Towards a spectator loyalty model for soccer clubs in South Africa
Mogajane, Victor Solomon
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Understanding loyalty in marketing is important as it can enable soccer clubs to manage the impact on fostering vital spectators and communities support for the sport industry. More importantly, soccer club managers need to understand the importance of spectators in growing the success of their business. Sport has become big business. Spectator sport has also become one of the most popular activities and spectators represent the largest proportion of the sport industry. According to the literature, spectators are a group of consumers who support the popularity of a player or team. They are, in many instances, loyal and fanatical about the performance and success of their team. Spectators demonstrate loyalty towards their clubs through factors such as eustress, self-esteem, escape, entertainment, aesthetic characteristics, group affiliation and family needs to be responsible for motivation leading to sport attendance. Further, it is recognised that loyalty drivers such as commitment, customer satisfaction, service quality, identification, supply image, perceived value, customer relationship, trust, customer retention, waiting time and dependability play a major role in influencing decisions to support and attend sport and other activities. Understanding of these factors by soccer club managers is important in developing a spectator base. Sport spectators are estimated to be worth millions (in monetary terms) to the global economy which supports a valuable niche market segment. Spectator attendance at sport events represents a significant revenue stream for sports venues and sporting associations with subsequent benefits for cities or regions. It was argued that the core feature of sport spectating is its capacity to intimately engage spectators and deliver intensely emotional and loyal attachment to their favourite teams and clubs. Soccer, as part of sport industry, provides these benefits and costs to the spectators and communities, hence generating both positive and negative impacts. Once the communities have turned into spectators to support their teams, their lives will be influenced by this development, thus impacting on their livelihoods. From the literature it was found that no research has been conducted to determine and analyse the loyalty concept with regard to spectators, especially in the context of sport in South Africa. A number of theoretical frameworks have been developed in loyalty to signify how this is important in building a relationship with the spectators. Pertaining to loyalty, various definitions and their theoretical models have also been created to describe the functioning of loyalty as a construct. Although critical frameworks have been developed that are distinct to loyalty in a retail environment, to date there is no model that exists that explores the influence of spectators towards supporting their teams. By addressing these issues, a significant contribution is thus made to literature, together with the ensuing practical contributions. Therefore, the main aim of this study was to develop a model to indicate spectator loyalty towards soccer clubs. This primary goal was reached through the achievement of four objectives. The first objective was a critical analysis of literature pertaining to loyalty as a marketing construct. The review of literature gave an analysis of the nature and aspects of marketing and how companies can build their relationship by satisfying customers’ needs and wants. The term “loyalty as well as drivers of customer loyalty explains how and why customers are the important elements of the success of business and these were analysed. This objective provided a foundation for the rest of the study in terms of understanding the impact of loyalty on customers towards building a sound relationship with the company. The second objective was to critically analyse the relevance of and application of loyalty to sport with specific reference to spectators. This was done in order to create a better understanding with regard to the importance of the sport industry and defining sport marketing. The limited application of loyalty in sport and the motivational factors of spectators attending games were also elaborated upon. The third objective was to analyse the key elements of loyalty, enabling the development of a loyalty model for selected stakeholders by means of both a literature review and empirical analyses. This analysis focuses on the interpretation of the results both from the community and spectator surveys. This was done with the aim of creating a model for managing and developing loyalty of spectators for soccer clubs in South Africa, which could lead to improved attendance at games. An empirical investigation was done by following a mixed method approach, namely qualitative and quantitative methods, to determine loyalty as a marketing construct and its application in sport, with specific reference to spectators. Firstly, with regard to the qualitative research, the questionnaire was developed from the literature review. This questionnaire was then used as an interview tool targeting two management participants from selected soccer clubs (N=9). It was found that most of the interviewees indicated that their spectators are satisfied with their clubs. Most of the clubs do not own the stadiums; the services of rented stadiums are appreciated and accepted by these clubs as spectators also attend the games at these stadiums. These spectators demonstrate their loyalty towards their clubs even when they do not perform as well as expected. Spectators are involved with the club and will go to the extent of buying the club’s merchandise to wear so that they identify with the club. The interviewees indicated that their clubs used CSI projects to build and develop a relationship with communities so that spectators can be recruited. The interviewees mentioned that iconic players are important in attracting and retaining loyal spectators. Secondly, the quantitative research was done by means of a self-administered questionnaire which was distributed in two community areas in South Africa, by means of stratified sampling. The communities included in the research were Royal Bafokeng (n=271) and Soweto (n=311). As for spectators, a questionnaire was also distributed to Royal Bafokeng (n=288) and Soweto (n=284). These questionnaires were captured in Microsoft Excel and analysed by means of the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS version 20). The data was analysed in three phases. The first phase was exploratory research which included the use of frequency tables and graphs for compiling a combined community and spectator profile as well as Exploratory Factor Analyses to explore the ways in which communities and spectators are influenced to attend soccer games. In the descriptive phase it was evident that respondents from Royal Bafokeng and Soweto have shown in both community and spectator surveys that despite the challenges of unemployment, the level of education and income, they were able to support their teams. This was evident with the level of attendance at matches, which indicated that soccer is very important to these communities. Further, the exploratory factor analysis revealed that all drivers yielded only one factor per driver, which supports the literature related to the loyalty drivers as well as the validity of the questionnaire. The loyalty drivers included: Commitment to soccer; Customer satisfaction; Customer value; Identification with the team; Information about the team; Trust; Service quality and Customer retention. It was found that the loyalty drivers can be applied to soccer and that these can be utilised to improve loyalty to soccer. The extent to which these drivers contribute was at this point in time unknown. Although all loyalty drivers yielded a mean value of above 5 on a 7-point Likert scale, Service Quality and Customer Retention yielded the highest mean values of the various factors. In the second phase, it was established that occupation influenced the loyalty drivers. Respondents in professional occupations rated commitment, information, quality service, customer retention and loyalty on four occasions higher than those in educational occupations and pensioners. The effect sizes also showed greater influence in this regard. It was also found that gender did not influence respondents’ towards loyalty drivers. In addition, correlations were drawn between demographic factors (age, education and income) and the loyalty drivers as well as spectator behaviour variables and loyalty drivers. With regard to age it was found that the older the respondents were the more important they considered customer value as an important loyalty driver. Significant differences were also evident for education, income, length of being a soccer spectator the number of games attended and respondents spending patterns on merchandise. It was clear that age played a critical role for the respondents. The older the respondents, the more they value and support their team. In addition, the more educated they were, the more they were satisfied and identified with the team. These respondents also believe and trust the team and demonstrate a high level of loyalty. Furthermore, these respondents indicated commitment to soccer based on their income. With income, respondents were able to attend matches, spend a lengthy time with the team as well as spend valuable money in purchasing merchandise. In the third phase, structural equation modelling, was utilised to determine the relationships between the loyalty drivers and loyalty when combined in one analysis. This model was validated by analysing goodness of fit indices which indicated a good fit of the data to the model. The major findings of this model revealed that commitment, identification, information and retention were the most important to spectators and communities and have implications for sport planners and management. All the findings lead to the development of an innovative model that has been customised for sport and more specifically the soccer environment and this can be assessed for use in other codes of sport in South Africa. This study is the first of its kind where a critical analysis was done with regard to loyalty in marketing and applied to the sport context in South Africa. The study contributes to literature and research pertaining to loyalty drivers and their influence on sport spectatorship. The study also fills a gap in literature on loyalty in sport marketing as well as the significance thereof, especially in a developing country like South Africa. The gap existed as a result of the majority of studies focusing on developed continents such as Europe and America. Loyalty as a marketing construct can also be applied in future research as it contributes to the research methodology through the development of a questionnaire that can measure spectator attendance at sport matches within a South African context. The most significant contribution of this study is the development of the model and its application that can assist sport managers to understand spectator roles in the development of sport and how to develop loyalty. This model thus serves as a tool for maximising the loyalty levels of spectators to sport and by doing so contribute to the sustainable development of the industry.