Adding insult to rivalry: Exploring
the discord communicated
Jennifer L. Harker
Reed College of Media, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia,
Jonathan A. Jensen
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Purpose –The purpose of this research is to extend current knowledge regarding rivalry communication
among sport consumers to better understand how rivals behave with one another when they communicate.
Design/methodology/approach –This national survey of US sport consumers used a novel approach to
explore whether and with whom rivals discuss National Football League (NFL) game outcomes. The survey
captured both uniplex and multiplex data by asking respondents to name rival discussants with whom they
had recently interacted, and the fan behaviors they exchanged with those named rival discussants.
Findings –Through use of this novel data collection approach, new findings were uncovered related to
blasting, glory out of reflective failure, schadenfreude and the influence of team identification on the exchange
of rivalry fan behaviors. The results of the uniplex and multiplex data analyses uniquely showcase the ways in
which social identity theory combines with team identification to enact rivalry behavior.
Originality/value –This research is the first to precisely dichotomize the psychological antecedents from the
communicated behavior between rival fans. Results reveal the precise ways in which team identification
influences discordant communication between rival fans, which differs from past research in an interesting
Keywords Rivalry, Fan behavior, Team identification, GORFing, Schadenfreude, Blasting
Paper type Research paper
Researchers have long studied the dramatization of sport fans. From painted, unclothed
bodies in subzero temperatures to hooliganism, sport fans are among the most unpredictable
humans researched within the social sciences. Over the past 40 years, researchers in the fields
of social psychology, sport communication and sport marketing have developed and
explored a body of research regarding fan behavior. Fan behavior studies have ranged from
observations and experiments to surveys of psychological antecedents to behavioral
outcomes. Common themes and consensus throughout this body of research include the
psychosocial areas of social identity, image management and social comparison.
The transfer of competition from field to a fan’s everyday life is due to the identification a
fan establishes with his or her favorite team. Team identification subsequently connects a
person with other members of an in-group (Wann, 2006). For example, a fan’s team identity
includes identification with other fans of that team, and that group identity expands into
social comparison with other teams, or rivals. In other words, rival teams and fans become
part of a sports fan’s team identity (Billings et al., 2017). Wann (2006) notes that such social
connections built with other fans can be positive or negative. Sport fans are likely to enjoy
positive relationships with like-fans due to their common interest in a particular team. Rivals,
however, share a strained relationship due to the identity threat felt by highly identified fans.
Overt emotional responses can occur when one team or the other wins when competing
against each other. Rivalry extends in other ways, too. Sometimes, a fan’s actions are overt,
spontaneous and expressed as an out-group derogation (Cialdini and Richardson, 1980;
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 19 December 2019
Revised 28 January 2020
Accepted 30 January 2020
International Journal of Sports
Marketing and Sponsorship
© Emerald Publishing Limited
Converse and Reinhard, 2016;Spinda, 2011). Rivals will “blast”each other by talking trash
and putting down the rival or minimizing the rival team’s win, as a form of out-group
derogation (Cialdini and Richardson, 1980).
Glory out of reflective failure, or GORFing, is an extension of rivalry reactions to game
outcomes (Havard, 2014). GORFing is a socialization and in-group bias that leads to feelings
of satisfaction when a rival team loses a game. This feeling of joy at another’s adversity is
termed schadenfreude (Heider, 1958;Tyler et al., 2019). These two complex feelings among
fans concerning rival counterparts seem intuitive, yet are emerging and understudied
concepts in the sport communication and sport marketing literatures (Billings et al., 2017;
Havard, 2014). GORFing and schadenfreude are operationalized in the current research as
social and affective antecedents to the expressed derogatory communication exchanged
between rivals. Schadenfreude is a felt emotion (joy) in response to a rivalry competition in
which one’s favorite team wins.
This research builds upon the fan behavior literature by dichotomizing the social-
psychological antecedents (i.e. schadenfreude as affect) that trigger behavior (i.e. blasting).
The study explores rivalry communication among fans of National Football League (NFL)
teams by asking respondents to specifically name their rival discussants, then respond to fan
behavior questions regarding shared exchanges with each named rival discussant. This
novel approach to rival communication extends prior rivalry and fan behavior studies
through use of multiplex relational data involving personal, specifically named rival
discussants. This research is therefore able to unearth meaningful insights that reveal
detailed explanations concerning rivalry fan behavior. The next section discusses the sport
marketing and fan behavior literature, while positioning the current investigation within
team identification, to discuss the affective and behavioral propensities of sports fans.
The collective body of fan behavior literature has grown over the past 40 years. Studies note
that emotional responses are more pronounced among sport consumers (Gantz et al., 2006;
Reysen and Branscombe, 2010), and an array of studies have connected social identification
and fan behavior to these emotional responses (Billings et al., 2017;Spinda, 2011;Wann and
Branscombe, 1993). Researchers are now exploring the underlying personality traits that
drive fan behaviors (Brown-Devlin et al., 2017). At the root of these behaviors are: image
management, in-group/out-group bias, social comparison, superiority and identity threat
(Cialdini et al., 1976;Cialdini and Richardson, 1980;Tajfel and Turner, 1986,1979;Wann,
2006). This section surveys these affectively driven sport consumer behaviors.
Team identification and social identity
An individual can feel a psychological connection to a particular sport or team (Kruse, 1977,
1981;Wann et al., 2001). This perceived connection is often termed team identification (Wann
and Branscombe, 1993). Team identification is a measurement of being a fan of a team and is
defined as how much an individual enjoys, holds interest in and identifies with that team
(Reysen and Branscombe, 2010). For some, that identifying connection can grow stronger
than for others and can range from a casual connection to a “primary social identity”(Hirt and
Clarkson, 2011, p. 3).
Individuals work toward a positive social identity in an effort to avoid a perceived
negative social identity (Heider, 1958;Tajfel and Turner, 1979;Weiner, 2008,1986). This
means people will connect with or distance themselves from what is perceived as favorable in-
group and comparative out-groups, respectively. According to social identity theory, this
process begins at the individual level and grows outwardly (Tajfel and Turner, 1979),
therefore an individual’s identifiable social groups or self-categorizations grow and overlap
over the course of one’s life.
When a social in-group identity is challenged in any negative manner—such as a losing
season in sport—efforts are taken to “differentiate”oneself or one’s group (Tajfel and Turner,
1979, p. 40). This differentiation might occur by either leaving the in-group or reshaping the
in-group to be more positively viewed than a comparative out-group (Tajfel, 1982). As such
dissonance occurs, the individual works to close that cognitive gap by highlighting the
positive attributes of the in-group or by highlighting the negative attributes of the out-group
(Tajfel and Turner, 1979). To translate this concept to sport, a football fan might minimize a
loss to a rival team with accusations that the rival team cheated or that the referees were one-
sided that day. Highly identified fans engage in a kaleidoscope of psycho-social coping
strategies in response to game outcomes, which can range from positive to negative and
psychological to overtly behavioral (Wann, 2006).
Four characteristics of social identification are sensibly applicable to sport. The
characteristics include (Tajfel and Turner, 1979): internalization of belonging (e.g. Green Bay
fans are “Cheeseheads”); group comparisons focused on certain attributes (e.g. how many
championships have been won by favorite team versus a rival team); out-group comparisons
with a worthy opponent (e.g. playing last year’s Super Bowl winner) and superiority
maintenance (e.g. we have the leading rusher in the league). The superiority characteristic
arguably links to the triggering “identity threat”that comes along with the less favorable
outcomes inherent to sport (Wann, 2006), but superiority is additionally a characteristic
maintenance attempt that minimizes comparison (Tajfel and Turner, 1979, p. 39).
Social comparison is conceptualized as the act of relationally comparing one’s own group
to other out-groups (Tajfel and Turner, 1986). Rees et al. (2015) note that in sport specifically,
social identity is both relational and comparative, which is the very basis of sport-related
group behavior. Social comparison happens in all types of subgroups with which one might
identify (Tajfel and Turner, 1986), but is particularly strong in sport (Rees et al., 2015). Social
identification and social comparison strengthen as in-group distinctiveness grows and being
part of a socially favorable group, like a winning team, offers superiority over other out-
groups, rivals or losing teams (Mael and Ashforth, 1992;Ashforth and Mael 1989;
Personal and interpersonal involvement with sport both nurture and strain social
interactions and relationships (Funk and James, 2001, p. 127). Sport is a social construct, but
interactions can become strained when there is a perceived identity threat. Wann (2006) offers
the best analogy of this: “Indeed, the nature of athletic competition guarantees that roughly
half of the fans will be disappointed in the outcome”of a game (p. 277). It is here that identified
sport fans engage in image management.
The body of research on sport fan behaviors emerged in the 1970s with “basking in reflective
glory”or BIRGing (Campbell et al., 2004;Cialdini et al., 1976;Cialdini and Richardson, 1980;
End et al., 2002;Jensen et al., 2016;Sigelman, 1986;Spinda, 2011;Wann and Branscombe,
1990). BIRGing was first observed as a demonstrated image management strategy when
researchers observed students wearing university logoed apparel on the Mondays following
a Saturday game day win (Cialdini et al., 1976). Such display of “vicarious achievement”
(Campbell et al., 2004, p. 151) highlights how team identification strengthens through social
identification and how superiority is celebrated when an image threat (Wann, 2006)is
overcome. This “celebrating our achievements together”or COATing relates to fans using
descriptors such as “we”and “us”when talking about or reminiscing about a team’s win
(Cialdini et al., 1976;Jensen et al., 2016). Fans of losing teams also attempt to maintain a
positive identity by “cutting off reflected failure”or CORFing (Campbell et al., 2004;Dietz-
Uhler and Murrell, 1999;Jensen et al., 2016;Spinda, 2011;Wann, 2006;Wann; Branscombe,
1990). Fans of such teams may also choose to remain affiliated with losing teams, as they view
their continued association with as loser as a badge of honor, by “basking in spite of reflected
failure,”or BIRFing (Campbell et al., 2004;Jensen et al., 2018).
Rivalry fan behaviors
Rivalry fan behaviors include direct and indirect communicated acts and affective
perceptions. “Blasting,”for example, can be an indirect or direct derogative communicated
act. Blasting is prevalent among highly identified fans and is generally exchanged with or
about rivals. “Glory out of reflected failure”and “schadenfreude”are two affective relational
rivalry outcomes discussed in more recent fan behavior studies. This section provides an
overview of these rivalry fan behaviors and explores how each relates to sport fans’
behaviors following game outcomes.
Blasting. Cialdini and Richardson (1980) experimented with student reactions to negative
and positive in-group perceptions, finding that students applied image management in
speaking positively of their own university and speaking negatively about a rival university.
This out-group derogation was originally coined an indirect image management strategy.
Later, blasting was applied to sport and operationalized to include explicit negative acts of
communication (Bernache-Assollant et al., 2007;Havard, 2014;Spinda, 2011). However, this
leap did not include a full discussion as to whether the newer operationalization still reflected
image management or perhaps something new. For instance, blasting was noted as more
“contextual than universal”(Bernache-Assollant et al., 2007, p. 386) and is more a matter of a
strong positive connection to a team’s in-group and less about the fan’s need to derogate the
out-group, or rival team’s fans, because doing so would “grant them too much importance”
(Bernache-Assollant et al., 2007, p. 386; Wann and Dolan, 1994). Blasting has since fully
evolved into a direct communicated act defined and operationalized as “talking trash”
GORFing. Glory out of reflected failure is a form of gloating, yet less overt (Havard, 2014).
GORFing is measured by asking fans about their feelings following a loss by their rival team
to their favorite team or to any other team. The four major themes that have emerged to form
this GORFing concept include: socialization, in-group bias, a sense of satisfaction and out-
group indirect competition. The fans interviewed varied in their perceptions of rivalry wins
and losses. Some wished the rival team no ill-will and would be pleased with the rival team
winning any game outside of the match with their own favorite team. Some wished rivals lost
every game, but mostly the respondents gauged such feelings on what the rival team’s record
would mean for their own team’s success for the season.
GORFing was later extended quantitatively by examining four affective measurements
that include happiness, satisfaction, relief and pride (Billings et al., 2017). GORFing in this
latter study reflects the individualized feelings a fan holds when a rival team loses to a
favorite team or to any other of the favorite team’s rivals. Those four affective measurements
applied as GORFing are the underlying facets of schadenfreude, which is a feeling of joy at
another’s adversity (Heider, 1958). Schadenfreude, warned Heider (1958), is harmful to social
relationships because it is discordant to harmonic relationships.
Schadenfreude creates an antagonistic relationship, similar to the other fan behaviors
demonstrated between rival sport fans (Havard, 2014;Leach et al., 2003). The study of
schadenfreude has taken shape by studying its presence in business and then in sport (Cikara
et al., 2011;Cikara and Fiske, 2012;Leach et al., 2015;Leach et al., 2003;Leach and Spears,
2009;Heider, 1958). Schadenfreude is conceived in three ways: when a misfortune befalls an
envied person, misfortune is perceived as deserved and when something might be gained for
the observer from that misfortune (Cikara and Fiske, 2012). For example, Leach and Spears
(2009) measured the appearance of business professionals and told participants in an
experiment differing stories about the individuals. Respondents were most likely to report
feeling joyful in response to a successful businessman’s troubled scenario than to other
people’s scenarios. Finding joy in another’s adversity brings into question the role of envy.
The study’s findings suggest envy is a predictor of schadenfreude, but that other affective
measurements are also linked. For instance, schadenfreude-related emotions include joy,
happiness, relief, satisfaction, pride, gloating, sympathy and sadness (Leach et al., 2003,2015;
Leach and Spears, 2009).
Schadenfreude in response to sport stems from an in-group envy toward a winning rival
team or a team of perceivably higher status (Cikara and Fiske, 2012;Leach et al., 2015) and
correlates with higher levels of team identification (Leach et al., 2003). In fact, the
psychological connection of schadenfreude and sport has been backed by neurological
science. Cikara et al. (2011) observed baseball fans with MRI brain scans as they watched
plays and game outcomes of their favorite and rival baseball teams. Results resoundingly
showed that sport fans activated the area of the brain that signifies happiness when his/her
team played well or won a game. More interestingly, fans demonstrated even higher levels of
happiness when a rival team lost or played poorly. The researchers additionally noted that
the anger and pain areas of the brain were activated when a fan’s favorite team lost and when
a rival team won.
Rivalry fan behaviors span from envy-driven joy at another’s adversity to direct and
indirect derogatory communication. Identification, socialization, superiority and perceived
identity threats are among the psychosocial undercurrents of these affective and behavioral
reactions to rivalry game outcomes. The next section explains how the current research
extends current knowledge regarding rivalry ban behavior.
The current study responds to a call to quantitatively examine the differences between
GORFing and schadenfreude (Havard and Dalakas, 2017, p. 201). Sport rivalry is defined as
“a fluctuating adversarial relationship”between “groups of fans”that “gains significance”
through competition (Havard et al., 2013, p. 51). Rivalry is rooted in a storied history of one’s
favorite team (Converse and Reinhard, 2016), is an identity threat (Berendt and Uhrich, 2016)
and becomes a part of a fan’s identity (Billings et al., 2017). Recent research identified three
primary dimensions of rivalry: (1) conflict, (2) peer and (3) bias (Tyler and Cobbs, 2015) and
the current research reflects these three dimensions by examining the conflict communicated
between peers and the bias that drives such conflict between (rival) peers. The current study
therefore explores the derogatory communication exchanged between rival fans of NFL
teams because NFL fans harbor and express significant animosity toward their perceived
rivals, even more so than fans of other professional leagues (Cobbs et al., 2017).
Team identification and fan behaviors are regularly reported as associated with rivalry
(Berendt and Uhrich, 2016;Billings et al., 2017;Branscombe and Wann, 1994;Spinda, 2011;
Wann and Branscombe, 1993,1990). The current study anticipates team identification to
remain associated with rivalry fan behavior and therefore hypothesizes that team
identification will be a significant predictor of directly communicated rivalry fan behavior.
H1. Team identification is a predictor of the blasting rivalry fan behavior.
One missing aspect in rivalry fan behavior research is the quantitative measurement of
respondents’perceptions of their rival discussants’level of fanship. For example, will
superiority or social comparison leave a fan thinking they are more of a fan of their team than
their rival team’s fans? As Berendt and Uhrich, (2016) noted, rivalry can also be an identity
threat, so will a perceived threat increase or decrease a fan’s identity as a predictive variable
for engaging in discordant communication?
The current study investigated this research question by collecting data related to
respondents’perceptions of their rival discussants’fanship, in addition to the communicated
behaviors they exchange with one another. Team identification is commonly only assessed as
the respondent’s level or strength of team identification. This study, however, additionally
captures respondents’perceived rival discussants’level of fanship. This measurement was
captured given that socialization, social comparison, image management and image threats
have all been conceptualized within sport rivalry. Therefore, the following research question
RQ1. What role will the perceived fanship of named rival discussants play in the
activation of rivalry fan behaviors?
Shifting now to the demonstrated fan behaviors exchanged between rivals, Billings et al.
(2017) packaged the four affective measurements related to schadenfreude and
operationalized them as a GORFing scale. This study unpacks these affective antecedents
and explores which specific components of schadenfreude are directly related to expressed
derogation between rivals. As such, the following final research question is presented:
RQ2. Which GORFing and schadenfreude components are predictive of the direct
expression of derogatory communication between rival discussants?
The next section is a review of the method utilized to examine these research questions and
answer the hypothesis regarding communicated fan behaviors between rival discussants.
The unique data collection process is explained and all measures are detailed.
An online survey was conducted with American adults who self-identified as having a
favorite NFL team. This national survey was launched during the 2017–2018 football season,
and data were collected for several consecutive weeks on different days and at differing times
of day. Qualtrics data collection services were used, which offers protections against data
abuses such as speeders, straightliners or respondents who fall outside of contingent
inclusionary demographics set by researchers. One screening question, “Are you a fan of
sports?”was asked and only “yes”responses were allowed to participate in the survey.
Qualtrics handled all incentives by offering reward points.
The key variables were captured for this study by using personal landmark aids (van der
Vaart and Glasner, 2011). To explain, respondents were asked to recall specific and functional
discussants within a specified timeframe. Jarring a memory model in such a manner increases
recall elements such as the feelings or perceptions or other cognitive processes. Such a
process in survey administration aids in recall specification. To better explain the resultant
data from this process, variables are discussed hereunto as uniplex and multiplex.Uniplex
variables refer to respondent-only information, such as respondent demographics and
respondent perceptions. The multiplex variables include those that represent memory model
activation of perceptions and behaviors exchanged with named rival discussants.
Respondent measures included demographics (age and gender), favorite NFL team, a team
identification scale (Wann and Branscombe, 1993) and likelihood to blast following a win or a
loss by the respondent’s favorite team.
Rival discussants are operationalized in the current study as individuals within a
respondent’s online and offline social network who are fans of teams that are rivals to the
respondent’s favorite team and with whom respondents discuss game outcomes. Rival
discussants were collected by asking the survey respondents to list up to five individuals who
are fans of rival teams to their own favorite NFL team with whom they have discussed sports
within the past month. The number of discussants that respondents list can vary, but it was
important to allow variety in rival identification because fans perceive multiple rivals of their
favorite team (Tyler and Cobbs, 2017). Researchers request between 5 and 10 names during
this type of survey process, much like scale points in other scientifically rooted
measurements, but the average number of named discussants typically rests at three
(Bush et al., 2017;Marsden, 1987;Perry and Pescosolido, 2015,2010). Rival discussants were
captured by asking respondents: Can you list anyone you have spoken to in the past month
about sports who is a fan of a RIVAL team to [respondents’named favorite NFL team]? And
because we specifically were interested in rivalry communication, we asked, “please write the
names of people who come to you to talk about sports, whether you want them to or not.”
The remainder of items were all measured utilizing a seven-point Likert-type scale. The
remaining measurements include those exchanged between rival fans. Rival interactions and
intensity vary between rivals, so all questions related to communication exchanges between
respondents and their named rival discussants were asked along the seven-point Likert-type
continuous scale (Tyler and Cobbs, 2017).
In-group bias was measured as respondents’team identification. Team identification has
been consistently regarded as a predictor of fan behaviors. The sport spectator identification
scale (SSIS) is a reliable fan-measurement scale widely applied in sport consumer behavior
research (Wann and Branscombe, 1993). The seven-item scale was adapted for this study by
asking respondents to first identify their favorite NFL team and then the name of that team
was piped into each SSIS question. For example, “How important is it to you that [favorite
NFL team] wins?”The team identification scale achieved internal consistency with
respondents reporting a moderate level of identification with favorite NFL team (a50.93;
n5936, M54.89, SD 51.58).
A single question sport fan measure was additionally captured (End et al., 2002).
Respondents rated themselves on how much they perceive themselves to be a sport fan.
Results for the one-question sport fan measurement had a slightly higher mean than the team
identification scale (n51,018, M55.05, SD 51.89). Only the team identification scale was
used in subsequent inferential statistics related to team identification of the survey
respondents. The single question sport fan rating was also asked regarding each rival
discussant to capture the respondents’perceptions of their rival discussants’fanship. The
measure was captured for each rival discussant the respondent listed. The respondent was
asked: “Please indicate how much you perceive each person as not at all a fan of sports (1) to
very much a sports fan (7).”Results (n5313, M55.36, SD 51.73) suggest respondents view
their rival discussants as more highly identified fans than themselves.
Rivalry was captured as the respondent naming a discussant for the specific and
functional purpose of being one’s rival, as such the sport rivalry fan perception scale was not
appropriate for this study (Havard et al., 2013). The concept of socialization was extended in
the current study from Havard’s (2014) original conceptualization and additionally
operationalized as relational exchanges between respondents and their named rivals. The
relational exchanges included watching, attending and talking about sports together.
Respondents were asked to report how often they engaged in each relational exchange with
each rival they had listed: “How often do you WATCH sporting events together?”(n5308,
M52.77, SD 51.98), ATTEND (n5306, M52.38, SD 52.00), and TALK about (n5305,
M53.67, SD 51.99).
Havard (2014) explained sense of satisfaction as the excitement or pleasure derived when a
rival team loses a game. The current study operationalizes sense of satisfaction as three
schadenfreude-related measurements that are directly communicated with rival discussants:
joy, pride and insult. Pride was used instead of “bragging rights”from the sport rivalry fan
perception scale (Havard et al.,2013). Insult was added to this investigation as an expression of
exchanged animosity (Cobbs et al.,2017). Respondents were asked, “How likely are you to
communicate feelings of joy to each person if his/her favorite team loses a game?”“How likely
are you to communicate feelings of pride to each person if his/her favorite team loses a game?”
and “How likely are you to personally insult each person if his/her favorite team loses a game?”
It is important to note here that insult was measured separate and distinct from “talking trash”
Contrary to past research, this study measures both direct and indirect competition, and
the likelihood to blast as a result of either, by asking respondents: “If a RIVAL team loses to
[favorite NFL team] how likely are you to trash talk to a fan of that rival team?”(n5936,
M53.42, SD 52.18); and “If a RIVAL team loses to any other NFL team, how likely are you to
“trash talk”to a fan of that rival team?”(n5935, M53.13, SD 52.12).
Blasting is measured as an identification-driven out-group derogation communicated
between rival discussants following game wins and losses. Respondents were asked, “How
likely are you to ‘trash talk’to each person listed following a WIN/LOSS by [your favorite
NFL team]?”(Spinda, 2011).
Respondents (N51,029) of the survey reported an average age of 45.7 years (SD 516.88
years) with a near-even split among gender: 56.7% male (n5583) and 43.3% female
(n5446). See Table 1 for a full list of all descriptive statistics. All subsequent measures were
analyzed using what was explained above as multiplex variables, which were informed by
each respondents’listed rival discussants. Recall here that respondents were asked the
remaining questions regarding each rival discussant they listed. This strategy aids in
collecting functionally specific data in social relationships (Perry and Pescosolido, 2010).
Rival discussants (n5313) were collected by asking respondents to list up to five individuals
with whom they have discussed sports who are fan of a rival team to their own favorite NFL
N51,029 NMSD Missing j%
Age 989 45.7 16.88 40
Gender (dummy coded: 1 5male) 1,029 0.57 0.50 0
Male 583 56.7%
Female 446 43.3%
Team identification 936 4.89 1.58 93
Blast after a win 936 3.30 2.16 93
Blast after a loss 936 2.91 2.01 93
Likelihood to blast rival: fav team 936 3.42 2.18 93
Likelihood to blast rival: any team 935 3.13 2.12 94
Rival discussant is a sports fan 313 5.36 1.73 716
Schadenfreude: communicate joy 311 3.48 2.23 718
Schadenfreude: communicate pride 310 3.38 2.21 719
Schadenfreude: personally insult 312 2.42 2.08 717
Watch sports together 308 2.77 1.98 721
Attend sporting events together 306 2.38 2.00 723
Talk about sports together 305 3.67 1.99 724
Blast 1: respondent blasts rival 306 3.51 2.26 723
Blast 2: rival blasts respondent 311 3.68 2.26 718
Note(s): all measures were captured along a seven-point scale, increasing in intensity
Descriptive statistics of
team. The data reported here were collected as part of a larger study (Harker, 2018), using a
uniquely created, sport-focused instrument informed by a former PhenX Toolkit (1991)
instrument that has been used for decades of investigation into interpersonal, health and
political communication. It is important to note here that the 1,029 survey respondents named
only 313 rival discussants, which speaks to the disidentification component related to sport
rivalry. In other words, sport rivalry scholars might argue that rivals make a conscious effort
to avoid communication exchanges with rivals; however, rivalry communication can never
truly be avoided. The current research investigates these unavoidable exchanges that occur
throughout a sports fan’s online and offline social network. Once the rival discussants were
listed, all subsequent questions were asked as perceptions or recall of actual behavior
regarding each individual rival discussant. For example, respondent number 23 listed four
rival discussants so the respondent was asked to answer each question four times—one
answer per listed rival discussant. This process resulted in functionally specific multiplex
variables relating back to each rival discussant. Descriptive statistics for each variable are
reported in Table 1.
The current study intended to answer one hypothesis and two research questions
regarding (1) the role of team identification in fan behaviors between rival discussants, and (2)
which components of GORFing and Schadenfreude might be predictive of that
communicated behavior between rival discussants. A series of regression analyses were
conducted and the first two models are reported side-by-side in Table 2.
The first model (F(10,250) 527.16, p<0.001) explained half (R
551%) of the variance for
blasting rival discussants following a win of respondents’favorite team (M53.51).
Perception of the rival discussant’s level of being sports fan was predictive (β50.121,
p50.018) of blasting following a win of the respondents’favorite team. All three of the
Schadenfreude components were predictive, which suggests fans feel joy (β50.264,
p<0.001) and pride (β50.178, p50.044) and are likely to insult (β50.327, p<0.001) rival
discussants after a win.
NFL fans also reported being blasted by rival discussants after a respondents’favorite
team loses a game (M53.68). The model (F(10,254) 524.29, p<0.001) explained nearly half
548%) of the variance for being blasted. Respondents reported being blasted by rival
discussants who they perceive to be highly identified fans (β50.163, p50.002). Again, joy
(β50.284, p50.001) and insult (β50.305, p<0.001) are predictive factors.
Blast 1 Blast 2
Age 0.085 0.074
Gender (male) 0.07 0.047
Team identification 0.048 0.003
Rival discussant is a sport fan 0.121* 0.163**
Watch sports together 0.01 0.001
Attend sporting events together 0.079 0.093
Talk about sports together 0.036 0.049
Schadenfreude: joy 0.264*** 0.284***
Schadenfreude: pride 0.178* 0.15
Schadenfreude: insult 0.327*** 0.305***
FjModel significance* 27.16*** 24.29***
Note(s):*p< 0.05, **p< 0.01, ***p< 0.001. Blast 1 5respondent blasts rival after respondents’favorite team
wins; Blast 2 5rival blasts respondent after respondent’s favorite team loses
A second set of regression models were analyzed to test Havard’s (2014) categorization of
the indirect competition component of GORFing. The two models were built using those
respondents who reported activation of outward blasting with named rival discussants. The
two models were built by categorizing those who reported a likelihood to blast rival
discussants who lose a game to the respondent’s favorite team and those who reported a
likelihood to blast after a rival team loses to any team. Both models are reported side-by-side
in Table 3.
The first model testing the GORFing categorization explained half (R
551%) of the
variance for blasting named rival discussants when the rival discussant’s team loses to the
respondent’sfavorite team,F(10,240) 524.92, p<0.001. Younger (β50.238, p<0.001),
highly identified fans (β50.288, p50.001) are expressing joy (β50.171, p50.053)
regarding their favorite team’s win by insulting (β50.347, p<0.001) rival discussants.
The second model conducted to test the GORFing categorization explained nearly half
547%) of the variance for blasting named rival discussants when the rival discussant’s
team loses to any team, F(10,240) 521.10, p<0.001. This model tests the indirect competition
component of GORFing (Havard, 2014) and results suggest younger (β50.146, p50.015),
highly identified fans (β50.251, p50.001), insult (β50.360, p<0.001) rival discussants
regarding their team’s loss.
The results of these two models suggest sense of satisfaction, or joy at another’s adversity,
is a predictive affective element when blasting a rival discussant whose team loses to the
respondent’s favorite team. However, in the indirect competition model, sense of satisfaction
was nonsignificant. In both models, insulting rival discussants was again the strongest
significant predictor of activating the blasting fan behavior. The socialization components
beyond named rival discussants were all insignificant, as would be expected between rivals.
Next is a discussion of these results, with a focus toward future research regarding whether
GORFing and schadenfreude are distinguishable fan behavior perceptions.
The current study examined the out-group derogation that is communicated between rival
NFL fans. First, the exchange of blasting between NFL fans was analyzed. Then, an analysis
of the predictive components for those who reported blasting their rival discussants was
Age 0.238*** 0.146**
Gender (male) 0.074 0.042
Team identification 0.288*** 0.251***
Rival discussant is a sport fan 0.5 0.101
Watch sports together 0.003 0.049
Attend sporting events together 0.011 0.069
Talk about sports together 0.011 0.049
Schadenfreude: joy 0.171* 0.110
Schadenfreude: pride 0.004 0.064
Schadenfreude: insult 0.347*** 0.360***
FjModel significance* 24.92*** 21.10***
Note(s):*p< 0.05, **p< 0.01, ***p< 0.001. ^Rival team loses to respondents’favorite team (direct rivalry) or
rival team loses to any team (indirect rivalry)
for activation of out-
group derogation by
performed, in relation to whether a rival discussant’s team loses a game to the respondents’
favorite team or whether the rival discussant’s team loses a game to any team. By collecting
multiplex relational data involving personal, specifically named rival discussants, the current
study was able to generate detailed explanations concerning the differences that exist in
rivalry fan perceptions and rivalry fan behavior, even in relation to the categorizations of
GORFing despite the fact that past research has noted no differences exist (Havard and
Hutchinson, 2017). This research uniquely emphasizes the need to categorize the study of fan
behaviors as more than simple behavior and include deeper discussions involving the
affective and social antecedents to this discordant behavior. Such dichotomization, coupled
with the multiplex relational variables and the personal landmark data collection process,
aided in teasing out the activating components key to better understanding rivalry fan
In sum, the first hypothesis (H1) stated team identification is a predictor of directly
communicated rivalry fan behavior.H1 was only partially supported in the current study,
given that when the respondent answered recall questions regarding interpersonal
communication exchanged with their own named rival discussants, the other person’s
perceived fanship gained significance. The hypothesis was however supported in the second
set of models where team identification was significant, given that the respondent was
surveyed about their general perceptions of their rivalry behavior and not the actualized
behavior with a functionally specific rival discussant. H1 aided in answering RQ1, which
asked what role perceived fanship of named rival discussants might play in the activation of
rivalry fan behaviors. Results suggest that a fan’s perception of their rival out-group is at
least somewhat influential in activating fan behavior. Historically, we have been measuring
these complex relational fan behaviors in a strictly uniplex manner, which has built
knowledge and directed measurement to enable this deeper study into these phenomena. The
current relational examination of the interpersonal activation of fan behaviors has now
offered a new, more in-depth analysis reflective of the relational complexity inherent to social
Of note is that the respondents’level of team identification showed no significance in
activating the outward blasting fan behavior, nor the reporting of being blasted by rival
discussants. This result is counter to what past research has suggested, but is likely because
of the personal landmark memory model recall data collection process, which requires
respondents to answer survey questions related to their personal, tangible relationships and
experiences (van der Vaart; Glasner, 2011). This process narrows social selection and
activation of behavior for functional specificity (Perry and Pescosolido, 2010). In other words,
respondents reach to certain others to fulfill specific and functional needs and when
respondents activate that specific memory model, there is more variance within that recall
than had the respondent answered in generality. These results also suggest that rivals who
are perceived as highly identified fans are those with whom NFL fans wish to express
schadenfreude and personally insult over positively perceived game outcomes. This is likely
due to the image threat inherent to rivalry (Berendt and Uhrich, 2016).
The current study offered results that extend current understanding regarding the
mechanisms of team identification and perceived fanship of rivals as each relates to fan
behaviors. The predictive facet related to team identification between rival discussants in this
investigation of recalled activation of fan behaviors was dichotomized among a sports fan’s
perception of their rival discussant’s level of being a fan (i.e. fanship) and not their own level of
being a fan. In other words, the more a rival discussant is perceived to be a fan, the more likely
a sports fan is to engage in a rivalry fan behavior. Respondent team identification has been
consistently measured in conjunction with fan behavior perceptions (Billings et al., 2017;
Spinda, 2011;Wann and Branscombe, 1993,1990), and consistently those measurements
have highly correlated and been noted as antecedent. Those results were partly due to similar
measurements (for example, the BIRGing studies that additionally measured the SSIS scale),
and partly due to capturing the uniplex respondent perceptions and not multiplex recalled
behavior. The current study takes this research a step further by first removing the
duplication of measures to protect against multicollinearity and then captures fan behaviors
in this activated multiplex manner. Thus, findings indicate that team identification is indeed
significant in relation to activated fan behaviors, but that significance rests upon the outward
perceived fanship of others with whom a fan activates those behaviors. This is a significant
finding, given that all prior research points to a fan’s identification with his or her favorite
team as the activating predictor to engage in fan behaviors. This study, however, instead
suggests our focus on the importance of team identification should extend from the fan to
include the fans’social ecosystem. Billings et al. (2017) had concluded part of a fan’s
identification is to have a named rival. The current study builds on that research and adds
that a fan’s perception of their rival discussants’level of fanship triggers fan behavior as a
superiority component of image management strategy (Tajfel and Turner, 1979;Wann, 2006).
The second research question explored which GORFing and schadenfreude components
trigger derogatory communication between rival discussants. This question was posited
under the operationalized assumption that blasting is a communicated rivalry fan behavior
(Cialdini and Richardson, 1980;Spinda, 2011). The GORFing components included
socialization, in-group bias, sense of satisfaction and indirect competition. Schadenfreude
components included joy, pride and personally insulting a rival discussant.
GORFing. Disidentification as a component of rivalry was evident in this study, given that
only 313 rival discussants were named among 1,029 respondents. Socialization was captured
as the rival–fan relationship since this research examined rival discussants. The sports
consumption relational exchanges in that relationship would test the socialization aspect of
GORFing. The relational exchanges measured as socialization components (watch, attend,
talk about sports together) were all insignificant, as would be expected between rival
discussants. This result is expected because respondents would hypothetically work toward
disassociating with their named rival discussants. Havard (2014) wrote, “the dyadic nature of
rivalry”causes the fan to display “disidentification from a rival team and its fan base”(p. 247).
Schadenfreude. The likelihood to express joy, pride and personally insult rival discussants
were consistently significant predictors of out-group derogation. Joy and pride were
significant predictors when respondents blasted rival discussants following a loss to the
respondent’s favorite team, but neither joy nor pride were significant predictors when a rival
discussant’s team loses to any team, which theoretically dichotomizes schadenfreude from
the indirect component of GORFing. Pride was communicated by respondents when blasting
followed a win by their favorite team, but respondents did not perceive pride as a significant
component when being blasted by their rival discussants.
Personally insulting a rival discussant, however, was significant in all four models and
was the most significant of all the variables in each of the models, and especially so in the
indirect competition model. This supports prior research that indicates NFL fans harbor
animosity against their perceived rivals (Cobbs et al., 2017;Havard, 2014).
From a managerial standpoint, the results of this research help sport marketers better
understand not only how the fans of their teams react to wins and losses but how these results
impact how they communicate their feelings with each other. Given the increased prominence
of digital marketing approaches and social media in the marketing plans of sport
organizations, the findings assist those tasked with communicating team-related messages
via social media. For example, given that that the respondents’level of team identification
was not a significant predictor in the activation of outward blasting behaviors, perhaps social
media managers may be able to utilize wins against rivals as a potential strategy in engaging
and encouraging online discourse among fans who may not be as highly identified.
While rivalry has become an important marketing tactic by sport organizations,
sponsoring brands have also begun to implement advertising campaigns focusing on rivals
and how rivalry impacts their behaviors in competition. As an example, Gatorade recently
debuted a campaign featuring the Houston Texans’J.J. Watt entitled “Make your rival your
fuel.”The campaign, which featured university rivalries such as the University of Texas/
University of Oklahoma and University of North Carolina/Duke University, as well as
professional rivalries such as Barcelona/Real Madrid, Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees,
and Green Bay Packers/Chicago Bears, encouraged the use of rivalry as a motivating factor in
training for athletes. From the perspective of the fan, perhaps a similar campaign could be
extended to the concept of schadenfreude, and recommend its implementation in encouraging
playful discourse among rival fans. In turn, while Gatorade suggests that rivalry helps to
make one a better athlete, perhaps the utilization of schadenfreude in fan communication
could help cement one’s reputation as a more dedicated and supportive fan.
For example, “when marketers understand how GORFing operates within the consumer
sector, they can plan and implement measures to utilize the sense of satisfaction to engage
better with consumers”(Havard et al., 2018, p. 5). Sports fans thrive on feeling joy at their
rivals’adversity and this research revealed that fans discuss game outcomes with one-third
of their already-established online and offline social network members. Therefore, one way in
which sports marketers can engage with consumers is by giving them something to say—or
wear—so that fans might highlight that pride and with joy. For example, research has noted
that identification is “a strong predictor for cognition, positive attitude formations, and
reported purchase intentions”(Devlin and Billings, 2018, p. 68). Thus, offering sport
consumers products that suggest or express derogatory statements toward rival teams will
likely sell to these fans who have something to prove to those in their discussion networks.
Moreover, rivals have a storied past (Converse and Reinhard, 2016), so specifically including
past game statistics or other related stories could offer sports consumers something to “talk
trash”about with their rival discussants, thus enabling the much sought-after feeling of the
superiority aspect of a sports fan’s social identity (Billings et al., 2017;Converse and Reinhard,
2016;Tajfel and Turner, 1979;Wann, 2006).
Limitation, future research and conclusion
Limitations exist in this research. For example, the exchanges captured between rival
discussants are the surveyed respondents’perceptions of those exchanges, whether they are
online or in-person communication exchanges, based upon their personal recall and
experiences and does not account for the rival discussant’s perspective. Future research
should investigate the implications of fanship perceptions between rivals and examine fan
perceptions and behavior by collecting data in this multiplex manner to better capture social
interactions. Moreover, this research suggests that schadenfreude should take a more
prominent role in future investigations regarding sport, given that schadenfreude could have
reach into greater financial, societal or moral implications regarding sport.
Schadenfreude should become a significant construct within the body of fan behavior
literature and deserves further recognition and study in the sport marketing literature.
Should schadenfreude and GORFing be one in the same, as Billings et al. (2017)
operationalized? This research suggests that varying components of schadenfreude are
activated in differing scenarios, so perhaps the dichotomization of affective and behavioral
elements of fan behaviors should be examined further. For instance, both the expression of
joy and personally insulting rival discussants were expressed in blasting outwardly and in
being blasted. Insulting was added as a schadenfreude measurement, given that Cikara et al.
(2011) found a likelihood for sport fans to personally insult a rival fan; even though neither
Havard (2014) nor Billings et al. (2017) included personal insults in their respective
measurements. However, here rival discussants were found to engage in such an extreme
derogatory exchange, even above and beyond “talking trash.”The combination of rival
discussants’fanship being perceived higher than one’s own level of team identification, and
insulting rival discussants in addition to expressing joy and pride, are all reflective of the
comparative basis of social identity theory. Thus, they can be categorized as reactionary
attempts at image management (Cialdini and Richardson, 1980), expressed in response to
identity threat of oneself and their favorite team (Wann, 2006).
In closing, we suggest future dichotomization among fan perceptions and fan behavior.
Some fan behaviors are indeed behavioral, like BIRGing or blasting, but others are rooted in
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