This research focuses on the function of sport fan identity in seeking optimal
psychological distinctiveness. The purpose of the study was to investigate the
mechanisms through which sport fans balance the psychological needs for
distinctiveness and assimilation through the expression of their team identity,
thereby contributing to a stronger explanation of how these psychological
needs function within the attachment process towards stronger fan loyalty.
Although a growing body of knowledge has addressed the internalisation of a
sport object into the self-concept, existing theoretical frameworks provide
limited explanation of the mechanisms through which these needs are met.
Literature on team identity and psychological distinctiveness was reviewed in
order to derive a set of research questions to investigate the use of the
structural reality mechanism and perceptual framing mechanism at an
individual and group level for sport fans at different levels of psychological
connection to their chosen team. A two-phase mixed method research design
allowed a purposeful stage-based investigation of psychological
The findings provide evidence of the use of both the structural reality
mechanism and the perceptual framing mechanism as fans use their team
identity to balance their needs for belonging and distinctiveness. The results
of the study found that the mechanisms were involved at both higher stages of
psychological connection to their chosen team, as well as at both individual
level and group level.
The study contributes the optimal distinctiveness mechanisms of structural
reality and perceptual framing to the revised Psychological Continuum Model
theoretical framework, thus examining sport fan identity motives beyond selfesteem.
The study also contributes to the limited research undertaken within
the sport of rugby and in South Africa, while providing additional mixed
method and qualitative analysis guidance for researching sport fandom.
The findings of this research are relevant to sport marketers, sponsorship
managers, and sport broadcasters who wish to facilitate stronger and more
positive relationships between fans, as well as with the sport object.
Marketers are able to use the mechanisms and strategies examined in this
study to create additional opportunities for attached and allegiant fans to
express their distinctiveness within the attachment process towards stronger