New fans, new places : the role of sport fanship in newcomer adjustment
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The need to belong is a fundamental human motivation. Individuals dedicate substantial time and effort into developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships with others, yet the structures and mechanisms through which individuals satisfy their need for belongingness has changed. Subjugated to the periphery of communal life are the geographically based communities and traditional forms of interest-based communities so popular among earlier generations (Putnam, 2000). In their place, modern individuals have created and joined new types of communities consistent with the wants and demands of the modern economy and lifestyle. Based on looseness and flexibility (Wuthnow, 1998), these modern communities are marked by fluidity of membership where individuals are free to enter and leave at their own peril. Yet, we know very little about the experiences of newcomers entering communities and the underlying processes through which newcomers join communities. Utilizing a longitudinal qualitative approach, the first goal of this dissertation was to develop a substantive theory explaining the underlying processes through which newcomers join communities, resulting in the creation of the Newcomer-to-Member model. In the second half of this dissertation, the focus shifts towards the impact of sport fanship as a mechanism to assist in the tumultuous newcomer adjustment process. Based on the experiences of 31 incoming college freshmen over a two-year period, four themes are presented that illustrate how sport fanship can positively affect the experiences of community newcomers: 1) Offering an early and flexible form of involvement; 2) Creating meaningful individual connections; 3) Promoting community ambassadors; and 4) Stimulating the identity negotiation process. Sport fanship is conceptualized in this dissertation not as a predictor of consumer behavior, but rather as a mechanism that can be specifically structured and designed to enhance the experiences and lives of individuals. The implications of the Newcomer-to-Member model and the four themes related to sport fanship are discussed in terms of theoretical implications for higher education, organizational socialization, and sport management. Moreover, practical implications for both higher education and sport management are also discussed.