Research question: Rivalries in team sports are commonly conceptualized as a threat to the fans’ identity. Therefore, past research has mainly focused on the negative consequences. However, theoretical arguments and empirical evidence suggest that rivalry has both negative and positive effects on fans’ self-concept. This research develops and empirically tests a model which captures and integrates these dual effects of rivalry.
Research methods: Data were collected via an on-site survey at home games of eight German Bundesliga football teams (N = 571). Structural equation modeling provides strong support for the proposed model.
Results and findings: In line with previous research, the results show that rivalry threatens fans’ identity as reflected in lower public collective self-esteem in relation to supporters of the rival team. However, the results also show that there are crucial positive consequences, such as higher perceptions of public collective self-esteem in relation to supporters of non-rival opponents, perceived ingroup distinctiveness and ingroup cohesion. These positive effects are mediated through increases in disidentification with the rival and perceived reciprocity of rivalry.
Implications: We contribute to the literature by providing a more balanced view of one of team sports’ key phenomena. Our results indicate that the prevalent conceptualization of rivalry as an identity threat should be amended by the positive consequences. Our research also offers guidance for the promotion of rivalries, where the managerial focus should be on creating a perception that a rivalry is reciprocal.