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Is there room for being both a sports fan and an employee? New research reveals impact of fandom on those who work in sport

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Being a fan of a sports team can boost the commitment of employees working in the professional sport industry, and significantly influence their attitude at work, new research from Loughborough University London reveals.

Steve Swanson, Programme Director for Sport Leadership in the Institute for Sport Business at Loughborough University London, led a study which surveyed more than 1,000 employees, working in more than 100 organisations in the top professional sports leagues in North America. These organisations were members of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), Major League Basketball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Soccer (MLS) – and their employees worked in departments such as accounting, marketing, sales, human resources, public relations, and information technology.

The findings showed that being a fan of a sports team has a positive effect on the mindset of the employee, leading to increased levels of commitment, satisfaction, motivation, and teamwork. The study represented the first research project measuring employee fandom levels and the relative effect this has on the organisation. The results also add to the field of sport management by introducing the concept of a sports team as an additional target of identification in the workplace.

Dr Swanson, an experienced manager in a variety of international sport settings, said the study supports the notion that identifying with a sports team leads to more positive workplace attitudes.

“Our research reveals, for the first time, evidence in relation to the appropriateness of being a fan in the workplace,” he said.

“With previous conflicting views by top sports executives on whether employee fandom is indeed a benefit in this setting, the results of this study indicate that being a fan of the team does generally have a positive impact on highly sought after workplace attitudes.

“Just as individuals want their teams to be successful, this fundamental aspect of fandom allows employees to consider themselves as more ‘instrumental’ in contributing to their job and the organisations’ overall success. Ultimately, the more highly identified the employee is with the team, the more likely they will desire outcomes which are relevant to the core objective of the organisation.”

Fandom in the Workplace: Multi-Target Identification in Professional Team Sports has been published in the Journal of Sport Management.

Loughborough University London opens this year in London’s new innovation quarter. Based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the campus will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.