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ISSN : 2287-1063(Print)
ISSN : (Online)
The Journal of Advertising and Promotion Research Vol.4 No.1 pp.77-108

Connecting to the Elusive Sport Fan : Sports Fan Relationship Management in Facebook

Dong Hoo Kim,,Eun Sook Kwon,Ph.D. Candidate,Young-A Song,Ph.D. Candidate,Yongjun Sung,Ph.D.*
School of Journalism and Mass Communication University of North Carolina 226 Carroll Hall, Campus Box 3365, Chapel Hill, NC 27599.
Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication University of Georgia 120 Hooper St. Athens, GA 30602.
Moody College of Communication University of Texas at Austin 1 University Station, A0900, Austin, TX 78712
*Associate Professor Department of Psychology Korea University 145, Anam-Ro, Seongbuk-Gu, Seoul, 136-701, Korea
*Corresponding author E-mail address :


With growing income and assets, professional sports have become one of the world’ largest industries. Considering sports fans not only function as core elements of the sports industry, but also represent the industry’ invaluable assets, sports teams’need to build and maintain strong relationships with their fans remain vital. How do the various leagues and teams go about achieving this? To answer the question, the current research examined a total of 37 official Facebook fan pages of NFL and MLB teams. Unlike traditional media, Interactive new media such as websites and social networking sites (hereafter SNSs) can enhance the fan relationship by interactive communication such as sharing opinions and reactions.
By employing Stafford and Canary’ relationship maintenance strategies, the current study examined how professional sports leagues (NFL and MLB) used their SNSs for fan relationship. Based on Stafford and Canary’ strategies, a total of six strategies (positivity, openness, networking, shared tasks, team investment, and fan investment) were developed and used in the current research. A total of 37 official Facebook pages (20 NFL and 17 MLB) were selected and 50 posts from each of 37 teams that yield 1,850 posts were analyzed. Among the six relationship-maintenance strategies, positivity and openness are the most frequently used strategies. Also, when posts contained URLs and video links to official web pages, fans tend to give significantly fewer “ikes”and “omments,”but pictures generated more action. For an ever-changing media environment, the findings from the current research can provide managerial implications on how to encourage fan relationships via Facebook



  The growing popularity of social networking sites (hereafter SNSs) has interested marketers and advertisers in the values of SNSs. Unlike other mass media outlets, SNSs enable users to participate in interactive communications and to construct and maintain social connections with others (Ellison, Steinfiel, & Lampe, 2007). Therefore, the potential of SNSs to provide new directions and opportunities in relationship marketing has been emphasized (Haverstein, 2008). An increasing number of sports organizations have embedded SNSs into their marketing strategies to enhance relationships with their fans (Pronschinske, Groza, & Walker, 2012). Also, the use of SNSs by sports organizations, as a tool for communicating with fans, has dramatically increased (Pedersen & Thibault, 2010).

  The sports industry and the media have always maintained a symbiotic relationship (Wallace, Wilson, & Miloch, 2011). Traditionally, the media enlarge their own audiences by giving exposure to the teams or their major players. Unlike traditional mass media, internet-based media platforms such as SNSs enable sports teams to reach their fans directly via messages delivering the teams’identities (Wallace et al, 2011). Such straightforward communication by the team may help fans associate themselves with products or services the team provides in an interesting and interactive manner, and could aid in the construction of team identification (Pegoraro, 2010; Santomier, 2008). In addition, the functionalities embedded in SNSs such as sharing opinions and reactions can provide the team with a better under-standing of a fan’ needs, fostering long-term partnerships (Williams & Chinn, 2010).

  Despite the popularity and potential of SNSs as useful management venues for fan relationships, and as communication tools from a marketing perspective, academic research on this topic has been limited. Prior studies have focused primarily on the collegiate level of sports (e.g., Clavio, 2011) and examined how individual athletes used SNSs to communicate with their fans (e.g., Clavio & Kian, 2010). There have been limited attempts to investigate how professional sports teams use SNSs as a management tool for fan relationships. To fill this gap in the literature and understand how professional sports teams employ SNSs to build fan relationships, we designed the current study to (a) examine professional sports teams’Facebook fan pages, (b) analyze how the professional sports teams communicate with fans on Facebook by employing relationship-maintenance strategies (Stafford & Canary, 1991), and (c) explore how fans respond to the teams’Facebook activity. The findings of this research should provide both theoretical and managerial implications.



 Social Networking Sites (SNSs) in the Sports Industry

 SNSs such as Facebook and Twitter play an influential role in our society. SNSs enable people not only to expand and reinforce their relationships and interpersonal communication, but also to enhance their lives by facilitating a variety of connections around a shared interest (Boyd & Ellison, 2008). SNSs have attracted millions of users for these reasons. Today, 65% of adult Internet users employ SNSs in their daily lives (Madden & Zickuhr, 2011). Although the signup pace of new users is decreasing, it appears that users spend more time using SNSs than before. For example, during 2009, the average hours spent on SNSs per week nearly doubled from the previous year, from 3 hours to 5.5 hours (Nielsen, 2010). With its more than one billion active monthly users (Grandoni, 2012), Facebook in particular has become synonymous with SNSs.

  Social media is one of the most frequently used media services and marketing tools by major professional sports teams (Ioakimidis, 2010). Through the evolutionary elements of Web 2.0, such as multimedia and interactivity, both user interaction and user empowerment have increased. As a result, the use of SNSs has dramatically changed the way sports teams communicate and engage with their fans (Seo et al., 2007; Wallace et al., 2011). For instance, SNSs help fans connect to either the professional sports league or certain teams, and then foster interactions between them (Pegoraro, 2010). Through embedded applications such as posting video, commenting, and sharing ideas, SNSs enable parties to participate in the communication process in a dynamic way as well as interact with one another. Furthermore, by engaging with their favorite teams and players, fans may develop the perception that they are closer to the teams (Wallace et al., 2011). For instance, Facebook introduced the Page feature that enables organizations and brands to create their own Facebook pages and to communicate and engage with users online.

  Another aspect of SNSs from which sports teams can benefit is the role of SNSs in relationship marketing (Williams & Chinn, 2010). The primary purposes of relationship marketing are to create long-term stable relationships with the organization’s best consumers (Williams & Chinn, 2010). In the sports industry, enthusiastic sports fans are regarded as the best consumers. Sports fans function not only as core elements of the sports industry, but also represent invaluable assets to the industry (Mason, 1999; Taylor, 1992). Sports fans are often highly involved, tending to express their commitment to their favorite sports team through the repeat purchase of tickets, frequent attendance of sporting events and the consumption of sports-related products (Bee & Kahle, 2006). For this reason, many sports teams have employed various online marketing tools such as blogs and official websites in order to reinforce fan relationships and foster relational exchanges (Kim & Trail, 2011). The potential value of social media has especially increased in recent years. William and Chinn (2010) suggest that social media can play a significant role in achieving the fan relationship- marketing goals of sports organizations.

  Sports fans form and function as communities of shared interests (Branscombe & Wann, 1991; Segrave, 2001). The fans, as communities, become more open to the shared excitement of participation and brand experience. In effect, sports talk tactic is commonly used by sports marketers in order to enhance sports fan relationship (Kahle, Elton, & Kambara, 1997). The simple conversation over the topic of sports can bring satisfaction and establish shared value among the fans (Bee & Kahle, 2006). SNSs are especially appropriate media for this interaction. The minimal cost of SNSs as well as their convenient information distribution, and simple targeting fan group can highlight the value of SNSs in sports fan relationship. Interactions occurring in the communities can increase their feeling of belonging and this increased sense of belonging influences the relationships between fans and sports teams positively. According to Dalakas and Melancon (2012), similar to brand loyalty, fan identification has been frequently regarded as a powerful force for sports teams. By identifying with their team, fans consider themselves as part of the team. Scholars refer to this phenomenon as team identification, which is derived from the fans’involvement with their favorite teams (Dietz-Uhler & Lanter, 2008). A considerable number of studies on sports fans suggest that team identification likely induces positive affective and behavioral consequences (e.g., Dietz-Uhler, & Lanter, 2008; Jacobson, 2003; Murrell & Dietz, 1992; Sutton et al., 1997). Sports marketers suggest that highly-identified sports fans are important to keep the sports industry alive and thriving (King, 2002). For instance, fans who are highly identified with a team are more likely to be strongly attached to and supportive of their team; their consumption behavior is more likely to benefit the team through actions such as purchasing affiliated products and attending games (Dietz-Uhler & Lanter, 2008). Additionally, highly identified fans tend to show their loyalty for their favorite teams to other fans through SNSs (Pronschinsk et al., 2012).

  With this aspect, the relationship-oriented characteristics of SNSs become competitive advantages for sports teams, allowing teams to fulfill the needs of sports-fan relationships (Wallace et al., 2011). Offering fans the opportunity to involve themselves in activities with the sports team is one of the most effective ways to build and maintain fan relationships (Bühler & Nufer, 2010). Therefore, SNSs are the optimal venue for building fan relationships. Understanding how teams communicate with their fans on SNSs has become crucial for the sports industry. In addition, it has been suggested that brand activities on SNSs will increase the level of brand awareness, brand attitude, and even brand engagement (Williams & Chinn, 2010), which may also hold true for sports marketing. Fans are likely to become more engaged in their activities not only through on-site experiences but also through such online activities as creating relevant content or adding comments (e.g., Facebook’s “Comment” and “Like” features).


 Maintenance Strategy for Fan Relationships

 Marketers have long been focused on building and maintaining strong relationships with their customers. Prior marketing and consumer research suggests that a strong consumer-brand relationship encourages the durability and tolerance of that relationship even when the brand finds itself in a negative situation (Ahluwalia et al, 2000; Fournier, 1998). For instance, the literature on the effect of brand transgression (e.g., Aaker, Fournier, & Brasel, 2004), suggests that strong brand relationships can mitigate the negative effects of a transgression on consumers. Similarly, a number of sports organizations have adopted relationship-marketing approaches (Harris & Ogbonna, 2009; Lapio & Speter, 2000). Since highly identified fans tend to BIRG (bask in reflected glory) after their team wins and CORF (cut off reflected failure) after their team losses (Phua, 2010), it can be postulated that a strong relationship between fans and their teams increases the positive effect of a win and buffers the negative effects of a defeat. Considering the strong identification that sports fans have with their favorite teams, the importance of relationship management in the sports industry can be significant.

  In their long history of investigating relationship management and its effects, researchers have made use of various interpersonal theories. Such ideas are used to help conceptualize characteristics of strong and good relationships and to construct efficacious relationship-management strategies (Grunig & Huang, 2000; Heath, 2001; Hon & Grunig, 1999; Thomlison, 2000; Toth, 2000; Wood, 1995). Prior studies have identified various strategies for relationship establishment, including positivity, disclosure, assurances of legitimacy, intimacy, networking, visible leadership, responsiveness, educational communication, and respect (e.g., Grunig & Huang, 2000; Hung, 2006; Ki & Hon, 2006). Researchers have paid particular attention to relationship-maintenance strategies, which are concerned with stable, long-term, and satisfying associations between people (Canary & Stafford, 1994). Stafford and Canary (1991) developed this taxonomy of relational- maintenance strategies based on how romantic couples maintain their relationships. The five dimensions are referred to as Positivity (making the relationship enjoyable), Openness (disclosing and feelings), Assurances (stressing commitment and demonstrating faithfulness), Networking (making good relationships with friends and family), and Shared Tasks (taking joint responsibility).

  Rooted in interpersonal relationship literature, the strategies have been applied in corporate communications on blogs or websites (Cho & Huh, 2010; Ki & Hon, 2006). For example, Positivity is operationally defined as any trial to encourage ease of corporate website usage (Ki & Hon, 2006). A variety of approaches can be used in service of a Positivity strategy―hyperlinks within posts, calendars, and multimedia features such as podcasts and video (Cho & Huh, 2010). Openness is manifest not only in the company’ overview, news releases, and annual reports (Ki & Hon 2006), but also in interactive communication features such as comment and track-back functions in the two-way communication context of the Internet (Cho & Huh, 2010). Social networking is evidenced in contact with any specific activist public entity such as a union or community groups. Sharing tasks are represented by social responsibility initiatives concerned with community, education, and the environment (Ki & Hon, 2006). Researchers have suggested that the most frequently used strategies in an online context are Positivity and Openness (Ki & Hon, 2006; Wright, 2004). Based on previous studies (Cho & Huh, 2010; Ki & Hon, 2006; Stafford & Canary, 1991), relationship-maintenance strategies in the current research are modified in order to investigate professional sports teams’communication with fans via SNSs (i.e., Facebook). The following research questions are examined based on the modified relationship-maintenance strategies.


  RQ1. To what extent do NFL and NBA teams utilize Stafford and Canary’ relationship-maintenance strategies and what specific strategies are most commonly used on their official Facebook fan pages? Are there significant differences between the NFL and MLB?


 RQ2. To what extent do strategies for managing the relationships of NFL and MLB teams trigger fan responses (i.e., Comment and Like) and what specific strategies are more promising in bringing those responses to their official Facebook fan pages?



 The sports fan relationship management strategies revealed on Facebook fan pages should be a good reflection of what sports marketers think they can employ to target their current and future fans effectively. To answer the proposed research questions, a content analysis was employed in the present study. Therefore, marketers’current practice on relationship management in Facebook fan pages should be subjected to content analysis.



 Samples of the current study were selected from NFL and MLB teams. Since the NFL and MLB comprise over 80% of the overall income for the entire professional sports market (Plunkett, 2012), these two leagues can be used to represent the sports industry. First, the main homepages of all sports teams containing links to their official Facebook pages were examined and 37 Facebook pages (from a total of 62 teams: 32 NFL and 30 MLB) were identified for consideration. Second, Facebook pages that had more than 100 posts during the one-month period from September 1 to September 30, 2011 were singled out. September is the only time the regular seasons overlap for the two sports of football and baseball. The NFL begins its season in September, while postseason for MLB begins in October. For this reason, the data-collection period was limited to September so as to obtain Facebook posts from teams to fans during the regular season. This method yielded 37 Facebook fan pages (20 NFL teams and 17 MLB teams). Finally, a systematic random sampling was conducted and 50 posts from each of the 37 identified pages that yielded 1,850 unique Facebook posts were selected.

 Coding Scheme

 The four strategies of Stafford and Canary’ (1991) relationship-maintenance strategies (Positivity, Openness, Networking, and Shared Tasks) were used for the current research. Positivity was operationally defined as any attempt to enable ease of using Facebook and to make users satisfied and enjoyable. Indicators include URLS, multi-media features and events such as contests and festivals. The following items on Facebook were regarded as indicators of Openness: game information, team information and a link to the official Web page. Networking was indicated by any effort of the teams to build networks with sponsors, affiliation, and media. Social responsibility initiatives containing the legal, ethical, community, and environment were considered as indicators of Shared Tasks. Originally, Assurance refers to showing an individual’ commitment to his or her partners and in PR, Assurance is defined as “ttempt by the parties in the relationship to demonstrate they are committed to maintaining the relationship”(Hon & Grunig, 1999, p.15). Since a measurement of how a sports team’ application of this strategy requires a qualitative analysis of the messages posted by the sport team, which is not appropriate in content analysis study, this strategy was excluded from the current study. Instead, considering that sports fan are highly associated with consuming the sports-related products and services, we added two relationship strategies-Team Investment and Fan Investment-for a better understanding of the teams’relationship- management strategies. According to Bee and Kahle (2006) sports consumers’ commitment to their favorite teams is often demonstrated through the repeat purchase of game tickets and team affiliated products. Given that the concept of investment is associated with more active behaviors-offering ticket discounts, purchasing tickets, and watching games-from both sides of the relationship, we divided this concept in two: a team’ investment in its fans and a fan’ investment in the team. Professional teams can not only provide services and promotional events to their fans, but also invite their fans to attend or watch their games. Therefore, through this strategy, we can investigate the influence of active behaviors on relationship maintenance.

 Coding items for each variable were derived from prior literature (e.g.,Cho & Huh, 2010; Ki & Hon, 2006; Stafford & Canary, 1991). In addition,to generate potential items for the coding variables, a preliminary analysis was conducted by examining Facebook messages that were not included in the main study. After identifying a list of potential items, three pilot studies were carried out to ensure they fit the scope of the current study. Consequently, positivity resulted in six categories for the main study: URLs, videos, pictures, direct adjective meaning positivity (e.g., cheerful, enjoyable), contests/ sweepstakes, and events/parties. Openness included three categories: links to the official webpage, game information, and team-member information. Networking consisted of four categories: sponsorships, social groups, affiliations, and media relations. Sharing tasks yielded five categories: economic, legal, ethical, environmental, and social issues/philanthropic. Team investment included special offers, service improvements, and winner announcements. Fan investment resulted in four categories (i.e., join events and games, check out URL, support team on/offline, and feedback/comments).


 Coding Procedure and Intercoder Reliability

 Three coders analyzed each set of Facebook messages. They first re-viewed coding categories, previewed samples of Facebook messages, and practiced using the coding scheme. Unclear and disputed items were clarified. The coders then conducted a pilot test on 100 messages of one football team and another baseball team for reliability. Intercoder reliability, computed as the percentage of agreement, reached 93.74% on average overall, ranging from 77.10% to 100%. Team-member information had the low-est reliability with 77.10%, ranging from 75% to 80%. Game information followed (79.80%), along with a link to the official webpage (82.49%). The coding process was resumed following the reliability test. Two coders reviewed 600 Facebook posts each and the third coder reviewed 650 posts.



 Sample Characteristics

 Of the 37 sports teams, 20 were from the NFL and 17 from MLB. Table 1 lists all the sports teams analyzed, with an average of 1,176,392 fans. The New York Yankees were the top team with 4,879,102 fans, followed by the Dallas Cowboys (4,131,878), Pittsburgh Steelers (3,752,132), and Boston Red Sox (3,201,780). Regarding the total number of messages, we found an average of 165 messages per team, with a maximum of 292 (Carolina Panthers) and a minimum of 100 (Seattle Seahawks). The Carolina Panthers also had the top Facebook fan page in terms of actively distributing messages during the sampling period, with 292 posts, followed by the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills with 262 and 223 posts, respectively. We also counted the number of Likes, Comments, and Shares on fan reactions to messages they received. The average numbers were: 961 Likes, 191 Comments, and 35 Shares.


Table 1. Relationship Management Strategies between NFL and MLB Teams

Note: *Categories are not mutually exclusive. Thus, totals are greater than the number of articles with replication studies.


Table 2. t-test Results f or RMS on Likes, Comments, and Shares


 Relationship-Maintenance Strategy

 Of the 1,850 posts, 87% (1,609) were posts that sports teams posted on Facebook, whereas 12.3% (228) were activity summaries (i.e., messages announcing a new activity such as pictures uploaded and links shared) while polls accounted for .7% (13). Approximately 87.6% (1,620) of the Facebook posts contained Positivity: 86.9% used URLs (1,407), followed by pictures (48.8%; 790), videos (14.6%; 237), and contest/sweepstakes (6.5%; 106). Openness accounted for 78.3% (1,448) of the total posts. Among them, 56.4% provided team-member information (816), 48.8% game information (706), and 26% links to the official webpage (377). Posts containing Networking made up 9.4% (174) of the total posts: 70.1% media relations (122), followed by sponsorship (43.1%; 75), social group (12.1%; 21), and affiliation (6.3%; 11). Sharing Tasks accounted for only 2.1% of the total posts (39), while social issues and philanthropic activities made up 97% (38), followed by economic issues (.1%; 1). Of Investment, Team Investment constituted 11.5% of the total posts (212): special offers (87.7%; 186), service improvement (8%; 17), and winner announcements (7.5%; 16). On the other hand, 28.5% of the posts (527) contained at least one type of Fan Investment. Among them, messages requesting a visit to URLs accounted for 44.4% (234), followed by messages asking to join events/ games (39%; 206), to support the team (27.3%; 144), and to provide feedback (14%; 74).

 The use of relationship-maintenance strategies varied by sports type, and seemed more prevalent in baseball. Positivity appeared most often, in 92.6% of baseball messages (787) and 83.3% of football messages (833), (χ2 = 36.41, p < .01). Openness was identified in 86.2% of baseball messages (733), and 71.5% of football (715) (χ2 = 58.66, p < .01). No significant difference emerged for the use of Networking (χ2 = .11, p = .74), Shared Tasks (χ2 = .90, p = .42), Team Investment (χ2 = .25, p = .62), or Fan Investment (χ2 = 2.69, p = .10) across sports types. See Table 1 for cross-tab analysis of the NFL versus MLB.


 Fan Reactions Toward Facebook Posts (Likes, Comments, and Shares)

 In order to examine how those strategies differed in terms of the number of Likes and Comments, the top three most frequently used strategies (Positivity, Openness, and Fan Investment) were selected. Through a t-test, mean differences between posts with those strategies and without them were compared. Results indicated that no significant difference separated the number of Likes (t = -.95, p = .34). Significant differences were found, however, between the number of Comments on those posts using the Positivity strategy (M = 178.17, SD = 580.90) and those without a Positivity strategy (M = 284.35, SD = 455.63), t = 3.18, p < .01. More specifically, the means for the number of Likes and Comments for posts with URLs were significantly lower than the means for those without URLs (Likes: t = -5.60, p < .01; Comments: t = -4.54, p < .01). As for posts with video clips, no significant differences existed in the number of Likes (t =.24, p = .81), but the number of Comments (M = 107.80, SD = 162.83) was significantly lower on those without videos (M = 203.63, SD = 603.94), t = -5.21, p < .01. However, the number of Likes and Comments for posts with pictures was significantly higher than for posts without pictures (Likes: t= 7.03, p < .01, Comments: t = 3.24, p < .01).

  Second, the number of Likes and Comments for posts with Openness was significantly lower than for posts without Openness (Likes: t = -3.03, p < .01; Comments: t = -2.19, p < .05). Two subcategories, links to an official webpage and team member information, also exhibited similar patterns. The number of Likes and Comments on posts with links to an official webpage was significantly lower than on posts without links (Likes: t = -6.81, p < .01; Comments: t = -5.80, p < .01). Posts with team member information had fewer Likes and Comments (Likes: t = -4.61, p < .01; Comments: t = -3.23, p < .01) compared to messages without information. However, when posts carried game information, the number of Comments (M = 237.38, SD = 820.98) was significantly higher than for posts without game information (M = 162.95, SD = 322.03), t = 2.30, p < .05, but there were no significant differences in the number of Likes (t = 1.67, p = .10).

 Finally, posts asking fans to perform certain actions (i.e., Fan Investment) tended to receive fewer Likes (t = -3.71, p < .01), but no significant differences were found in the number of Comments (t = -1.47, p = .14). A closer examination of subcategories revealed more significant results. Means for the number of Likes on posts asking fans to support a team were significantly lower than on posts not asking them to do so (t = -3.75, p < .01), but there were no significant mean differences for Comments (t = -1.69, p = .09). Posts asking fans to join events or games also had significantly fewer numbers of Likes and Comments than did posts without such invitations (Likes: t = -7.65, p < .01; Comments: t = -5.17, p < .01).



  The purpose of the current study is to increase the understanding of how professional sports teams manage their fan relationships by analyzing the content of official Facebook pages produced by NFL and MLB teams (37 teams among a total of 62 teams). Overall, the findings show that among the six relationship-maintenance strategies (RMSs)-Positivity, Openness, Networking, Sharing Tasks, Team Investment, and Fan Investment-Positivity and Openness are the most frequently used strategies, and MLB exhibits a higher level of using RMSs on Facebook than the NFL.

  Given that fans play an important role in the sports industry (Mason, 1999; Taylor, 1992), increasing their belongingness can be a major factor in strengthening the relationship between fans and sports teams. such relationship can be influenced by the amount of knowledge about and psychological attachment to the teams (Gwinner & Swanson, 2003). Hence, providing a variety of team information and making fans’ experiences enjoyable are critical steps in building a strong relationship. This understanding may influence our interpretation of the frequent use of Positivity and Openness strategies used by professional teams in Facebook messages. In other words,through user-friendly interactive tools such as URLs, pictures, and videos (Positivity strategy), the majority of professional sports teams assist fans in easily navigating their sites, which may enhance the fans’ experience. Also, information related to games and members of the teams may satisfy fans’ needs to attain adequate knowledge about their favorite teams. This approach could be closely related to an Openness strategy.

  The effectiveness of those two strategies is also supported by prior computermediated communication (CMC) research that investigated RMSs in corporate blogs and company websites (e.g., Cho & Huh, 2010; Ki & Hon, 2006). In addition, the third most frequently used strategy is Fan Investment. Considering the competitive advantage of SNSs, which is direct two-way communication (Pegoraro, 2010), Facebook can become an opportunity for professional sports teams from a marketing perspective. Especially since sports fans tend to have a high level of emotional attachment to their teams, it could be effective to induce fans to react to marketing messages, such as joining promotions and purchasing products, via direct two-way communication on Facebook. Frequent use of a Fan Investment strategy, as revealed through this study, supports the value of Facebook as a marketing tool.

  This research shows that applying relationship-maintenance strategies to the Facebook pages of professional sports teams differs significantly between the NFL and MLB in Positivity and Openness. Since these two are the most frequently used of the six strategies, it can be postulated that the difference represents distinctive communication patterns between the two professional sports leagues-the NFL and MLB. According to our analysis,MLB has a tendency to use Positivity and Openness strategies more frequently than the NFL. Specifically in employing a Positivity strategy, MLB more frequently uses URLs, videos, and pictures. In contrast, the NFL uses contests and events more frequently. From the perspective of Openness strategy, game information is provided more frequently by MLB than the NFL. These usage patterns can be interpreted as messages on the official MLB Facebook page being more strongly associated with the sport (baseball) itself than are those on the NFL Facebook page. A higher percentage of game information in MLB Facebook messages directly supports the patterns. The fact that URLs, videos, and pictures tend to be related to games or player information supports the patterns indirectly. Contest and event content not directly related to the game are frequently used by the NFL.

  Sports fans’ reactions to messages are also analyzed through fans’ posted Comments, Likes, and Shares. Despite limitations in the posting of Comments, Likes, and Shares to explain a small part of user reactions to the posts, the analysis can help us understand which post type and content the fans are interested in and attracted to. This research indicates posts that include URLs, links to official webpages, and opportunities to participate in events have significantly fewer Likes and Comments than do those without them. Users may move toward the designated web pages because of the attribute of URLs and joining an event. In other words, instead of posting Comments and Likes, fans may tend to just click on the URL or move on toward the event web pages. In contrast, results of the t-test show that posts containing pictures have significantly more Comments and Likes ver-sus posts without pictures. Therefore, it can be postulated that the interactivity function of URLs and joining events have an influence on fans’ posting Comments and Likes. In addition, fans post more Comments and Likes related to game information.

  From a managerial perspective, the current research can provide important implications for sports marketers. Given that the interactive and dynamic online environment has transformed consumers from passive recipients to active participants (Chan-Olmsted, 2011), sports teams need to design and distribute SNS messages that get their fans interested and induce voluntary participation. In this regard, findings from this research can provide an opportunity. Based on the results from this analysis of Facebook fan pages for professional sports teams, one could suggest basic SNS communication guidelines for maintaining strong fan relationships. For example, interactivity functions such as URLs may lead users from the SNSs to designated web pages. If sports marketers want to make their fans linger on the SNS, they might exclude the interactivity function.

  As with all research studies, this one has several shortcomings that need to be mentioned. First, even if the content analysis method used in the current research can provide abundant descriptive data about SNS communication, this study cannot offer empirically tested strategic recommendations for more effective SNS usage. Further research to examine the efficacy of relationship-maintenance strategies on SNSs should adopt methodologies that can investigate the relationship between fans and the messages provided, such as surveys and in-depth interviews. Second, since the current research is the first attempt to apply relationship-maintenance strategies in an SNS context, operationalization of the relationship-maintenance dimension is exploratory and the validity of measurement needs to be tested to a greater extent. Third, of the four major professional sports categories (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL), we investigated only two (NFL and MLB). To demonstrate the marketing value of the current research, the other two sports categories also need to be examined.




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