A Study of NHL Fan Identification in Red Deer, Alberta
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While there are many reasons sport fans choose to follow one team over another, geography is typically a major one, as people often follow their hometown team, or the team that is the closest (Rooney, 1974; 1975; Wann, 2006). However, limited academic attention has been given to situations where geographic proximity is likely to have little to no influence in the development of sport fan identification, and how individuals choose teams instead. The purpose of this qualitative study was to better understand how hockey fans chose their favourite team when two teams in two different cities are an equal distance away, and how they would maintain that fandom in the presence of the other team’s fans. Participants were recruited in Red Deer, Alberta, a city that is 84 miles or 135.2 km from both Edmonton and Calgary. Using Rooney’s (1974; 1975) spheres of influence for sport teams, Red Deer falls equally within the sphere for both teams. As a result of the equi-distance, however, it was assumed geographic proximity likely has little influence on fandom formation in Red Deer. Further, the constant threat of the rival group being in close proximity raises questions for how fans in Red Deer maintain their team fandom. A total of 12 semi-structured interviews were conducted with highly identified fans of the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames that were also lifelong residents of Red Deer. Geographic proximity proved to play no role, while family influence, team success, rebellious nature, and place attachment proved major factors in how fans in Red Deer choose between these two teams. Further, because the Oilers and Flames are traditional rivals dating back to the 1980s (Spector, 2015), and with Red Deer being caught in the middle, an assumption was made that rivalry would play a large role in fandom maintenance. However, that was not the case. Not only did rivalry not factor in fandom maintenance, but the rivalry was also seen as dead or dying by participants. Directions for future research and recommendations are presented and discussed.