In the current article, we extend the literature on fan identification and social identity theory by examining the effects of unscrupulous off-field behaviors of athletes. In doing so, we drew from both social identity theory and Heider’s balance theory to hypothesize a significant interaction between fan identification level and leadership response on fans’ subsequent levels of identification. An experimental study was performed and a 2 (high, low identification) × 2 (weak, strong leadership response) ANOVA was conducted with the pre to post difference score in team identification as the dependent variable. There was a significant interaction effect (F(2, 80) = 23.71, p < .001) which explained 23% of the variance in the difference between prepost test scores. The results provide evidence that unscrupulous acts by athletes off the field of play can impact levels of team identification, particularly for highly identified fans exposed to a weak leadership response. The results are discussed relative to appropriate theory. Practical implications and suggestions for future research are also forwarded.
Fink is with the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269. Parker is with Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244. Brett is with DeSales University, Center Valley, PA 18034. Higgins is with Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmittsburg, MD 21727.