This study explores the implications of the sports communication theory of fan identification and the divisions often developed between identifying with a single athlete and the bonds developed for a sport as a whole. Using the fastest growing North American sport, mixed martial arts (MMA)—more specifically, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)—differences in levels of fan identification were examined in relationship to attitudes toward individual athletes and attitudes toward the UFC organization. An online survey of 911 respondents produced a highly representative sample of the UFC’s current audience demographics. Results showed significant differences in fan identify between gender, age, and sensationseeking behaviors, suggesting that distinct demographic variables may influence the role that fan identity has not only in sports media consumption but also in future event consumption. Implications and ramifications for future theoretical sports communication research and sports marketing are postulated.
At the time this paper was written, Brown and Devlin were doctoral students in the College of Communication and Information Sciences, and Billings, their advisor, is with the Dept. of Telecommunication and Film, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL. Devlin is now with the Public Relations and Advertising Dept., DePaul University, Chicago, IL.