Rooting for laundry: An examination of the creation and maintenance of a sport fan identity

Date of Completion

January 2003


Sociology, General




A gap exists in the current literature on identity formation with regard to sports. The current sociology of sport literature does not adequately address the creation of fan identity. Social science research on sport fans focuses largely on the effects of fandom, for example, the violence and aggression, which may result from being a fan. Little is known, however, about the process of becoming a fan. This therefore raises a compelling question, which will be the central problem addressed by this dissertation: How do individuals form sport fan identities? More specifically, this research will focus on how individuals develop and maintain identities as fans of a specific football team. An examination of identity formation among sport fans is beneficial in that it unites two previously unrelated literature bases, namely identity formation and sport sociology. ^ In this dissertation, I argue that fandom is created and maintained along a three-tier model. The first tier is the socialization stage. I suggest that it is traditional for individuals to become fans primarily through socialization. However, this process does not account for all fans. Individuals who are not socialized into fandom might become a fan in the second tier—the socio-cultural tier. These individuals may become fans because of influences such as the media, mass merchandising, or marketing. However, yet again, this cannot account for all fans. I suggest that individuals who are not socialized into fandom, or who do not become a fan through socio-cultural means, may become a fan in the third tier, the symbolic tier. Here, individuals may become fans because of factors specific to the team, such as the team colors, logo, name, or personnel. It is important to understand that these tiers, or levels, are not independent of each other; however, neither are they necessarily progressive in nature. Rather, these tiers follow a circular nature. Individuals who create a fan identity will begin in one tier, and use the remaining two to enhance and maintain their fandom. ^