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Studying the Unique Subject of Sport Marketing

Hirotaka Matsuoka
Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

What would you do if you had an unpleasant experience at a coffee shop that you always go to, for example, the coffee tasted awful or the employee had a rude attitude? Would you put up with it and continue going to the coffee shop?

Let's think about that something worse happened. You got into an argument with an employee. Would you then stop going there and find a different coffee shop? I guess many of you would. If you continue going to the same coffee shop, you must be one of those customers with a strong sense of loyalty or holding some special attachment towards it.

If customer evaluation of a purchased product or received service declines, customers generally tend to reduce their spending money on that product or at that shop, or stop spending all together. This indicates consumer behavior.

However, there are consumers who will not stop spending their money, even after bad experiences and lowered valuation. Sport fans are known for this type of consumer behavior. When sport teams do not provide high quality performances due to poor physical conditions of athletes and team strategies not playing out well, fans of the sport teams lower their evaluations and become unsatisfied. However, the fans come back to the stadium to watch the next match. Even if their teams have not won during many years or become demoted to second division, the fans are likely to continue supporting their teams. Sport is such kind of product.

The loyal psychology and behavior related to the emotional attachment are known in the field of sport marketing as team loyalty. This concept is based on brand loyalty in the field of business marketing, and there are some synonymous terms, including team identification, team attachment, and fan commitment in the sport marketing.

Then, how is the team loyalty formed? There are many factors involved in developing this type of loyalty, such as a fan’s admiration for a team they saw the championships of their team on television when they were kids or their favorite athlete being on their team. However, one of the strongest elements influencing the formation of team loyalty is associated with regional pride. For fans, the team that plays for their hometowns or their residential areas creates a sense of connection between themselves and their regions. In order to become more strongly connected with their regions, professional sport clubs and baseball teams have begun engaging in regional relation strategies in recent years, such as activities that make a difference in the community.

Sport in Japan had grown with a long history of corporate support, but with the establishment of J.League in 1993, the focus has been on strengthening regional associations. Professional baseball teams in Hokkaido, Sendai, Hiroshima, and more recently Yokohama have focused on broadening their fan bases by focusing on more connections with hometown fans. Today, increasing the number of fans through regional relation strategies is the key to success in the sport business.

This kind of team loyalty among sport fans demonstrates even more interesting patterns. It is human nature to be drawn to winners and distance ourselves from losers. Let’s take some examples of sporting event, such as the Waseda University collegiate Ekiden (long-distance relay race), the Waseda–Meiji rugby games, and the Waseda–Keio baseball games. When you talk to Waseda students about these events, they say, "We won!" if Waseda wins, whereas if Waseda loses, they say, "They lost." This is based on results of a survey conducted by American researchers (Cialdini et al., 1976). The research further showed that students of the winning team tended to wear apparel with the team’s logo the following day. This sort of behavior is described as BIRGing (basking in reflected glory) and CORFing (cutting off reflected failure), which individuals either associate or disassociates themselves from the winning or losing team. However, such behavior is not observed among true fans who are extremely loyal to their teams. Loyal fans do not sever their associations with their teams even if they lose, and continue supporting them no matter what. The world of sport is about either winning or losing, and in general, sport teams lose about 50 percent of their games. This means that for each match, there is a 50 percent occurrence of CORFing. If sport enthusiasts distance themselves from teams at this rate, the professional sport business would not succeed. This explanation should make clear how important extremely loyal fans are to their teams.

In the field of sport marketing, which studies phenomena unique to sport, there is a subject called sport management. Since early on, Waseda University has offered undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the field of sport business and management. The demand for professionals in these fields has further increased, and in collaboration with the Institute for Business and Finance, the Waseda Institute for Sport Sciences established a non-degree education program for working adults called “Sport MBA Essence” in August 2017. Furthermore, in order to meet overseas demands, especially in Asian countries, the Graduate School of Sport Sciences will start English-taught Master’s degree programs in sport management and health & exercise science in September 2018. I hope that many people in Japan and overseas could learn about and enjoy the unique study of sport marketing.

Hirotaka Matsuoka
Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Hirotaka Matsuoka graduated from Kyoto University of Education, and earned his Ph.D. from the Ohio State University. He is an expert in sport management and sport marketing.
He is a committee member of the Japanese Association for Sport Management, a board member of Japan Volleyball League Organization (V.League), and a council member of Hockey Japan League.
Major publications by Professor Matsuoka include Sport Marketing (Taishukan Publishing, 2008, co-author), Zu to Irasuto de Manabu Atarashii Sport Management (Learning New Sports Management Through Charts and Illustrations) (Taishukan Publishing, 2016, co-author), and more.