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Fanalytics U Class 3: The Nature of Fandom

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

Consumer behavior is the academic field that focuses on why people make choices and engage in consumption of various products and services. In Class 3 we discuss the key elements of consumer behavior in sports. 

In brief, my theory of fandom is that sport creates “stories” that are the unifying factor for “communities” of fans and that individuals gain utility by “identifying” as members of these fan communities.

The Core

Stories and Narratives

Stories are an incredibly powerful form of communication. Stories are powerful because information is packaged in a form that provides rich descriptions of events. Think about listening to a favorite story or even casual story about a friend or family member. Most likely every element of the story triggers multiple thoughts that connect the story to your life and experiences. Stories are also ideal vehicles for communicating emotions. Tell someone a story about an epic comeback by your favorite team or a great movie that you recently watched. It is difficult to keep emotion out of the story. 


Fan communities are best understood as subcultures social networks of people with a shared interest in some team or other entity. Community is at the heart of sports fandom. True fans have knowledge about the history, current status and sometimes prospects of their favorite teams. Every Bulls fan knows about Michael Jordan’s 6 championships. Every fanbase has their shared legends and lore. 


The “self-concept” is a core concept in fields ranging from psychology to philosophy. In short, the self-concept is that collection of thoughts, ideas and beliefs that determine how we think about ourselves. Social Identities play a key role in the self-concept. Social identities are categories to which individuals may belong. For example, I might describe myself as a father or a professor or an Illini fan. As a thought experiment consider how often you describe yourself or a friend in terms of sports fandom.


In the final segment of the class, we tie everything together using Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The recent (Spring 2020) “Last Dance” documentary is perfect source material for a discussion of consumer behavior in sports. 

We wrap up the class by highlighting several important aspects of the documentary. For instance, from a story telling point of view there are numerous occasions where the hero (Jordan) must overcome an adversary (Pistons, Kraus, etc.). The Bull’s success lead to a massive and worldwide fanbase that wanted to “be like Mike.” 

As a final part of the discussion, we discuss how Jerry Kraus’ drove much of the story. This is a critical point because it establishes the link between effective (or ineffective) managerial decision making and the development of a fanbase. This is our connection to our next couple of classes. In Class 4 we will discuss the creation of sports statistics and Class 5 will focus on in-game decision making.

Next Class and Homework

Our next topic is Sports Statistics. This class will discuss approaches for creating advance analytics for guiding roster and player decision making. As preparation for this class, I’d like everyone to review the formula use to compute the NFL’s Passer Rating (aka the QB Rating) statistic.

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