Exploring the Power Dynamics in an Online Sports Fan Community

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:20
Oral Presentation
Nadina AYER, University of Waterloo, Canada
Ron MCCARVILLE, University of Waterloo, Canada
Technology can change the way sport is consumed and experienced (e.g., Sage & Eitzen, 2016; Sanderson, 2011). For instance, sports consumption increasingly takes place within electronic settings with fans joining thousands of others from across the world in online communities. Each of these communities is comprised of “a collection of people who adhere to a certain (loose) social contract and who share certain (eclectic) interests” (Rheingold, 1998, p. 116). These collections can offer a convenient, timely, and a reliable way to socialize (Chayko, 2008) as well as the opportunity for self-expression, companionship, and stimulation (Nimrod, 2014). In many ways, they place power and opportunity in the hands of users. Where power typically resides in the hands of leagues, team owners, television broadcasting systems, and the players themselves, online communities can liberate the individual users from the shackles of traditional power structures (Jenkins, 2013). It is the fan base that populates and maintains online forums by deciding what is posted, what voices are heard, what questions are asked, and what topics are debated. We were interested in how power relations between forum members and administrators play out in an online community. We monitored group dynamics within 3,431 messages posted to 21 discussion threads of a popular tennis forum. Results suggest that posters tend to interpret, critique, and debate events and practices within the online community and their sport at large. The online dynamics were often complex as posters sought to fulfill their various goals. They exchanged information, shared experiences, and expressed emotion all within a simultaneously harmonious and adversarial environment. We demonstrate how an online forum offers a setting that is both supportive and acrimonious and where norms, values, rituals, and traditions can emerge and evolve.