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December 12, 2012
We have an idea of what makes supporters fill Old Trafford, the Parc des Princes or the Allianz-Arena. We also know that Anfield Road, Santiago Bernabeu or the Arena auf Schalke are, despite their impressive capacities, actually too small and could easily welcome even more spectators each week. But what about less glamourous stadia in championships where you are not going to see Rooney, Ronaldo or Ribéry, but players with rather obscure names that are far from the Champions League spotlights? What are the main motivations of fans to turn up each week?
Take for instance ‘Den Dreef’ and the ‘Estádio Municipal de Aveiro’. Just in case you were not familiar with these names, they are home to the Oud-Heverlee Leuven (OHL) and the Sport Clube de Beira-Mar (also called the ‘aurio-negros’), both playing in the 1st division of Belgium and Portugal respectively. Mariana de Carvalho, a young researcher who is completing a PhD at the University of Porto and the KU Leuven, decided to study the motivations of spectators in these two cities that are rather comparable in size and population, whose clubs are comparable in standing within their national league, but which have very different infrastructures. While Aveiro has been offered an oversized state-of-the-art stadium with a capacity of over 30,000 for the 2004 European Championship,the ‘OHL’ can only dream of such facilities: Den Dreef has a capacity of 7,000 and the ‘OHL’ faces the same dilemma as many Belgian clubs: if they want to have more spectators, they would need more attractive and more comfortable stadia, but in order to be able to build such stadia, they would need more potential spectators to start with.
Mariana has carried out field work in both cities in order to find out what weight different factors had in the motivation of young spectators to attend matches in the stadium while they could sit at home and watch Ibrahimovic or Iniesta on television. Her main objective is to determine how important ‘sportscape perception’, i.e. the perceived quality of the physical environment of the stadium including the services offered, is in comparison to more classical factors such as team identification, place attachment or other sociological motives (such as socialisation, fan performance, excitement, peer group esteem etc.).
In both cities, Mariana worked with an online questionnaire, focusing on a very specific target group, namely high-school students, the age in which fandom choices are in the making. The target group includes both fans and non-fans, with different degrees of interest and club identification. Thanks to a good response rate on social networks, she already counts 1000 respondents from Portugal and 2000 from Belgium, a third of whom are girls.
This is work in progress, but at the ECSS Congress 2012 in Bruges, Mariana shared some first findings. It will be interesting to see, once the study is complete and the data fully exploited, whether the initial hypothesis that less emotionally attached fans will be more influenced by the environment and the service quality than more attached fans will finally be confirmed or not. As a matter of fact, in today’s context of changing consumption habits, it seems that ‘sportscape perception’ is actually considered a positive factor for stadium attendance by only 5% of these young people, while 25% of them esteemed it could be a potentially negative factor. In other words: standing in the rain and shivering during most of the season like we used to do in the 1970s maybe a somewhat dissuading perspective for today’s young people.
Mariana works with the Policy in Sports & Physical Activity Research Group at the Department of Kinesiology of the University of Leuven (under the supervision of Professor Jeroen Scheerder and co-supervision of Professor Filip Boen); as well as the Sports Faculty of the University of Porto, under the co-supervision of Professor José Pedro Sarmento. She can be contacted under firstname.lastname@example.org.