In the sports industry, media rights, sponsorships and gate revenues are the predominant engines for growth and are based on the support of loyal fans that drive the profit potential for teams, corporate sponsors and broadcasters alike. A declining fan base can result in low revenues and disappointing profits. Literature to date has focused predominantly on the determiners and motivational aspects of fan loyalty, at the expense of understanding the deterioration of the relationship between the sports fan and the sports team.
This research investigated the concept of sports fan detachment and the dissolution process of lapsed season ticket holders of the Blue Bulls rugby franchise. An extensive review of team identity and fan loyalty literature was undertaken together with the integration of brand detachment theories into a conceptual model. A qualitative study with 14 lapsed Blue Bulls season ticket holders resulted in the sports fan dissolution process being defined and characterised. In-depth interviews provided a means to probe and understand the respondents’ experiences and insights.
The research confirmed that sports fans progress through a three stage process of dissolution including the dissolution stage (breakdown trigger, breakdown phase and decision trigger), exit stage and post dissolution stage. The breakdown triggers were characterised as interpersonal, intrapersonal or structural in nature. The breakdown phase of sports fan detachment takes place over time and is iterative in order to break the bonds with the sports object. The process is largely sequential in nature.
A model of the sports fan dissolution process was developed to illustrate and summarise the findings of the research. The aim of the model is to provide a profiling framework for sports organisations to tailor their CRM programmes to reverse the process of sports fan detachment.