We’d like to introduce a new term here: the long distance fan. As the label implies, a long distance fan is any fan who supports a team or even just follows a sport from a removed geographic location. Recently, the sports community has seen a rise in these long distance fans. No longer does someone just root for the team of whatever locale they currently reside in. There is much greater choice and diversity in a fan’s options. The major factor that has led to the rise of the long distant fan is the Internet. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can legitimately support any team in the world. This commercial from ESPN shows how the Internet creates long distance fans wherever it is available. Even on a Virginian Barrier Island.
Sure, television gave people the ability to watch “their” team from a far-flung locale, but even then, the fandom was limited grossly because of the fan was not able to control what was shown on T.V. and when.
With the Internet, even if your favorite sports team’s game is not on T.V., you can most likely find somewhere online to stream it and watch it on your computer. Or, if video is not an available option, play by play “gamecasts,” or audiocasts can be found for virtually all sporting events.
The Internet provides the long distance fan all the tools necessary to be an active and engaged fan as everybody else. A fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers who resides in Florida can be a fan just as voraciously as any local fan. The long distance fan is not as rare as you might think. Nearly 55% of Major League Baseball fans do not live near their favorite team (Arthur and Jennings). This suggests that being a long distance fan does not dilute the fan experience as one might expect. If being a long distance fan was indeed dissatisfying and not enjoyable, the number would be much lower. For more on what the long distance fan can do online, click here.
Some teams are beginning to tap into this long distance fan market by purposefully creating them in far flung populations for the sake of potential merchandise and marketing gains. Many European football clubs (soccer clubs for us Americans) are looking to Asia as a new market to create fans in. With the European soccer market largely saturated, clubs are looking to Asia and its largely untapped soccer market as a place to win fans, and those fans’ wallets. Clubs, such as Real Madrid of Spain have gone on Asian tours, playing various exhibition games in front of large crowds. These tours would not be able to garner so much fan interest and the subsequent economic gains without the Internet to provide fans, at the very least, a base interest in Real Madrid or European soccer at all (Li). Manchester United, one of the biggest and most successful clubs in England has done a great job of extending their brand into Asia, particularly South Korea, and it’s all thanks to one man.
That man is Ji Sung Park. Because Manchester United has Ji Sung Park on their roster (there are not many Asian players in European soccer) they immediately became the favorite club of all of South Korea, who now had a reason to be interested in the Premier League (English soccer). This new group of fans has afforded Manchester United massive merchandise returns, media deals and even sponsorship deals (Manchester’s stadium features several Asian advertisements), and many other clubs are attempting to emulate Manchester United’s success in other Asian countries such as Japan and China. However, this strategy of seeking Asian fans would not work without the Internet. The Internet serves as the main, and critical tool, for these Asian fans. Without the multitude of services and fan activities the Internet offers, Asian fans (along with any other long distance fans) would most likely lose interest and stop being fans at all. The Internet keeps a long distance fan’s favorite team close and fresh in the mind, offering tons of ways for them to follow, engage with and support their team, no matter how far away they are geographically.
Soccer is also seeing a surge in American interest as well. Although soccer is by no means a recipient of coverage by most American mainstream media outlets, the Internet has allowed for the development of highly engaged fans one might expect to live in England, Spain or Germany. Miami University student and Aston Villa (an English Premier League soccer club) fan, Brian Seckel described why the Internet is so crucial to being a soccer and Aston Villa fan in America.
“I would not be able to be a very good Aston Villa fan without the Internet. I’d be able to support them and watch the occasional game but without the Internet, I wouldn’t have the same base that I do now,” Brian explained.
Thanks to the Internet, fans like Brian can watch live soccer events online, watch highlights online, read about their favorite teams online, buy merchandise online, play fantasy soccer online, and even use social networks to talk about and follow their favorite teams online. By giving American media consumers the choice to participate in activities such as these, the Internet has empowered an entire population.
“Before the Internet you couldn’t really enjoy sports that were right there,” Brian stated, “being an American, you pretty much focused on football, basketball, baseball, and those were the sports you followed because those are what’s here.”
The American population, and really any population of media consumers, now has the choice and control to consume whatever sports they desire. Sometimes, the Internet has even fostered new desires in people, encouraging them to go beyond their traditional sports boundaries. “[The Internet] helps people broaden their horizons,” Brian commented. So that’s what the Internet does, or at least is capable of. It broadens horizons, allowing people to become more enriched and globally aware citizens in the process. There is hope that this phenomenon will not be contained to sports alone, but will extend into other arenas of culture, fulfilling the lofty inspirations of the Internet working as a tool, promoting good for all citizens across the globe.
Brian’s Full Interview:
Raney, Arthur A. and Jennings Bryant. Handbook of Sports and Media. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. 2009. Electronic Print. http://books.google .com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=vnbLdagv50cCoi=fndpg=PA183dq=watching+sports+online&ots=hfOU1EzJia&sig=7Jym4QNVjYuxVdv9GjGp7efituE#v=onepage&q=watching% 20sports%20online&f=true
Seckel, Brian. Personal interview. 22 Nov. 2010.
Xiao, Li. China Org. “Real Madrid’s Play for China’s Soccer Market.” China Org Sports. 22 July, 2005. Web. http://www.china.org.cn/english/sports/135811.htm (16 Nov. 2010).