Colors and Scarves: the Symbolic Consumption of Material Possessions By Soccer Fans

Christian Derbaix, LABACC, Catholic University of Mons
Alain Decrop, University of Namur
Olivier Cabossart, LABACC, Catholic University of Mons
ABSTRACT - Merchandising today represents a substantial part of the income of professional soccer teams. In this paper, we investigate the reasons why merchandising is becoming so successful: why fans are increasingly buying and consuming shirts, scarves or hats of their preferred colors. The consumption of football-related items is considered from a naturalistic interpretive perspective. Participant observation and interviews are used in order to get a better grasp on this problem. The paper shows that action and possession are strongly connected in football consumption and that merchandise fulfil four symbolic functions: identification, integration, expression and sacralization. Football fans express their identification with their team as a unified community during sacred sport moments.
[ to cite ]:
Christian Derbaix, Alain Decrop, and Olivier Cabossart (2002) ,"Colors and Scarves: the Symbolic Consumption of Material Possessions By Soccer Fans", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 511-518.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 511-518

COLORS AND SCARVES: THE SYMBOLIC CONSUMPTION OF MATERIAL POSSESSIONS BY SOCCER FANS

Christian Derbaix, LABACC, Catholic University of Mons

Alain Decrop, University of Namur

Olivier Cabossart, LABACC, Catholic University of Mons

ABSTRACT -

Merchandising today represents a substantial part of the income of professional soccer teams. In this paper, we investigate the reasons why merchandising is becoming so successful: why fans are increasingly buying and consuming shirts, scarves or hats of their preferred colors. The consumption of football-related items is considered from a naturalistic interpretive perspective. Participant observation and interviews are used in order to get a better grasp on this problem. The paper shows that action and possession are strongly connected in football consumption and that merchandise fulfil four symbolic functions: identification, integration, expression and sacralization. Football fans express their identification with their team as a unified community during sacred sport moments.

INTRODUCTION

Soccer (football) is the most popular sport in the world. In many European countries, professional football is a big business, with clubs generating large turnovers and substantial profits. In addition to its economic importance, football has grown up to a major social phenomenon. For more than one century, this sport has been drawing larger and large audiences and triggering off a lot of passion. Like in other spectator sports, fanaticism is now a major characteristic of the football crowds. Following the Encyclopaedia Universalis, fanaticism may be defined as "the uncompromising and extreme support of a community, a party, an idea or an opinion" (Vaneigem, 1978-1980). The evolution of manners has transformed fanaticism into a vice. However, the word is sometimes used in less negative meanings, i.e. the allegiance to a cause, a spirit of enterprise, a strong personality, or a martyr of a right fight. Fanaticism may be characterized by transcendence, ecstasy, euphoria, or pride (King, 1997).

The 1990’s are characterized by what King (1997) has called "a new consumption of football". The two major dimensions of this turn are the enhancement of security (i.e. the rebuilding of the grounds into all-seater stadiums) and the management of teams as businesses. In addition to the usual entrance fees and sponsoring contracts, major professional football teams have developed three new sources of revenue in the last two decades: the television contracts, the stock exchange and the merchandising. Merchandising now represents substantial amounts of money. Manchester United is the world’s leader with a turnover of 36 millions dollars accounting for 27% of its 1998 budget (Sport Consulting, 1999). The increasing awareness of the importance of sport merchandising is illustrated by the recent marketing alliance concluded between Man United (football) and the New York Yankees (baseball). The agreement involves sharing marketing information and programs, developing joint sponsorship, and above all, selling products from both franchises in all team stores.

In this paper, the focus is not on merchandising per se but, more broadly, on the material possessions of football fans related to their favorite teams. We want to investigate the reasons why merchandising is becoming so successful from an interpretive perspective: why fans are increasingly buying and consuming shirts, scarves or hats of their preferred colors. The general interest in sport consumption is recent in consumer research. More than any other, Holt’s (1995) study on the consumption behavior of baseball supporters is the seminal work in this field. Based on an interpretive in-depth investigation of baseball supporters of Chicago, he developed a typology of four streams of consumption: consumption as experience, consumption as integration, consumption as classification and consumption as play. Other papers have been written on more specific aspects of sport consumption from a psychological perspective (Branscombe & Wann, 1992; Wann & Schrader, 2000). However, the thrust of this literature has focused on a sociological interpretation of sport consumption (Guttman, 1978; King, 1997) and, more specifically, of its deviant aspects such as hooliganism and violent spectator behavior (Branscombe & Wann, 1992; Duke & Crolley, 1996; Murphy, Williams & Dunning, 1990; O’Donnell & Boyle, 1996).

In this study, we try to embrace all possible sources for understanding the consumption of material possessions by soccer fans in an interpretive perspective. We immerse ourselves in the football fan subculture in order to gain a better insight into the reasons and motives why people buy and consume football-related tangibles, within and outside stadiums, on game days and on other occasions. How and why fans come to buy those items? Where, when and how do they consume them? What are the motives for such a consumption? What are the values assigned to those items? This interest in a broad and deep understanding of the consumption of the material possessions by football fans is new in consumer research.

METHODOLOGY

In order to address the issues described above, a naturalistic interpretive approach is needed. This approach is the most appropriate one since we are interested in a consumption experience rather than a buying process: how products are used and what this consumption means to his/her user. To get that idiosyncratic comprehension, immersing oneself in the field is needed to achieve "thick descriptions" (Geertz, 1973). Such a naturalistic inquiry strives to understand naturally occurring phenomena in their naturally occurring states (Lincoln & Guba, 1985 ; Lutz, 1989).

With respect to professional football clubs, Horner and Swarbrooke (1996) have identified five major segments of supporters, namely: local people who support the team and attend all its matches; local people who go to some matches, particularly the most important ones; a number of non-local supporters who will travel long distances to watch some of the matches. This is essentially the case with famous clubs; business people who use the matches for corporate hospitality reasons; people who visit the stadium for other purposes than football games (e.g. special events, concerts).

In this study, the focus is on football fans who are more likely to be found in the first and third groups, i.e. supporters who are highly involved in their team, who support it intensively attending most of its matches.

The supporting behavior of fans of three Belgian teams (i.e. Anderlecht, Charleroi, and Standard) has been tracked during one year. These clubs are the three major teams in the French-speaking part of Belgium, whose common features are an old history and a lot of popular support. The choice of a national competition is more suited to our field of interest than an international competition since we are to observe fans’ behavior and their material possessions related to football in a natural setting and on a regular basis. Since the national championship is a permanent happening which covers a whole year, it allows an in-depth and ongoing relationship between supporters and their teams. In contrast, international events (e.g. the World Cup or the European Championship) are more time-focused and are less likely to attract the type of fans that is relevant to this study. We are interested in a subculture of consumption, that is people who tend to share particular patterns of values and behavior while meeting on a regular basis (Schouten & MacAlexander, 1995).

TABLE 1

LIST OF SUPPORTERS= MERCHANDISE OWNED BY OUR INFORMANTS

Twelve informants from those three teams have been interviewed three times over the football season 1998-99. They may be described as loyal supporters visiting regularly their fan shop (see Table 1). Seven have a season ticket and eight are affiliated with an official fan club. All those supporters are males (female fans are rare in football stadiums) but are coming from different socio-economic backgrounds. Ages range from 11 to 65 years. Semi-structured interviews were conducted on the following themes: leisure behavior, social environment (friends...), enduring involvement in football, being a supporter, external signs of a supporter, ownership and meaning of items related to the team, circumstances of consumption, and attitude towards other teams. In addition to being interviewed at home, informants were observed during a few matches and during other football-related activities (bus journey to the stadium, fan meetings, diners...).

To know more about the context of fan behavior within and outside the football stadiums, 20 matches of the Belgian championship involving at least one of the three teams were attended during the same season. Some of our informants were involved in those observation sessions in order to check the faithfulness of what had been said during the interviews and to infer what had not been said. Three observers have been involved in those observation sessions. Finally, a few football experts and fan shop managers were interviewed and a lot of secondary documents (brochures, catalogues, pictures, press articles, web sites, ....) were colleced in order to get a better grasp on football consumption and to help the interpretation of interview transcripts (verbatims) and observation material (films and pictures). The use of different settings, methods, data sources, and researchers in a triangulation process contributes to the trustworthiness of the findings presented below (Denzin, 1978).

Interview and observation data were analyzed through thematic content analysis in order to bring order, structure and meaning to the mass of data collected. An inductive approach has been chosen where categories, themes and patterns were generated from the data. Three researchers have been involved in this process in order to make descriptions and interpretations more robust. Resulting from this analysis process, findings are presented according to five major dimensions. First, the "good" football fan is presented as described by the informants. This more descriptive theme serves as a framework for the other (more interpretive) themes. The consumption of football-related items by fans is interpreted following four major functions: identification, integration, expression, and sacralization respectively.

EMERGING FINDINGS

The "good" football fan

Color seems to be the key attribute of a "good" football fan. Half of our informants spontaneously refer to that attribute when defining a "good supporter". It is seen as an easy way to make a distinction between a football supporter and an other person. Colors are related to clothing items such as scarves, hats, or shirts. However, colors are not enough to qualify as a football fan. Actually, it seems that the good fan is the one who is faithful and supports his team even in bad circumstances:

"This is someone who encourages his team whatever the results or the quality of the game and who comes every time. He comes for fun. He supports his team even more enthusiastically when they are losing than when they are winning (Jodl, Charleroi)." [Texts units have been translated from French by the authors.]

Since he is to cheer, to shout and to sing, the good fan is not only a spectator but also an actor of the game (see later). The material possessions are part of the means of clearly showing this support to the team: scarves are raised, flags are waived and banners are displayed. Table 1 describes all the items possessed by the informants. The most common items are scarves, shirts, hats or Bronx hats, and T-shirts.

FIGURE 1

THE CONSUMPTION OF FOOTBALL AS IDENTIFICATION: ANTI-ITEMS

There are large differences in the budgets devoted to those items. While some supporters declare to have no specific budget for it, others spend considerable amounts of money on it. However, fans usually refuse to bypass some limits.

One major observation emerging from this study is that football items are not only consumed during the matches. They are also displayed in other footbal-related activities which have been observed. Moreover, the consumption of those items does not always end once football activities are over but sometimes extends in profane everyday life and in more sacred moments: "Even on my wedding day I was wearing the braces and the tie of my favourite football club" (Jodl, Charleroi). Merchandising seems to take this evolution into account since more fashionable items such as skirts, ties, pullovers or suits are now displayed in the fan shops we have visited.

The identification function of colors and scarves

One of the major reasons of wearing colors and scarves is to allow the personal and social identification with the beloved team and to stand out against the other teams. The identification function of the material possessions of football fans is central in the understanding of fan behavior. Emerging from the data, there is a kind of automatic identification process based on the dyad colors-team which involves both a pronounced preference for the colors of the own team and an obvious rejection of the colors of rival teams:

"We exhibit our color and try to attract attention with that color. We are the "mauves" and the others are dressed in another color. It enables us to recognize each other" (Albert, Anderlecht).

This need for identification and distinction may lead to the will/refusal of wearing clothes of particular colors in everyday life. The emblematic function of colors may lead to some abuses. On one hand, fans tend to classify other supporters of the same team as rivals when they incidently wear colors of the opponents. On the other hand, some fans use to burn the colors of hatred teams and to wear "anti" items (T-shirts, scarves or embroidered badges) such as illustrated in Figure 1.

Fortunately, this behavior is not the rule and is even denounced by most of our informants as not being typical at all of a "good" supporter. However, the observation data show that those "anti" items are widespread in the visited stadiums and around. They are usually worn by younger and more exuberant fans.

Following Holt’s (1995) description of consumption as classification, consumers like to compare themselves with each other. An adhesion or affiliation process is going on in spectator sports through symbols such as the team, the stadium and the players. Those symbols lead to the creation of collective identities involving the supporters of each team. Wearing the team’s paraphernalia (classification through objects) or overtly showing support to the team (classification through actions) are two major ways of enhancing this affiliation process. Another interpretaton of the previous findings can be found in Hoyer and MacInnis’ (1997) emblematic function of symbolic consumption. Following this concept, consumers may use products in order to communicate the group to which they belong. So, an analogy could be made between the armorial bearings of noble medieval families and the contemporary emblems of football clubs which are often paraded by fans. Finally, according to King (1997), the love of the team and rivalry with other clubs are typical traits of football fans, which stem from the sense of pride and the masculine competition for honor. Pride both serves as a way of self-expression (see later) and of assertion in social relations. That is why there is such an emphasis on the rivalry with other clubs and on the superiority of the own team. In line with this focus on pride, our observations indicate that supporters of more important and more successful teams tend to show external signs of membership more frequently. Football fans of less famous teams, which are not performing very well, such as Charleroi in this case, are not that encouraged to wear the colors of their team.

The integrative function of colors and scarves

The social environment has a considerable influence on the consumption of football-related material items. Colors and scarves are conspicuously displayed not only to show others the identification with one team but also to be recognized as the member of a group (i.e. the faithful supporters of the team) or a subgroup of it (i.e. a fan club). Numerous data chunks indicate that possessing one or the other item with the team’s colors is considered as a sign of belonging and integration: "I bought a scarf to do as the others did" (Ernest, Charleroi). This need for recognition and belonging may be related to social interaction (companionship) in Maslow’s (1970) hierarchy of needs. Supporters who don’t show those items are not recognized as members of the fan community and are even regarded suspiciously: "Round the stadium, everyone wears something mauve. If you do not have anything mauve, people stare at you strangely" (Morgan, Anderlecht). The importance of the social environment is confirmed by the observation data from the stadiums. Some supporters seem to exhibit those football-related items in order to be accepted by the other supporters. This is even more obvious for the stands which are saved for the most enthusiastic supporters where wearing a scarf is considered as a minimum. Those "hard core" members know perfectly the names and forenames of all the players, of the coach, the assistant coach and even of the medical staff !

Based on this, it should be concluded that adhesion to the group is based on specific behavior such as screaming, whistling and singing as well as on the possession and the exhibition of material items such as scarves, shirts and hats. In those instances, consumption clearly plays a role of integration (Holt, 1995). Following Holt’s concept of assimilation, the fan may strive to be similar to the other members by adopting the same behavior and shopping for clothes in the team’s fan shop. This is in line with Duesenberry’s (1949) mention of adhesion and conformity as possible consumption objectives. Holt’s idea of production by which sport spectators try to influence the issue of the game is also grounded in the data (see later). One could even go one step further in the interpretation: the paraphernalia of football fans gives them a sense of communion or "communitas" (Turner, 1969). Communitas may be defined as "a social antistructure that frees participants from their normal social roles and statuses and instead engages them in a transcending camaraderie of status equality" (Belk, Wallendorf, & Sherry, 1991, p. 66).

This interpretation introduces another major phenomenon emerging from our analyses: the communion between supporters during matches. Collective joy or disillusion scenes are often observed when attending a football game. Fans are raising their arms, clapping their hands, singing hymns, waiving their flags, whirling their scarves, firing Bengal lights or flares, throwing rolls of toilet paper. This communion may produce ecstatic behavior in extraordinary match circumstances. The speaker of the stadium intensifies this eruption by playing the team’s hymn when there is a goal (e.g. "The great escape" or "I will survive"). Those activities may be interpreted both as devotion to the team (see later) and fun. The proposition of the consumption of football as play (see Holt, 1995) sounds logical since football basically is a play. The playing dimension of fan behavior is even more obvious when supporters are seen in "ola" movements ["Ola" is the Spanish term for wave, which is used all over the world to describe such moves.] or are dancing in chains. The mass effect is put into light: the stadium erupts and fans are transcended by the atmosphere.

"Each time there is a goal, it’s sheer madness. Everyone moves, people kiss one another. Sometimes you fall flat on your face. And Sclessin [the name of the stadium] goes crazy" (Joseph, Standard).

Moreover, football clearly plays a socialization role: during and after the match, fans are analyzing the game, discussing particular movements and players’ performance, explaining the reasons of some referee’s decisions while having a beer. Again, this finding may be related to Holt’s (1995) idea of production where spectators are seen as producers (retrospectively !) and not only consumers of games.

By the communion, ecstasy, and socialization observed during matches, social norms and barriers are lowered: people who otherwise do not have anything in common interact and share experiences. This phenomenon has already been mentioned by Holt (1995) about baseball matches. It is worth stressing that while socialization (the exchange of comments about the game and the players) takes place during the match’s slack periods, communion uses to arise during the peak moments such as when goals are scored. We can conclude this theme of integration by suggesting that the fan community or club acts as a surrogate family, such as acknowledged by the informants themselves: "this creates friendly relationships" or "this is like a family".

The expressive function of colors and scarves

In addition to identification and integration, the fan’s paraphernalia is used as a way of expression. Two major dimensions of expression emerge from the analysis of our material: the expression of feelings and the expression of the self.

The importance of collective manifestations of such emotions as joy or disappointment during football matches has already been pointed out in a way consistent with Denzin’s (1984) point of view: "There is no division between people, their emotion, and the world" (p.7). The possession and consumption of football-related items make existing links with other people, events or important experiences stronger. It often appears in our data that informants pay a particular attention (for not saying a deotion) to some items which have been worn or touched by their idols (e.g. a shirt, a glove) or which commemorate major events, such as the victory against a famous opponent or the sworn enemy (e.g. pennant, press article). Other informants are very proud to show pictures where they are standing next to their favorite player. A more extreme illustration of this is the obituary that has been written and handed out by Anderlecht supporters after the memorable victory (i.e. 0-6) on Standard’s own field (see Figure 2). T-shirts with the score were printed on this occasion.

The previous findings show the symbolic nature of football consumption where material possessions are used as a way of connectedness (Hoyer & MacInnis, 1997) between consumers (fans) and products (stars). The affective nature of those links is responsible for the expression of positive feelings such as pride or happiness or negative ones such as anger: "Once I did trample on my scarf because Standard [the opponent that day] and Anderlecht [the beloved team] drew one all" (Morgan, Anderlecht) .

FIGURE 2

THE CONSUMPTION OF FOOTBALL AS EXPRESSION: AN OBITUARY

In addition to the expression of feelings and emotions, the material possessions of football fans serve to affirm their identity. It has already been said that colors and scarves help supporters’ identification with the team. While sharing the same colors and the same devotion to their team, fans also try to outdo the other supporters of their community by their external appearance and paraphernalia. So, some of them make their own items such as flashy clothes, banners, badges or flags in order to be seen as the greatest team’s enthusiast. These findings may be paralleled with Hoyer and MacInnis’s (1997)’s expressiveness function of symbolic consumption. It is now widely accepted that a consumer often wants to differentiate himself and to express his personality through his clothes. Holt’s (1995) concept of individualization may also be a relevant interpretation. Indeed, a fan can express his personality even within the same community of supporters by adding a personal touch to his relationship with the social environment.

For a few supporters in our sample, the acquisition of football-related items may be interpreted as the transition towards a new life or the acquisition of a new identity. For example, a young teenager whose father was supporter of Standard (red and white) once bought the mauve paraphernalia of the rival team (Anderlecht) in order both to show his support to this team and more importantly to signify his differentiation from his father. This can be viewed as a rite de passage to the adult age (von Gennep, 1909).

The concept of extended self (Belk, 1988) can further be taken into account in our understanding of the consumption of football items. Citations such as "those items allow me to show my colors in the district where I live" or "they somewhat represent my personality" indicate that colors and scarves are used by the fan to conspicuously show who he really is. Those sayings are confirmed by natural observations. During our visits to informants’ homes, such sentences could be read on decorative plates: "Here lives an Anderlecht supporter, who is bothered?", "I’ve always been and I’ll always stay an Anderlecht supporter", "Zebra one day, zebra always". [The zebra refers to the mascot of Charleroi.] Some supporters also proudly parade tattoos on their arms. This ostentation is explained by the human need of material and tangible support in order to stabilize the meaning of his/her deep self (Tuan, 1980).

The previous findings are in line with King’s (1997) proposal of pride as one of the central elements of the lads’ fanaticism. This pride refers to the team’s status in football and its successes on the field. Pride is also related to the demonstration of being a loyal supporter (regular attendance, singing and fighting). King further makes a connection between pride and masculinity: "the notion of pride is important in the lads’ everyday lives for their masculinity is substantially defined through football []. Since masculine relations are substantially concerned with status (Tolson, 1997), the pride a lad derives from ootball is important. It assists him in asserting himself in relations with other men in his community" (p.333-334).

The sacralization function of colors and scarves

The sacred dimension of football consumption and, more particularly, of material possessions related to football is the major emerging finding of this study. Most of the time, colors and scarves are not used for utilitarian or hedonistic purposes but for their symbolic meanings. The emergence of this dimension is in line with Guttman’s (1978) and Belk et al.’s (1991) proposition that tangible things and spectator sports belong to the domains of sacred consumption. Most properties of sacredness described in Belk et al. (i.e. hierophany, opposition to the profane, contamination, commitment, objectification, ritual, mystery, communitas, ecstasy and flow) may be found in our data.

FIGURE 3

THE CONSUMPTION OF FOOTBALL AS SACRALIZATION: A GALLERY OF SOUVENIRS

Most informants in this study spontaneously mention that particular items have a special meaning to them. Those items commemorate some peak events in the history of the fan-team relationship such as memorable performances:

"I have one shirt that PSr ZETTERBERG [An Anderlecht player] actually wore and one of the limited edition they produced when he was awarded the "Golden Shoe". I also have the shirt that Per FRIMAN [another player] wore when they won the UEFA Cup (Jean-Charles, Anderlecht)".

Another important category of items with a special meaning to supporters involves all that has been worn or touched by players (a shirt, a glove). A lot of informants have shown us such items or pictures where they stand next to their stars (see above). Fans use those items to feel closer to their idols and to make links stronger. It is interesting to observe that those items take up a major physic and moral place for them. In one informant’s home, pictures are hung on the walls of the living room (see Figure 3) while another informant has painted his car and his moped with the colors of Charleroi in order to keep closer to his team. The general enthusiasm of (rather younger) fans for having signatures of the players is another cue of this quest for "relics." This confirms O’Guinn’s (1991) contention that celebrities perform some of the functions of gods or god-sent beings and that fans tend to collect, display and venerate all that is related to them.

The symbolic and sacred function of the above mentioned items is even more obvious when analyzing their use and consumption. It appears from the data that some fans wear particular clothes and items on match days for superstitious and fetishist reasons. They may convey a paranormal power to them, such as illustrated by the following quote:

"I’m a fetishist. For example, for the championship I wear my 2 "Sambre et Meuse" [the name of a fan club] T-shirts and for the Champins League, I wear another T-shirt. I wore it once, the first time, for the Champions League when we played Porto and it worked. So now I wear it and we win every time. So I’m wearing it today" (Jean-Charles, Anderlecht).

Other informants take a particular care in storing their scarves and shirts and keep a special place for them in their home. For example, a supporter stores all his football-related possessions in a display cabinet. This phenomenon, which has also been observed for showbiz personalities (O’Guinn, 1991), may be related to the creation of an enshrinement (Belk et al., 1991) and interpreted as the will of maintaining the sacredness of those objects by separating them from the profane. This idea of a spatial separation of the sacred from the profane becomes even more evident with this example taken from our data: "I store them in a piece of furniture and the middle door is reserved for Standard. Later I want to have my own little souvenir shop" (Eric, Standard).

The sacred character of fans’ football paraphernalia is confirmed by their refusal to get rid of it. All informants agree that they would never sell items of their team’s colors. In an even more extreme case, one fan declares that "I will take them in my coffin when I’ll die." We have also seen during some matches supporters burning a scarf, a flag or a banner of the rival team. This behavior is regarded as sacrilege: "I did already burn a scarf of Standard [the rival team] but if I see someone burning a scarf of Anderlecht [the beloved team], I’ll make him eat it."

Finally, the terminology that is used by fans is a last indicator of the religious nature of the consumption of football. Here are examples of names that are given to fan clubs: "Hell side", "Red devils" or "Ultra infernos." On a banner, we read "welcome in hell"! Informants’ sayings are also revealing as they comprise a lot of words related to religion such as pray, communion, mass

DISCUSSION

This paper has shown that actions and possessions are strongly connected as far as football consumption is concerned. Football fans conspicuously show a lot of support to their teams by such overt behavior as singing, shouting and cheering but also through a lot of material merchandise: scarves, hats, shirts The consumption of football entails a lot of symbolism, often related to colors and to the football-related items that are paraded by fans. The good supporter’s paraphernalia can be interpreted as an identification, integration, expression and sacralization process. To summarize the major emerging findings of this study in one sentence, we could say that football fans express their identification with one team as a unified community during sacred sport moments. This is not far from Belk et al.’s (1991) pioneering work on sacred consumption: "Sports fanaticism can be seen to promote community identification and spirit, but also to separate family members with differing tastes. Just as sports fans see themselves as a unified community during sacred sports moments, so do gift exchangers, heirloom-passing generations, and collectors" (p.92). Moreover, propositions of this paper are in line with Guttman’s (1978) ideas of players as heroes, stadiums as temples and artifacts as saced relics.

However, the ever larger commercialization and the recent suppression of standing room in stadiums are the premises of a new consumption of football which is likely to lead to profound changes in the nature and behavior of football audiences. King (1997) notes about the English League: "these all-seater stadiums have altered the possibilities for the ritualistic expression of identity and solidarity and have also attracted new (more affluent and familial) audiences to football" (p. 329). Belk et al. (1991) somewhat nuance this threat. While acknowledging that the focus on money partly has desacralized sports, they notice that the high salaries paid to sport players rather sacralize them, like "quintessential objects in the marketplace and artworks are sacralized by a high purchase price" (p.85). Anyway, it should be worthwhile considering whether what we hear and observe today is still valid in ten years.

Of course the present investigation has obviously just scratched the surface of a fascinating iceberg to the extent that understanding is a never-ending hermeneutical circle. In that respect, we have to add that we are interviewing again the informants we interviewed about one year ago (in order to check the dependability of our findings), and that we are attending soccer matches and interviewing people in France. To enlarge the scope of this cultural transferability, it would be interesting to see what happens in the U.S. where soccer still is in its infancy compared to Europe. Do American fans develop their own unique consumption patterns? Do they mimic their more mature European counterparts? Do they import their actions and possessions from older popular sports in Northern America?

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