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Online Communities Among International Masters Gymnastics Participants: A Uses and Gratifications Analysis

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Masters sport participation is continually increasing, and although much research has uncovered masters participation motives, it has been noted that an understanding of community among masters athletes was also necessary. Online communities of sport participants have been examined only minimally, with research uncovering correlations between new-media use and sport-participation frequency. Using uses and gratifications theory, this study sought to examine masters gymnastics participants to develop a better understanding of athletes' use of online communities in relation to their sport participation and examine differences in online community use based on demographics. Online survey results from 164 international participants revealed they used new media primarily for fanship, information, and technical knowledge, and online masters gymnastics communities were most often extensions of in-person training groups and communities. These findings and their implications are discussed in the article.
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313
Original research
International Journal of Sport Communication, 2015, 8, 313 -329
http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/IJSC.2015-0045
© 2015 Human Kinetics, Inc.
The author is with the Dept. of Tourism, Sport, and Hotel Management, Grifth University, Brisbane,
QLD, Australia. Address author correspondence to a.eagleman@grifth.edu.au
Online Communities Among International
Masters Gymnastics Participants:
A Uses and Gratifications Analysis
Andrea N. Geurin-Eagleman
Griffith University, Australia
Masters sport participation is continually increasing, and although much research
has uncovered masters participation motives, it has been noted that an understand-
ing of community among masters athletes was also necessary. Online communities
of sport participants have been examined only minimally, with research uncover-
ing correlations between new-media use and sport-participation frequency. Using
uses and gratications theory, this study sought to examine masters gymnastics
participants to develop a better understanding of athletes’ use of online communi-
ties in relation to their sport participation and examine differences in online com-
munity use based on demographics. Online survey results from 164 international
participants revealed they used new media primarily for fanship, information, and
technical knowledge, and online masters gymnastics communities were most often
extensions of in-person training groups and communities. These ndings and their
implications are discussed in the article.
Keywords: new media, masters sport, sport participants
Masters sport involves adults competing against or participating with others in
a similar age range (Dionigi, Baker, & Horton, 2011). While no universal age range
denes the term masters sport, Weir, Baker, and Horton (2010) report that masters
athletes typically range from 30 to 90 years of age, although these numbers vary
based on the individual sport and/or event. The number of athletes participating in
masters sport is continually increasing. For example, the World Masters Games,
an Olympic-style international masters competition that takes place every 4 years,
grew from 8,305 participants from 61 different countries in its rst installment
in 1985 to 28,676 athletes from 95 countries in 2009 (“Host City Reports,” n.d.).
A plethora of research has uncovered masters athletes’ participation motives
(e.g., De Pero et al., 2009; Gillett & Kelly, 2006; Hodge, Allen, & Smellie, 2008;
Ogles & Masters, 2000; Ruiz-Juan & Sancho, 2012; Ryan & Lockyer, 2002). Lyons
and Dionigi (2007) noted that in addition to motivational research, an understanding
of community among masters athletes was necessary. They found that the themes
314 Geurin-Eagleman
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
of shared sporting interest, comrades in continual activity, relevant life purpose,
and “giving back” represented masters athletes’ denitions of their communities.
While their research focused on face-to-face or in-person communities, online
communities for sport participants have been examined only minimally to date.
Of the researchers who have begun to analyze these types of communities, Eagle-
man and Hack (2011) found positive correlations between distance runners’ use of
running-related social-media sites and their participation frequency. Mahan, Seo,
Jordan, and Funk (2015) examined runners’ use of social-networking sites and
concluded that such use can “augment the inuence of involvement on the physical
and mental benets of participation in running” (p. 1).
While overall masters sport participation is on the rise worldwide, one spe-
cic sport that has experienced an increase in masters participation in recent years
is gymnastics. Long viewed as a sport suitable only for children and teenagers
(Meyers, 2012), the 2012 Olympic Games displayed a marked departure from this
stereotype, as 68% of competitors in the women’s artistic gymnastics category and
89% of the men’s artistic competitors were over the age of 20 (Kim, 2012). After
these games, several American media outlets such as the The New York Times, the
Boston Globe, and the Atlantic covered the growing trend of adults participating
in the sport of gymnastics at several different levels such as an elite competitive
level (e.g., Olympic Games), a novice competitive level (e.g., masters games
competitions), and a recreational level (e.g., participating in instructional classes),
with the majority of participants tting into the latter category. Simultaneously,
a growing number of new-media outlets have emerged specically for masters
gymnasts, who are dened as those over the age of 20 (Australian Masters Games,
2015; New Zealand Masters Games, 2015). Such outlets offer online communities
where masters gymnasts can obtain information about the sport and engage with
other masters gymnasts. For example, a Web site dedicated to the sport of masters
gymnastics, www.masters-gymnastics.com, lists over 230 gymnastics clubs in the
United States and hundreds of others around the world that currently offer adult
gymnastics classes. Another site, gymnastike.org, has an adult gymnastics section
that features photo and video uploads of masters gymnasts, a listing of masters
classes around the world, masters competition results, and links to masters-related
blog posts. These sites and others also maintain social-media accounts where mas-
ters gymnasts can communicate with each other.
Gymnastics differs from other popular adult or masters sports such as softball,
volleyball, soccer, or basketball because it is an individual sport in which teams or
formalized groups are not often present. A second difference between gymnastics
and several other sports lies in society’s perceptions of the sport. Gymnastics is
rarely viewed as a sport for adults, evidenced by Grossfeld’s (2010) assertion that
gymnasts, at least females, are usually under the age of 18. Because of these unique
aspects of adult gymnastics, it seems that online communities would be a vital way
for masters gymnasts to further engage with the sport, whether it be connecting with
others on social media or using online resources to learn new skills and techniques.
To further the limited research on masters sport participants’ use of online
communities relating to their sport participation, the purpose of this study was to
examine masters gymnastics participants’ use of gymnastics-related new media to
develop a better understanding of the ways in which they use online communities
in relation to their sport participation and examine differences in online-community
Online Communities 315
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
use based on participant demographics (e.g., age, gender, income, education). This
study employed an online survey consisting of both quantitative and qualitative
measures. Uses and gratications (U&G) theory, which posits that people use
specic media to satisfy specic needs (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974), was
used as the theoretical framework.
This research will help sport management and communication academics
develop a better understanding of the ways in which athletes use online com-
munities in relation to their sport participation and will also offer new insights
from a qualitative perspective, as the majority of previous research in this area
has taken a solely quantitative approach. The inclusion of qualitative data helps
inform the quantitative data (Creswell, 2003), thus providing richer descriptions
in the participants’ own words of the ways in which they use online communities.
In addition to providing new insights for academics, the results will help sport-
industry practitioners such as international and national governing bodies of sport,
gymnastics clubs, and other tness clubs or facilities. As masters participation
is an emerging phenomenon in the sport of gymnastics, there are still thousands
of gymnastics clubs throughout the world that do not offer adult programs. For
facilities that might consider expanding their clientele by offering masters gym-
nastics classes, the ndings of this study will help them understand their target
market (masters gymnasts) via the information gleaned about these participants
from their online communities. This information can be used to develop new
programs and to effectively communicate with potential participants. In addition,
the ndings will assist clubs with existing masters gymnastics programs to better
use new media for engaging current and potential masters gymnastics customers/
participants. While this study could be replicated to understand online-community
use of athletes from other sports in the future, it should be noted that the results
are unique to masters gymnastics participants and therefore are not generalizable
to masters athletes from other sports.
Literature Review
U&G Theory
This study was based on U&G theory, which posits that people use specic media
to satisfy their specic needs (Katz et al., 1974). According to Katz et al., research
using this theory is audience-oriented, focusing on inquiry of media users in terms
of the media they use, as well as the reasons they use it. Sport communication
scholars have used this theory to explain media audiences’ motives for watch-
ing specic televised sports (e.g., Cheever, 2009; Gantz, 1981; Gantz & Wenner,
1995), motives for sport video-game consumption (e.g., Kim & Ross, 2006; Lucas
& Sherry, 2004), and most recently to understand sport consumers’ new-media
choices (e.g., Clavio, 2008; Clavio & Kian, 2010).
In terms of new media, Ruggiero (2000) stated that new telecommunications
technologies such as platforms that combine mass media with digital technology
have presented media consumers with greater choices, and thus “motivation and
satisfaction become even more crucial components of audience analysis” (p. 14).
In addition, Ruggiero encouraged researchers to use U&G theory for qualitative
research and mixed-method approaches, as it was typically only used in quantitative
316 Geurin-Eagleman
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
studies. According to Ruggiero, attributes unique to new media, such as multiple
content types (e.g., text, audio, photos, videos), interactivity among consumers, and
asynchronous information retrieval and exchange, could all be examined under the
lens of U&G theory. In recent years, several scholars, both sport-focused and non-
sport-focused, have used U&G theory to better understand new-media consumers.
Clavio (2008) used U&G theory to examine the demographics of sport message-
board users to better understand this group of media consumers. This research
highlighted the challenge for sport communication researchers to effectively analyze
new-media consumers and argued that U&G theory was highly appropriate due to
the participation and interaction between users. In a later study, Clavio and Kian
(2010) used the theory to examine a retired female athlete’s Twitter followers. That
study uncovered the Twitter users’ goals for following the athlete, which overwhelm-
ingly related to fan-based motivations rather than business-related or interactive
needs. They encouraged future researchers to continue focusing on demographic
information of new-media consumers and to develop a stronger understanding of
the aspects of new-media messages that have the greatest appeal to sport consumers.
Other scholars have similarly used U&G theory to examine consumers of
various new-media platforms such as Myspace (Raacke & Bonds-Raacke, 2008),
blogs (Leung, 2013), Facebook (Leung, 2013; Raacke & Bonds-Raacke, 2008), and
social media in general (Whiting & Williams, 2013). Raacke and Bonds-Raacke
examined users of the social-networking sites Myspace and Facebook, nding that
the most popular reasons for using these sites were keeping in touch with friends
(both old and current), meeting new friends, and posting and looking at photos.
Similarly, Leung examined users of multiple platforms and concluded that two
primary motivators existed among social-media users: the need to belong, and
the “socio-psychological need for self-presentation management and relationship
construction” (p. 1005). Leung also encouraged future U&G research on social
media to include greater generational diversity of participants. Whiting and Wil-
liams successfully included a wider generational sample than previous studies by
conducting in-depth interviews with social-media users age 18–56 to determine
the U&G of social media for these individuals. Their results revealed 10 themes
relating to social-media use, and the most prevalent of these were social interaction,
information seeking, pass time, and entertainment.
While the U&G research presented in this section has begun to develop a more
holistic understanding of why people use social media, and the sport research to
date has begun to uncover why sport consumers (fans) use social media, little is
known about sport participants and their use of new media for sport-related pur-
poses. This study seeks to begin lling the gaps in the U&G literature that relate
to specic sport-related new-media use. The following sections provide a deeper
understanding of the research that has been conducted to date on sport-participant
communities and online communities in general.
Sport-Participant Communities
Researchers have established that leisure settings such as sport clubs and teams
have the ability to create ongoing relationships among participants, which can
lead to social bonding (Kelly & Godbey, 1992), enhanced quality of life (Kraus,
1990), and stronger communities in general (Glover & Stewart, 2006). Lyons and
Dionigi (2007) studied communities of masters athletes who competed in the 2001
Online Communities 317
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
Australian Masters Games and discovered four themes relating to the participants’
sense of community with their peers: shared sporting interest, comrades in con-
tinued activity, relevant life purpose, and giving back. Regarding shared sporting
interest, the researchers noted the uniqueness of their nding that participants
“felt a close connection to other active older adults despite temporal and spatial
distances” (p. 385), as prior research had indicated that shared interest was not
enough to develop a sense of community (e.g., Maffessoli, 1996). In addition, the
participants in Lyons and Dionigi’s study perceived themselves and their masters
games peers as being unique in their status as active adults as opposed to leading
sedentary lifestyles, which corresponded to the theme of comrades in continued
activity. Similar to Leung’s (2013) assertion that more U&G research be conducted
on different generations of adults, Lyons and Dionigi also called for future sport-
participant-community research to examine a wider generational sample.
Few known studies to date have focused on online or new-media communi-
ties of sport participants. Of the research that currently exists, much has focused
on runners. Eagleman and Hack (2011) surveyed distance runners in a 31-event
road-race series and found a positive correlation between the amount of time spent
on running-related social media and participation frequency in races. Furthermore,
the race series had its own social-media presence on a Web site called Ning.com
that brought together participants in an exclusive online space. Strong positive
correlations existed between the number of races run per year and the frequency
of visiting the series’ Ning.com page. Regarding age or generational differences,
younger participants were found to be much more active on social media than
older participants.
Mahan et al.’s (2015) research supported the ndings of Eagleman and Hack
(2011), as they found runners’ use of running-related social media resulted in an
increase in the number of miles run per week, indicating a correlation between
running-social-media use and participation frequency. In addition to this nding,
Mahan et al. found that increased use of running-related social media also resulted
in enhanced perceptions of life satisfaction. The authors noted that while new-media
platforms have changed the way people network, these online networks must also
provide the social support needed by participants to serve as a meaningful contribu-
tor to life satisfaction.
Online Communities
Along with the limited literature that exists on sport participants’ online communi-
ties, research in other elds has also begun to explore these communities and the
associated benets and challenges they pose for group members. Wang, Chung,
Park, McLaughlin, and Fulk (2012) attempted to understand general participants of
online communities using the technology-acceptance model. In their examination
of 537 U.S.-based online community participants, they discovered three factors that
inuenced online-community participation. These included Internet self-efcacy,
perceived community environment, and intrinsic motivation. Findings indicated
that the greater a user’s Internet self-efcacy, the greater his or her perceived ease
of use of online communities. Both the perceived quality of online-community
environment and the user’s intrinsic motivation for using online communities
positively predicted the user’s perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness of
online communities.
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IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
Hede and Kellett (2012) examined online brand communities in the tourism
sector and concluded that brands wishing to use online communities among their
consumers should also focus on traditional live events/communities, as the two
are synergistic and cannot be viewed as separate from each other. Furthermore,
they stressed the importance of new-media content producers’ carefully consider-
ing “what information is important, which platform is most appropriate and when
information dissemination is most appropriate for each platform” (p. 248) to best
encourage ongoing dialogue between consumers using these new-media platforms.
Some researchers have begun examining users of specic new-media platforms.
Waldron (2011) studied the role of YouTube among online music communities.
This study pointed out that for new-media consumers who regularly interact with
online groups, being a member of the online community can be just as meaningful
as membership in an off-line community. In addition, Waldron presented evidence
that YouTube, as a specic new-media platform, was an effective tool allowing
members of online music communities to learn, discuss, and add knowledge.
Other researchers have also examined specic new-media outlets and reported on
their uses by online-community members. For example, Joinson (2008) analyzed
U&G of Facebook members and concluded that for this specic platform the
most prevalent U&G included social connection, shared identities, content, social
investigation, social-network surng, and status updates. Furthermore, the quest
for social connection led to increased frequency of use on the site, while content
gratication led to a greater amount of time spent on Facebook.
These research ndings provide a base from which to conduct further research
on online-community members’ U&G of new media. The following sections pres-
ent the research questions used to guide the current study, as well as the method
employed.
Research Questions
Based on U&G theory, previous sport-participant and online-communities research,
and the study’s purpose of examining masters gymnasts’ use of gymnastics-related
new media in relation to their sport participation, the following three research ques-
tions and one subquestion were formed:
RQ1: How do masters gymnasts use new media in relation to their sport
participation?
RQ2: What motivates masters gymnasts to participate in online communities?
RQ2A: Do motivational differences exist based on demographic variables?
RQ3: What impact do masters gymnasts believe new-media use has on their
participation in the sport?
Method
To answer the study’s research questions, an online survey was employed in late
2013. Because there is no set age to dene a masters gymnast, I consulted the poli-
cies of countries in which established national masters gymnastics competitions
exist and determined that participants age 20 years or over (Australian Masters
Online Communities 319
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
Games, 2015; New Zealand Masters Games, 2015) were deemed eligible to take
part in this study. The survey consisted of a series of six demographic questions,
after which participants were asked questions about their gymnastics background,
including their participation history and competitive history. Next, respondents
answered questions about their new-media use relating to gymnastics, and Seo
and Green’s (2008) Motivation Scale for Sport Online Consumption (MSSOC)
was used to determine participant motivations for using new media in relation to
their gymnastics participation. The MSSOC, a measure of online sport consumers’
motives for using sport Web sites, measures the following dimensions: informa-
tion, entertainment, interpersonal communication, escape, pass time, fanship, team
support, fan expression, economic, and technical knowledge. The team-support
and economic factors were deemed irrelevant to the purpose of this study and
were therefore not measured. All eight factors achieved the acceptable minimum
reliability of .70 based on Cronbach’s alpha. Mean scores and standard deviations
for each item, along with alpha levels for each component of the scale, can be
viewed in Table 1.
Finally, respondents answered three open-ended qualitative response ques-
tions about their new-media use related to their masters gymnastics participation.
Participants
Participants were recruited using a snowball sampling method. I posted a link to the
survey on social-media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and masters
gymnastics participants, organizations, and stakeholders retweeted and shared the
link with their friends and followers. In addition, the Gymcastic podcast, a weekly
gymnastics podcast available via iTunes, mentioned the survey during one of its
episodes and directed interested participants to their social-media accounts for
the survey link. The survey was open to anyone in the world age 20 or over who
participated in masters gymnastics.
A total of 164 usable surveys were collected from respondents in 17 countries:
Argentina, Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, England, Ireland,
Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain,
Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. The majority of respondents were from
the United States (62.9%), followed by Australia (9.7%), Canada (9.1%), England
(6.9%), New Zealand and the Netherlands (1.7% each), Spain, and Ireland, (1.1%
each), and each of the other countries accounted for 0.6% of the respondents. In
terms of age, 67.5% were in the 20–29 age group, 23.4% 30–39, 5.7% 40–49,
2.8% 50–59, and 0.6% were over the age of 60. The respondents over age 60 were
later recategorized into a 50-and-older category along with those in the 50–59 age
group to conduct statistical analysis based on age. Regarding gender, 65.2% of
the participants were female, while 34.8% were male. The respondents indicated
their educational background, and 79.4% had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher,
15.4% had attended some university, 4.6% had a high school diploma, and 0.5%
indicated that they had attended some high school. Finally, in terms of annual
household income, 21.7% indicated an income of $100,000 USD or higher, 14.3%
were in the $80–100,000 range, 10.3% were in the $60–80,000 range, 18.3% were
in the $40–60,000 range, 18.3% were in the $20–40,000 range, 15.4% were in the
$0–20,000 range, and 1.7% indicated they had no household income.
320 IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
Table 1 Construct Reliability and Internal Consistency of the
Motivation Scale for Sport Online Consumption
Factor “I use new media for masters gymnastics–
related information because . . .
M SD α
Information It provides quick and easy access to large
volumes of masters gymnastics information. 5.21 1.69 .792
I am able to obtain a wide range of gymnastics
information. 5.73 1.40
I can learn about things happening in the
gymnastics world. 5.89 1.43
Entertainment New media is exciting. 4.92 1.53 .855
New media is cool. 4.57 1.58
New media is amusing. 4.46 1.62
Interpersonal
communication It shows me how to get along with others who
are interested in masters gymnastics. 3.96 1.74 .813
I won’t be alone as a masters gymnast. 4.22 1.64
It allows me to meet other masters gymnasts,
which helps me cope with personal problems. 3.03 1.63
Escape It allows me to escape from reality. 3.82 1.71 .812
It allows me to enter a nonthinking, relaxing
period. 4.11 1.65
I can forget about work. 4.08 1.77
Pass time It gives me something to do to occupy my time. 4.34 1.60 .755
Doing so passes the time away, particularly
when I’m bored. 4.25 1.74
I visit these new-media sites during my free
time. 5.10 1.60
Fanship I consider myself a fan of gymnastics. 6.15 1.28 .854
I am a huge fan of gymnastics in general. 6.01 1.45
I consider myself to be a big fan of certain
gymnasts or teams. 5.18 1.94
Fan expression I can express myself and my thoughts about
masters gymnastics. 4.30 1.78 .983
I can form my own opinions about masters
gymnastics through new media. 4.49 1.52
I enjoy interacting with other masters gymnasts
on the Web. 3.89 1.80
Technical
knowledge I want to know the technical aspects of
gymnastics. 5.67 1.52 .776
I want to know the rules of gymnastics. 5.03 1.83
I want to know gymnastics strategies. 4.91 1.74
Online Communities 321
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
Data Analysis
All quantitative data were analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences
(SPSS) version 22. Descriptive statistics, independent-sample t tests, and one-way
ANOVAs were calculated using this software. The qualitative data were analyzed
using thematic analysis, which involved my reading each response multiple times,
assigning keywords to the responses, and then grouping the keywords to develop
the broader emergent themes. According to Saldaña (2009), themes are patterns,
trends, or recurring concepts within data, and thematic analysis allows categories
or themes to emerge from the data as the analysis is conducted. Braun and Clarke
(2006) explained that it allows researchers to describe data sets in rich detail and
also allows for deeper analysis and interpretations of topics. Peer debrieng was
conducting with a sport-management scholar independent from the study to establish
trustworthiness (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
Results
New-Media Use in Relation to Sport Participation
The rst research question sought to determine how masters gymnasts use new
media in relation to their sport participation. To answer this question, both quanti-
tative and qualitative data were analyzed. The quantitative survey results revealed
that YouTube and Facebook were the overwhelming platforms of choice, with
43.4% of respondents indicating that they used YouTube specically for masters-
gymnastics-related purposes and 42.5% responding that they used Facebook. Aside
from these two platforms, the following new media were used: blogs (28.1%),
Twitter (23.9%), news Web sites (20.5%), and message boards (16.7%). With
regard to the qualitative data, two prominent themes emerged from the open-ended
responses, indicating that participants primarily used new media for the purposes
of information gathering and interaction. In terms of the information-gathering
theme, respondents indicated that they used videos from YouTube to learn techni-
cal aspects of the sport. For example, one respondent wrote, “I particularly enjoy
watching videos of other adult gymnasts, to see what is possible.” Along with
learning technical aspects of the sport, another commonality within this theme
was that respondents used Web sites to learn practical information about where
and when adult gymnastics classes were available. One respondent wrote, “I love
Gymnastike, which has an adult gymnastics page and listing of adult gymnastics
programs throughout the U.S.” In terms of the interaction theme, participants
reported that they primarily used new media to interact with gymnasts from their
own training groups. To illustrate the interactions between members of in-person
training groups, one respondent indicated that the gymnastics club where she
trained had a private Facebook group. Of this she said, “It is a tight-knit group
and serves as a laid-back place to interact outside of training.” Another respondent
said she belonged to her training group’s Facebook page and said, “I don’t really
interact with other masters gymnasts that I don’t know personally.” Conversely,
some respondents indicated that they interacted with those whom they did not know
personally to learn skills and the technical aspects of the sport. One respondent
said, “Facebook specically has been my main community for masters gymnastics.
322 Geurin-Eagleman
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
It allows me to share information easily with others who also participate. We
have created a group for ourselves where we discuss/share general and masters
gymnastics information.”
Motivation to Participate in Online Communities
The second research question asked what motivates masters gymnasts to participate
in online communities. Results from the MSSOC scale revealed that fanship (M
= 5.78, SD = 1.56), information (M = 5.61, SD = 1.50), and technical knowledge
(M = 5.20, SD = 1.69) were the three strongest motivators, with all three falling
between the somewhat agree and agree range on the scale. Following these three
motivations were entertainment (M = 4.65, SD = 1.58), pass time (M = 4.56, SD
= 1.65), fan expression (M = 4.22, SD = 1.70), escape (M = 4.00, SD = 1.71), and
interpersonal communication (M = 3.74, SD = 1.67).
The second research question also contained a subquestion asking whether
motivational differences existed based on the respondents’ demographic variables.
ANOVA results revealed statistically signicant differences based on age, gender,
and educational background. First, in terms of age, motivational differences existed
for fanship, F(3, 163) = 4.52, p = .005; technical knowledge, F(3, 163) = 4.66, p
= .004; and pass time, F(3, 163) = 6.00, p = .001. Tukey post hoc tests revealed
that for fanship, signicant differences existed between those age 50 and over (M
= 2.67, SD = 2.42) and all of the other age groups, 20–29 (M = 5.42, SD = 1.88),
30–39 (M = 4.94, SD = 1.80), and 40–49 (M = 5.56, SD = 1.50), indicating that
the younger age groups were more highly motivated as fans. In terms of technical
knowledge, signicant differences existed between the 50-and-over group (M =
2.83, SD = 2.04) and the 20–29 (M = 5.18, SD = 1,76) and 40–49 (M = 6.11, SD =
0.93) groups, indicating that the younger groups were more strongly motivated by
gaining technical knowledge. Finally, in terms of pass time, signicant differences
existed between the 20–29 age group (M = 4.54, SD = 1.66) and the 30–39 (M =
3.69, SD = 1.70) and 50-and-over (M = 2.33, SD = 1.75) groups, indicating that
the younger group was more likely to use masters-gymnastics-related new media
to pass the time than the other groups.
The next signicant demographic-based difference occurred with gender. Inde-
pendent-samples t tests revealed signicant differences between men and women
for fanship, information, escape, and pass time, with women exhibiting greater
motivations for all four categories. See Table 2 for full results of these differences.
Finally, signicant motivational differences existed between respondents
based on level of education. ANOVA results revealed differences in interper-
sonal communication, F(4, 163) = 3.98, p = .004; escape, F(4, 163) = 6.86, p =
.000; and fan expression, F(4, 163) = 5.44, p = .000. In terms of interpersonal
communication, Tukey post hoc results revealed signicant differences between
those whose highest education level was a high school diploma (M = 5.13 SD =
1.72) and those with some college education (M = 2.77, SD = 1.55), a bachelor’s
degree (M = 2.84, SD = 1.65), a master’s degree (M = 3.07, SD = 1.34), and a
terminal degree (M = 3.14, SD = 1.63). These results indicated that those with
higher education levels used new media for interpersonal communication to a
lesser degree than those whose highest educational attainment was a high school
diploma. Regarding escape, post hoc results revealed signicant differences
Online Communities 323
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
between the high school diploma group (M = 5.50, SD = 1.06) and those with
a bachelor’s degree (M = 3.66, SD = 1.67), indicating that those with a high
school diploma were more motivated to use new media for escape purposes. In
addition, differences existed between those with a terminal degree (M = 5.79,
SD = 1.05) and the following groups: some college (M = 3.65, SD = 1.93),
bachelor’s degree (M = 3.66, SD = 1.67), and master’s degree (M = 4.21, SD =
1.68). These results indicated that those with a terminal degree were motivated
to use new media for escape purposes to a signicantly greater degree than the
three other groups listed. As for fan expression, signicant differences were
found between the high school diploma group (M = 5.50, SD = 1.19) and those
with a bachelor’s degree (M = 3.45, SD = 1.82), indicating that those with a
high school diploma were more motivated by fan expression. In addition, a dif-
ference existed between the terminal-degree group (M = 5.29, SD = 1.54) and
those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree (M = 3.80, SD = 1.45), indicating that
those with a terminal degree were more highly motivated to consume because
of fan expression.
New Media’s Impact on Sport Participation
The third research question asked what impact masters gymnasts believed new-
media use had on their participation in the sport. The data used to answer this
question came from participants’ open-ended responses to the question, “How
have gymnastics-related new media sites (e.g., Web sites, blogs, social media,
message boards) impacted your experience as a masters gymnast?” Three promi-
nent themes emerged from the data: training motivation, technical knowledge,
and camaraderie. Table 3 presents examples of responses that t within each of
these three themes.
Responses falling into the training-motivation theme indicated that respon-
dents were motivated by seeing videos of other masters gymnasts performing or
by reading articles or rsthand accounts about masters gymnasts and their experi-
ences participating in the sport. The responses relating to technical knowledge
suggested that masters gymnasts gained knowledge about the sport and specic
gymnastics skills by watching videos and interacting with gymnasts and/or coaches
in online-community settings. Finally, the camaraderie theme highlighted a sense
of community that masters gymnasts felt with their peers via interactions on new-
media platforms.
Table 2 Gendered Motivational Differences for Consumption
of Masters-Gymnastics-Related New Media
Category and significance Male Female
Fanship: t(163) = –2.94, p = .004 M = 5.62, SD = 1.78 M = 6.31, SD = 1.04
Information:
t(163) = –3.43, p = .001 M = 5.20, SD = 1.82 M = 6.10, SD = 1.20
Escape: t(163) = –2.24, p = .026 M = 3.49, SD = 1.69 M = 4.22, SD = 1.77
Pass time: t(163) = –2.62, p = .010 M = 3.54, SD = 1.96 M = 4.39, SD = 1.67
324 Geurin-Eagleman
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
Discussion
This study contributes to the body of knowledge relating to sport-participant com-
munities in the eld of sport management/communication and to the existing U&G
literature, both of which will be explained in greater depth in this section. This study
was unique in its mixed-methods approach using U&G theory, which responded to
Ruggiero’s (2000) call for more U&G qualitative and mixed-methods approaches.
In addition, it included a great deal of generational diversity, with respondents
ranging in age from 20 to 50+, which answered Leung’s (2013) call for greater
generational diversity in U&G research, as well as Lyons and Dionigi’s (2007)
suggestion for greater age diversity in research on sport-participant communities.
In terms of this study’s contributions to the sport management and communica-
tion literature, several ndings stand out and merit further discussion. First, from
the open-ended qualitative response questions it was both interesting and somewhat
surprising to learn that building relationships and/or an online community with other
masters gymnasts was not important to most of the respondents, who indicated that
they interacted online only with those from their in-person training groups. This
was a departure from Lyons and Dionigi’s (2007) nding that masters participants
felt a sense of close community with their peers despite the temporal and spatial
distances between them. It was also surprising given masters gymnastics’ rela-
tively recent emergence as a popular participatory sport and the notion that online
communities would be a vital way for these participants to further engage with
the sport. This nding did, however, support Hede and Kellett’s (2012) assertion
Table 3 Perceptions of New Media’s Impact on Masters Gymnastics
Participation
Theme Sample responses
Training
motivation
• “IwilloftenseeaneworuniqueskillperformedonYouTubeorFacebook
and that gives me motivation and desire to attempt these skills.”
• “They[newmedia]reafrmthatitis,infact,possibletodogymnastics
at the age of 80.”
• “Ireadafewgymnasticsblogsthatinspire/helpmyowngymnastics.
Technical
knowledge • “WatchinggymnasticsonYouTubeandTumblrhastaughtmeloadsof
things I would have never had access to otherwise.”
• “Iloveseeinghowpeopleinothercountriesworkandtheirtechniques.”
• “YouTubehasbeentremendouslyhelpful,asIdon’treallyhaveaccess
to coaching, so if I want to learn a drill or tips for a skill, it’s the rst
place I go.”
Camaraderie • “It’snice toseekadvice, trainingtipsfrom othersinmy shoesand
others ahead of myself.”
• “Itshowsmethattherearemoremastersgymnastsaroundtheworld;
I’m not alone.”
• “It helps me connect with my former teammates and other adult
gymnasts, which helps keep my motivation up.
Online Communities 325
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
that live or in-person communities are synergistic with online communities. This
highlights an opportunity for established sport-participant groups to complement
their in-person communities with online communities via new-media platforms.
In addition, although gymnastics is an individual sport in which leagues and teams
do not often exist, it appears that adult participants still form groups or communi-
ties based on their participation in the sport, which can lead to enhanced quality
of life and stronger communities in general (Glover & Stewart, 2006; Kraus,
1990). This nding also extended beyond the work of Mahan et al. (2015), who
suggested that highly identied runners may engage in social behaviors such as
“friending” other runners on Facebook, but their study did not actually examine
or measure participants’ use of online communities to develop such sport-related
online social networks.
Some ndings of this study were reective of those of both Eagleman and
Hack (2011) and Mahan et al. (2015), as the results from the open-ended qualita-
tive response questions also indicated that online-community participation led to
greater motivation to partake in masters gymnastics. This knowledge, combined
with the previously discussed ndings about the synergy between in-person and
online communities, presents a great opportunity for sport clubs and participatory
sport organizations to strengthen the experiences of their members by offering for-
malized online-community spaces via new-media platforms on which participants
can interact. If participation in online communities leads to greater motivation to
participate in the sport, the development of online communities could potentially
help sport clubs and organizations retain members and strengthen those members’
sense of community with the club itself, leading to overall greater loyalty. Sport
clubs that employ communications staff members would be wise to use these
employees to creation and maintain such online participant communities. As Mahan
et al. suggested, though, these online communities must cater to the needs of the
participants so as to enhance their overall life satisfaction. Therefore, it is important
for sport clubs to develop an understanding of their participants’ needs in such an
online space and develop the online communities accordingly.
Another important nding from this study was that information gathering
and technical information were both important aspects of new media for masters
gymnasts. Results from the MSSOC scale indicated that information and technical
knowledge were the second- and third-greatest motivators for masters gymnasts
to participate in online communities, respectively, and results from the qualitative
portion of the survey indicated once again that technical knowledge was a primary
reason that respondents used new media in relation to their sport participation. This
nding lled a gap from Mahan et al.’s (2015) research, as they did not examine the
actual ways in which sport participants used new media in relation to their sport.
Echoing Waldron’s (2011) assertion that YouTube allowed musicians to learn, dis-
cuss, and add knowledge, the participants in this study also indicated that YouTube
was a critical tool for learning technical aspects of the sport and understanding
how to perform new skills. As respondents often indicated that they found these
resources through Internet searches rather than through specic Web sites or new-
media accounts, these ndings indicate an opportunity for gymnastics clubs and
organizations to develop more masters-specic new-media accounts and outlets to
fulll the technical-knowledge and information needs of masters gymnasts. Existing
new-media sites dedicated to gymnastics could also establish greater awareness
326 Geurin-Eagleman
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
among masters gymnastics communities by expanding their current content offer-
ings to include more information about masters gymnastics.
In terms of the study’s theoretical contributions, as previously noted
it answered Ruggiero’s (2000) call for more qualitative and mixed-method
approaches using U&G theory. Beyond this, however, it also contributed to U&G
literature by focusing on a broad generational range of participants (Leung, 2013)
and focused on the demographic information of new-media consumers, which
Clavio and Kian (2010) encouraged in their examination of a retired athlete’s
Twitter followers. Indeed, this study used demographic data to better understand
the aspects of new-media messages that were most appealing to sport participants,
specically, masters gymnastics participants. This information contributes to the
existing U&G literature relating to user demographics. In this study, age, gender,
and educational background were all found to be statistically signicant in rela-
tion to participants’ motivations for using masters-gymnastics-related new media.
New-media content producers can use these ndings to appeal to and target certain
demographic groups. For example, results from the MSSOC scale indicated that
female masters gymnastics participants were signicantly more motivated than
male participants to consume masters-gymnastics-related new media due to fanship,
information, escape, and pass time. Web sites or social-media accounts attempt-
ing to draw in a larger female audience could use this information to tailor their
content to them. Conversely, these ndings based on gender might also indicate
that men are less motivated to consume masters-gymnastics-related new media
than women because the new-media outlets that currently exist cater more to
women by offering more information about women’s gymnastics. Although the
content of masters-gymnastics new-media outlets was not analyzed for this study,
future research examining this content could provide insights as to whether current
content caters to one gender over the other.
Conclusion
While the ndings of this study may be useful to a variety of sport organizations
and groups, it should be noted that they are unique to masters gymnastics partici-
pants, and therefore the results cannot be generalized to other sports or age groups.
The study also had other limitations. First, participants were recruited online via
gymnastics new-media outlets. Therefore, they were likely already familiar with
masters-gymnastics new-media outlets and used such outlets. Masters gymnasts
who were not familiar with such outlets were not given a chance to participate in
the study. Future researchers who wish to eliminate this limitation are encouraged to
recruit participants directly from the masters sport clubs instead of using an online
method. Next, although the participant sample was quite broad in its demographic
makeup, the majority of respondents were from the United States and fell into the
youngest age group (20–29). Future research would benet from recruiting an
even more diverse participant sample. Finally, although participants were from
17 different countries, the data were not analyzed to uncover differences between
respondents based on their country of residence.
Several future research opportunities stem from this study. First, while the
study was limited to masters gymnastics participants, future research could examine
Online Communities 327
IJSC Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
athletes from a wider range of sports to determine whether differences exist between
sports. Specically, it would be interesting to note if participants from well-estab-
lished masters sports such as swimming or athletics differ in their online-community
U&G from those in emerging masters sports such as gymnastics, or if athletes from
team sports (e.g., basketball, volleyball) differ from individual-sport athletes. A
second idea for future research is to examine the online communities of established
in-person training groups to develop a better understanding of how virtual online
communities affect their participation in the sport and how the online communi-
ties complement or affect their in-person interactions. Finally, an examination of
masters-specic events such as the World Masters Games could determine how
participants consume new media offered by these events (e.g., the World Masters
Games ofcial Facebook page or Twitter feed) and how this consumption affects
their participation in the event.
This study contributes to both the sport management/communication discipline
and the existing literature using U&G theory, and its qualitative contributions are
unique to both of these areas. Researchers can use its ndings to develop a better
understanding of online communities in general or communities of sport partici-
pants, and to understand U&G of online communities through both a quantitative
and a qualitative lens. In addition, sport clubs and organizations can use the ndings
to develop new online communities among participants or to strengthen existing
online communities, which may have positive effects on the clubs in terms of
retaining current participants and strengthening participants’ loyalties to the club
or organization.
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