1992) defines this sense of ritual as the ability to utilize schemes internalized in ritualized environments. Chicago Cubs’ fans in the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field possess this cultural sense of ritual as they catch a homerun ball from the visiting team, they perform a "loyalty" ritual which involves the throwing back of the visiting team’s homerun ball onto the field. Sports fans have developed various types of ritual activities: wearing team colors, celebrating patriotism at international games by decorating their bodies with national flags, and symbolizing personal meaning through sport-related material possessions (Eastman and Riggs 1994).

Previous research on sports consumption has characterized the ritual aspects of sports fandom as symbolized, role-assimilated, and self-enacted consumption practice. First, sports fans symbolize their consumption activities and experiences. Sport fans represent and communicate multiple symbolic meanings laden with cultural values and social relationships by manipulating objects and activities (Holt 1992, 1995). Second, sports consumption is role-assimilated practice. Sports fans occupy various ritual roles that change according to different consumption situations. For example, home fans have different roles from those of away fans in terms of seat location, cheering, or even activities outside of the stadium. Although sports fans have the freedom to enact their own roles in their sports consumption, on occasion they will experience embarrassing moments if they neglect those roles. Third, sport fans’ role-enactment is based on volunteerism. The ritualized fans accept, rather than resist, the roles. Furthermore, many fans display active role enactment. Transcendent experiences such as flow and communitas have been identified as significant factors in motivating fans to transform roles into self-endorsed ones (Turner 1969). In the experience of communitas, everyday social roles and status disappear and are replaced by new ones that develop intense comradeship with each other (Deegan 1989; Turner 1969).

These ritual characteristics make it possible for individuals to develop self-identities linked with traditional, cultural and social values through sports consumption. Bell (1997) suggests that ritual is a means through which individuals embody the power, authority, and value of society. The individuals form communities around shared experiences and values of ritual. Arnould (2001) points out that contemporary consumers cherish ritual experiences from their consumption activities because securing cultural senses from the consumption of mass-marketed consumer goods is not straightforward. Consumers actively utilize various strategies to ritualize their consumption so as to attain culturally meaningful consumption experiences (Arnould, Price, and Curasi 1999).

How do sport fans ritualize their sports consumption? What kinds of strategies do fans employ to obtain ritual experiences through sports consumption? According to Bell (1992), a ritual is a group of activities which are distinct and privileged vis-a-vis other activities. The significance of ritual behavior lies in how such activities constitute themselves as authentic and legitimizing. Bell suggests that people utilize various ritualization strategies such as formalism, traditionalism, and dramatic performance to legitimize their activities as socially appropriate rituals. However, this ritualization practice is culture-specific because the effectiveness of each strategy depends on each culture’s value system.

Based on Bell’s (1992, 1997) theory of ritualization, we suggest that sport fans actively employ various strategies to ritualize their sports consumption. The fans can acquire and maintain ritualized sports fandomBsymbolized, role-assimilated, and self-enactedBthrough the ritualization process. In addition, fans are able to secure cultural identity through sports consumption because fan ritualization practice is based on familiar cultural and social value systems. This view of sports fandom as ritualized consumption practice may broaden the current, more limited understanding of sports consumption which has focused on sports as mere entertainment without much emphasis on sports as a way to sustain or enhance a cultural sense of identity.


Fan ritualization strategies have been employed as a framework to assess how sports fans legitimize their sports consumption as culturally meaningful ritualized practice in a society (Authors 2003). Authors (2003) list four fan ritualization strategies: formalism, symbolic performance, traditionalism, and social interaction, and discuss how cultural values impact the fan ritualization process.

In the current study, we conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews with ten informants. The informants for this study were Japanese students currently studying at a large Midwestern university. These informants were randomly selected from the Japanese student society (which consists of about 80 undergraduate and 10 graduate students). The focus of the interviews was on understanding their baseball consumption experienceBboth in Japan and in the United States. Japanese students were selected as informants for two reasons: baseball is a very popular sport in Japan, and the informants had consumed the sport while in Japan. Interviewing these students gave us insight into the impact of Japanese culture on their ritualization process (while in Japan). In addition, their interviews helped us understand how American culture has impacted their process of baseball consumption while living in the US.

The first author conducted all the interviews. No monetary reward was offered to informants. Each interview lasted from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, was audio taped, and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were read by multiple researchers several times each. Finally, the researchers assessed the existence of fan ritualization strategies in a baseball consumption context. We focused on the structure we (Authors 2003) had proposed earlier to guide our interpretations; at the same time, we actively sought to find evidence disconfirming the structure. In the next section, we report our findings in terms of what is (in)consistent with the fan ritualization strategies.


Our informants revealed that they do indeed ritualize their sports consumption experience while consuming sports. For the ritualization, they formalize, dramatize, traditionalize, and socialize their sports consumption, but differences exist in the degree of enthusiasm in enacting these strategies across fans (e.g. serious fans and non-serious fans). This ritualization of sports consumption seems to allow them to link with cultural and social values embedded in sport as well as society.


The formalization of behavior is one popular ritualization strategy because the particularity of a situation effectively contrasts with less special ones, thus promoting the conventional and idealized order sequence of the event (Harris 1983). Our informants noted formality in their sports consumption, characterized as "the use of a more limited and rigidly organized set of expressions and gestures, a restricted code of communication or behavior in contrast to a more open or elaborated code" (Bell 1997, p.139).

When I go to the baseball stadium, I am always wearing my team’s cap. My father who is a serious Giants’ fan always wears uniforms when he goes to the stadium. He even keeps the clothes, caps, and flags at his work place (Kosuke, Male 25).

Cheering activities are also formalized, for example, cheering instruments, special activities, and songs for teams and players. Our informants mentioned several formalized cheering activities such as making noise by megaphones, flying balloons in the 7th inning, and playing musical instruments. Some cheering activities are specialized for a certain sport, team, or player. For example, Ichiro, a famous Japanese baseball player now in the United States, has his own special songs, and fans in the stadium always sang these songs when he was at bat. Our informants are well-informed about those activities and enjoy participating in them. Several informants noted that they brought items (e.g., megaphones) to participate in these formalized cheering activities. In addition, this formality of behavior in sports consumption develops into sets of rules that make it hard for sports fans to avoid. For example,

Even though I don’t think I am a serious baseball fan and have not been to a baseball stadium before, I’m going to buy a megaphone if I have a chance to go there because everybody around me has it (Keiko, Female 20).

The normative aspect of their sports consumption reflects rules that regulate ritual activities by elaborating the procedure and the limits of acceptable behavior in the ritual. They are likely to feel a sense of guilt or a "fear of being an outsider" if they act differently from those who follow the rules and conventions of sports. Turner (1969) explicitly argues that ritual involves obligation, and all members of a society should follow the rules of the ritual.

In spite of this normative aspect of sports fans’ ritual, they voluntarily formalize their sports consumption because many of them enjoy symbolic meanings and values attached to the formalization. One informant, a Hanshin Tigers’ fan, noted that there are always balloon flying and fanfare in the middle of 7th inning before the home team’s offense starts.

We say Rakki Sebun, (Lucky 7), the seventh inning There is tradition which says the number seven represents good luck and the strongest at bat for the Tigers. They often score runs to come from behind. In the stadium, there is announcement in the middle of the inning to remind everyone to cheer even harder during Lucky 7 (Ryuichi, Male 22).

However, the formalism of sports fans’ behavior is not evenly enacted in all sports consumption situations. Our informants also revealed situational rule enactment in their sports consumption. One informant told us that he and his father do not have any specific ritual when they watch baseball on the TV, even though they actively participate in ritual activities in the stadium. This discrepancy may be due to the collective nature of fan rituals in the stadium. These results are in contrast with those from Eastman and Riggs (1994)’s study about televised sports and ritual, who reported that wearing uniforms or the colors of a home team and eating special food are common to American sports fans when they are watching games on TV.

Other informants also suggest this situational rule enactment; for example, their participation in cheering activities varied according to the people with whom they went to the stadium. One informant said that he felt shy at actively joining in the cheering activities when he went to the games with his girlfriend and his family because he was concerned about his partner and family members’ feelings about his cheering activities, which are very different from his normal behavior.

These results suggest that social surroundings are crucial factors in formalizing behavior. This situational rule enactment reflects Japanese cultural values that the self is viewed as interdependent with the surrounding context, and it is the "other" or the "self-in-relation-to-other" that is focal in individual experience (Markus and Kitayama 1991). The maintenance of harmony with others may contribute to enhancing the sports consumption experience.

Symbolic Performance

Bell (1997) suggests that dramatizing performances in rituals make the event extraordinary by evoking the condensed emotions among participants. This induces participants to articulate symbolic meanings related to the ritual. This ritual performance is dramatized by highly visual imagery, dramatic sound, and extraordinary settings. Dramatized ritual performance is not improvised on the spur of the moment. Pre-existing ritual scripts guide the performance and serve as criteria for its evaluation (Rothenbuhler 1998). Our informants noted that they appear to be knowledgeable about various types of symbolic performances and enjoy these activities and the symbolic meanings embedded in them.

People use musical instruments such as trumpets, drums, and violins. They make special sounds to organize cheering activities in the stadium. Also, people sing a song and dance together with the music (Masa, Male 20).

Several informants mentioned diving into Dotonbori River, the famous dramatic ritual performance of the Hanshin Tigers’ fans to cerebrate their team’s winning. They noted that the ritual represents courage and bravery which they think Osakans’ unique personality and distinguishing them from Tokyo residents. The media reported that over 5,000 ecstatic Hanshin fans dived into the Dotobori River in Osaka to celebrate their first Central league pennant in 18 years in September, 2003.

However, not all spectators participate in every symbolic performance. There seems to be separation between normal fans (most of our informants) and serious fans. Even though some serious fans such as supporter group members voluntarily organize and participate in collective cheering activities, many other fans sometimes just watch the serious fans perform, in large part because they have not spent the time and effort in organized preparation and practices before performing the rituals.

For example, they (serious fans) dance singing the song, but it is hard for me to join in the activity and to know how to dance. But, many serious fans really enjoy the dance. Yeah, but, some people know it, how to dance. These are for some serious fans, not like me (Toru, Male 26).

These dedicated fans who have formed themselves into supporter groups and their self-appointed leaders encourage other spectators to cheer their team with chants, drums, and noisy maracas for nine innings of almost nonstop cheering. Japanese games are very noisy events from start to end. Our informants noted that they often lost concentration on the game because of the cheering activities. Moreover, they said that this is very different from what they have experienced in American ballparks. There is a more frenzied feel at a Japanese ballgame-more like an American college football or basketball game.

This cheering appears to act as a tension release for the normally self-controlled Japanese. One informant mentioned that a stadium serves as a socially legitimized place for shouting and making noise, suggesting that the stadium is a place to "let one=s hair down" without being socially sanctioned.

I think I have another reason to go to the stadium and shout with a megaphone. I think that people have no place to yell. It bothers other people. People are very sensitive to other people in normal situations. I think it is Japanese culture (Toru, Male 26).

These results indicate that the Japanese fans enjoy collective types of cheering activities, which represent a harmonized expression of symbolic meanings by the participants. This reflects the general spirit of Japanese baseball, which can be described as "to contribute to the team by not showing off, or being individualistic." These types of collective fan rituals are in contrast to the self-expressive rituals which are visible in individualistic fans’ ritual performances. In American ballparks, one frequently observes fans who have painted their bodies or faces to show their support of the team. U.S. baseball fans also enjoy bringing creative and special signs (e.g., The CUBS and WGN are #1 (Holt 1995)) to the stadium to support the team and players. Individualistic performances are easily identifiable in terms of his or her role or aesthetic expressions while performing a ritual. It could be argued that collectivism is demonstrated when a row of American fans paint their chests with the name of player for whom they are rooting, with each fan showing a different letter of the name. Even though these fans need each other to successfully represent the expression, the group is still separating itself from the rest of the fans.

Our results indicate that feeling "togetherness" through collective rituals contributes to the enhancement of their sports consumption experiences. Collective cheering seems to satisfy the Japanese need for harmony and allow them to be part of the group. One informant noted that he watched his home team with other fans on the screen at the stadium when his team played away-games. These findings reflect interdependent cultural values that emphasize interconnection and interdependency with other people (Markus and Kitayama 1991).


Baseball, similar to sumo wrestling, has a splendid history and tradition in Japan. Baseball was first introduced in 1873 and it became Japan’s most popular modern sport through the late Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan’s early modernization era. The Meiji leaders cultivated baseball as one way of westernizing their people. In the early 20th century, the railway and newspaper industries supported various high school baseball tournament games (e.g., Koshien Games) to promote their businesses (Kelly 1997). This is in contrast to the nostalgia of American baseball which seems to closely overlap with America’s small-town, pre-industrial past (May 1989).

Traditionalization is a common way of legitimizing ritual activities by attaching mythical and sacred power to the "past" in the ritualization process (Bell 1997). Bell (1997) notes that, as a powerful tool of legitimation, traditionalization may be manifested in "the repetition of activities from an earlier period, the adaptation of such activities in a new setting, or even the creation of practices that simply evoke links with the past" (p. 145). Nostalgia for the past is essential for sports fans in enhancing their enjoyable sports consumption. This sense of the past in sports consumption plays a role in the construction of a shared collective identity among the fans.

Our informants attach various meanings to the traditions of sports. For example, several informants noted that the Koshien stadium itself, the first modern baseball stadium built in 1924, offers Japanese baseball fans sacred value such as the emergence of modern Japan even though the seats and aisles are extremely narrow, and the amenities are basic. There have been proposals to upgrade the place, but the changes are usually not accepted by the fans. One informant noted that

I think ...baseball is a kind of symbol for Japanese old guys after World War II. In the early 20th century, Japanese tried to follow American culture. People tried to learn what’s popular in the United States. And that is mixed with Japanese culture. I think that’s why baseball was very popular. We liked Americans even though we lost WWII because we thought Americans are more civilized and developed than us. We respected American officials because they treated us very fairly. They were not very brutal. That’s why baseball became popular (Toru, Male 26).

The Japanese professional baseball league has prospered under big corporate ownership and, throughout the last century, baseball has been a significant arena for the display of the ideologies and institutions of modern Japan (Kelly 1997). In recent years, these traditional values of the Japanese baseball have become more salient to its consumption when compared to soccer. Soccer recently gained popularity and its professional league (J-League) started in 1993. One informant said that

...soccer is pretty much rooted in local (environment). Many professional soccer teams are located in small cities. So, a lot of local people go to cheer. But baseball is not like that. More nationwide. The baseball teams are owned by big companies. So, Giants, people from somewhere not from Tokyo can be a really big fan of Giants. It may be the effect of the media because Yomiuri is a big media company and has the Giants (Toru, Male 26).

Several informants noted that soccer fans come from the younger generation, but baseball fans appear to be more from the older generations in which an individual self is less valued than a collective self. One informant noted that supporter group members for soccer teams are younger, and their cheering activities are heterogeneous and less organized than those of baseball. For example, the megaphone, an important item for cheering activities in the baseball stadium and symbolized as something controlling players and cheering activities, is rarely used for cheering activities in the soccer stadium. This megaphone seems to symbolize hierarchical values which have been a basis for Japanese economic development. Instead, several informants noted that cheering activities in the soccer stadium reflect local values more.

Social Interaction

Social interaction in the ritualization process refers to a set of activities for learning or sharing ritual activities and their symbolic meanings. Individuals may learn how to perform the various activities of a ritual and its symbolic meanings from family, friends, community members, or media. Bell (1992) introduced the concept of "ritual specialists" who have socially recognized authority to judge the importance of ritual and the performance’s correctness. Ritual specialists may serve to legitimize the social importance of the ritual, and to diffuse the correct way of performing it.

Our informants noted that various social groups including media and supporter group serve as ritual specialists. Several informants informed that oendan (supporter groups) plays an important role in devising fan rituals and educating less ritualized fans. Our informants are well-informed about supporter groups’ activities even though they are not members of any group. Generally, the oendan equipped with massive flags, taiko drums and trumpets leaded chants for teams and players. There is not only one supporters group for a team. Our informants noted that five or six oendan were cheering for a home team and each group was trying to outdo the others. They noted that supporter groups and their activities are highlighted in the media on a big game day (e.g. the Japan Series).

Our informants are aware that these Japanese baseball supporter groups are being managed based on their fans’ voluntary cooperation. Kelly (1997) reported that even though the groups sometimes receive support from the team management, for example, when purchasing group season tickets, most of members of the groups have self-defined roles from providing drinking and eating to playing an music instrument in a game day.



Supporter group activities are not limited to organizing and leading cheering activities. The members also enjoy other social functions such as making friends through this gathering. For example, Kelly (1997) reported that the membership of many Japanese baseball fan clubs comes from the employees of companies and their business associations. These fan clubs, oftentimes, facilitate maintaining favorable business relations among the local communities. One informant noted that

(They are) gathering together, updating team information, and the national soccer team’s supporter group; they go abroad together to watch a game of the Japanese national team. Close relationships developed among members through these activities (Toru, Male 26).

In addition, the media are important sources for Japanese fans to learn fan ritual activities. For example, many Japanese are familiar with the Giants’ fight songs because they are often televised though network TV. On the other hand, close social groups (e.g., family or close friends) do not seem to serve actively as ritual specialists more than socially official groups (e.g., supporter groups or media) do. One informant noted that

I: Do you have any specific type of cheering and something to do that (you) only share with your family, friends, or your co-workers? Something different from other people?

R: Not really, most of things that we do are similar to what other people are doing there (Kosuke, Male 25).

These results reflect that official social groups acting as ritual specialists have authority power in the legitimization of fan ritual activities more than do close social groups in the collective culture. Thus, other-focused and high-power difference cultures (e.g., Japanese and Korean) may consider officialness and representativeness in overall society to be more important than close ties in the establishment of the authority of social groups.


Sports fandom as ritualized consumption practice implies that sports fans are active participants who symbolize and celebrate sports consumption by voluntary role-enactments as sports fans. This perspective of sports fandom raises new questions such as how individuals acquire and maintain ritualized sports fandom and what are the important influences in the fan ritualization process. An attempt to answer these questions might help us understand the role of sports consumption in constructing the fans’ cultural identities.

The results of this study suggest that sports fans employ various ritualization strategiesBformalism, symbolic performance, traditionalism, and social interactionBto acquire and maintain ritualized sports fandom. In addition, our data imply that cultural values, sport traditions, and social roles may play important roles in utilizing these strategies in the fan ritualization process. Kozinets (2001) reported that meanings idealized about the media-product have a great impact on the construction of Star Trek fans’ consumption practice, but the practice is mediated by their need to conform to wider macrocultural categories of appropriately controlled consumption. In this study, we suggest that cultural values, sport traditions, and social role provide influential meanings and practices that structure consumers’ identity, actions, and relationships. Our informants suggest that they recognize and enjoy cultural identities weaved with interdependent and harmonious values while engaging in various ritualized sports consumption including collective cheering and support group activities. In addition, the differences in consumption practices between baseball and soccer exemplify the influence of sport traditions and social roles on sports consumption meanings and practice.

Our research primarily contributes to the limited knowledge of the ritual aspects of sports consumption. This contribution has potential to extend the current understanding of how an individual becomes a sport fan. The theory of sports fan socialization suggests that socialization is a function of the collective influence of socialization agents (e.g., family, peer group, school, and community social systems) (McPherson 1976). The theory assumes that sports fan behavior is learned via observation and imitation of role models who are present in a variety of social systems. However, our research implies that sports consumption practice is much more than mere imitation of other fans’ behaviors. Sports fans actively employ various strategies to legitimize their sports consumption practice as appropriate sports fandom. Our research suggests that cultural values, the social role of sports, and the sport traditions play important roles in the legitimization process. Thus, sports consumption practices enable fans to link to cultural values and meaningful social relations by acquiring and maintaining this sports fandom. In essence, sports consumption becomes another vehicle through which fans can become part of the greater society.

On the other hand, fan identity salience research suggests that individuals get involved in sports consumption because team or/and player identification offer them a chance for self-enhancement (Fisher and Wakefield 1998; Laverie and Arnett 2000). This stream of research relates sports fans’ sense of self to their team/player identification. However, our findings suggest that team/player identification is not the only factor in shaping sports fans’ sense of self. They actively create and build their identities as sports fans by attaching symbolic meanings to objects and activities, securing their valuable traditions, and anchoring their behavior in cultural and social orders through the fan ritualization process. Therefore, sports fans, in their roles as ritual participants, may celebrate not only successful team performance, but these symbolized cultural meanings through engaging in a variety of sports fan rituals.

This study demonstrates that the role of sports consumption in society is not just entertainment, but also a valuable way for people to connect themselves to the greater collective. The cheers and chants in which people engage do more than merely demonstrate support for their team; it provides an opportunity to relive and celebrate their historic roots and traditions. By understanding that fans use sporting venues for meaningful ways to connect with other fans and to celebrate their traditions, marketers are better equipped to foster environments that allow participants to demonstrate these rituals. Commercial attempts to create or reproduce frivolous rituals are often met with resistance, but integrating and sustaining meaningful rituals will provide additional reasons for people to attend games.

Our study highlighted the collective nature of Japanese rituals and indicated that American fan rituals appear to be more individualized. This does not mean that American fans may not be susceptible or willing to engage in ore collective rituals. Aaker and Williams (1998), for example, found that collectivist appeals in advertisements tended to lead to more favorable attitudes for members of individualistic audiences and vice versa. The same relationship may also be found in sports. In an amorphous society like the United States (Celsi, Rose, and Leigh 1993), terrorism and other elements have made people increasingly alienated and frightened, making such places as sporting venues increasingly more important for experiencing ritual activity. Marketers and managers might find that collective rituals can help Americans cope with their fears by allowing them more leeway and opportunities to feel connected. Reintroducing past and outdated rituals to American ballparks may indeed enliven crowd response and encourage greater participation and attendance.


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