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Influence of family, pals creates lifelong fans

Influence of family, pals creates lifelong fans

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In his opinion published in the Sept. 22 issue of SBJ, Lee Igel reasoned the high price of tickets to sporting events stunts the creation of lifelong fans, specifically in children. Igel further contended the messages put forth by sports business professionals justifying high ticket prices create an atmosphere of distrust between sports organizations and their public resulting in an exchange of long-term value for short-term economic gain.

Igel is off point on two issues. First, the messages and practices of sports business professionals vis-à-vis the justification and setting of ticket prices demonstrate a clear focus towards long-term sustainable growth and not a “worship” of short-term financial gain. Second, Igel has overstated the relationship between ticket price and the creation of lifelong fans among children. He wrote that sports are no longer a refuge for fans because the stadium building boom and steep rise in player salaries have resulted in a “new order” in which teams must now provide attendees with an experience at the game to justify higher profit margins. It is unlikely the provision of “game experiences” is simply an exercise of “double-talk” to charge “premium pricing.” Rather, the provision of game experiences not directly related to the core product (i.e., the game) is a recognition by teams that many people who attend games care little about the actual game on the field.

For many, attending games may have more to do with other aspects of the consumption experience such as the derived social benefits, the excitement of being in a crowd, or the opportunity to drink or party. Thus, providing additional experiential opportunities at sporting events demonstrates an organizational focus on long-term growth and not short-term financial gain. It is simply good marketing as opposed to “double-talk.”

Next, Igel’s assertion that high-ticket prices stunt the development of long-term fandom in children is flawed. His argument surmises a relationship between seat location and sports fan socialization. It does not consider research that has examined the primary factors leading to the socialization of children into the role of fans of sports teams. Studies by Kenyon and McPherson in the early 1970s and by Kolbe and James more recently suggest that children become lifelong fans of sports teams by the interactions and experiences they have with their fathers, family members, and teammates on sports teams.

It is up to sports business professionals to present opportunities for fathers and children to bond around their team, and to create messages which communicate and reinforce father-child relationships in the context of the team.

Offering children “a few seats close to the action” may play well from a public relations perspective, but this strategy will have very little impact on creating the number of additional lifelong fans necessary for having a positive impact on the long-term sustainable growth proposed by Igel.

Daniel Sweeney
Little Rock, Ark.

Sweeney is an assistant professor of sport management at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

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