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UEFA Champions League reflecting the appealing spectacle of professional football

Different scholars have brought much in-depth knowledge about why sports fans engage with professional sports properties (Funk & James, 2001; Funk, 2001; Kahle & Close). The UEFA Champions League tournament and this year’s quarter finals exemplify some of these patterns. The general motivational factors tied to sports event participation and/or viewership, i.e. socialization, performance, excitement, esteem, and diversion, are in play along with other factors that add to the enhancement of the appealing spectacle of the most famous international club tournament in global football (soccer).

Socialization mirrors the inter-relational feature of sport event participation and/or viewership and hence when a group of friends decides to fly to Barcelona to enjoy a couple of nights at a hotel and to attend FC Barcelona’s home game against Paris SG or when a group of friends meets at a bar for food and drinks to watch the same game on television. In that sense, socialization symbolizes a need for sociability and a football fan’s aspiration to watch the game while also interacting with friends, family or simply for the sake of joining the total atmosphere of such a football game in the venue along with the other fans in the venue. This atmosphere is co-produced by the fans in the stadium and these fandom experiences, in which fans find a sphere to boost their social affiliations via interactions with friends, family, business clients and other fans, act as a strong motivational factor. According to research (Funk et al., 2004; Madrigal, 2006; Trial & James, 2001; Wann, 1995), this concept of socialization is affiliated with other concepts like group affiliation, friends bonding, social interaction, family bonding, and camaraderie.

The performance parameter deals with the degree to which a football fan perceives the football product to offer excellence, beauty, and creativity regarding the sporting performances as in the case of individual players, e.g. Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar and Luis Suarez (FC Barcelona vs. Paris SG), or in the case of exceptional team performances for football lovers that appreciate perfect execution of tactical (team) performances. This parameter symbolizes the motivational factor of consuming a UEFA Champions League game in the quarter final knock-out phase of the tournament in order to experience the talent, elegance and skillfulness of football performances at the highest individual and team level. This is tied to intentions of aggression, aesthetics, physical skill, flow, and performance evaluation (Funk et al., 2004; Madrigal, 2006; Trial & James, 2001; Wann, 1995). In the business of football in which the articulation and discussion of economic capabilities have increased along with the growth of commercialization, the performance parameter may also be related to economic performances that transfer into more freedom on the transfer market or into a football team’s strategy as has been the case with Real Madrid’s ‘galacticos’ strategy.

Excitement refers to football fans being intellectually and/or emotionally aroused by the fan experience, e.g. when a football fan is stimulated by the dramatic content of the game or by the uncertainty of the outcome of the game (e.g. the result). For instance, the Paris SG fans may be positive aroused if Lionel Messi receives a red card after 15 minutes of the first game against FC Barcelona. At the same time, football fans may also be stimulated cognitively by and seek to discover the atmospheric settings, which are formed by the uncertainty of the outcome and the spectacle of supplementary game-related activities. In that sense, football is characterized by the appealing factor of excitement in varying forms, e.g. the economic power of FC Barcelona vs. the economic power of Paris SG, the total entertaining elements that surround the professional football product at this level, the convergence between important assets like players, coaches, sporting interests and the celebrity status and/or behavior of these players and coaches, the physical attraction of footballers like David Beckham and Christiano Ronaldo for women worldwide (Funk et al., 2004; Madrigal, 2006; Trial & James, 2001; Wann, 1995) and the articulation of football-related content and its impact on people’s perception of players and coaches of the game. The latter may refer to the differentiated opinions about star players and their actions, e.g. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The majority of football’s stakeholders may have a harsh opinion about Zlatan’s recent comments about France in a post-game interview when his side Paris SG had lost to Bordeaux in March. Stakeholders quickly interpreted the comments in the way that Zlatan hates France whereas a more precise interpretation from a footballer’s perspective is that ‘Zlatan hates losing’ and that winning mentality is an important factor in terms of what differentiates one player from another*. When FC Barcelona faces Paris SG, there may also be an exciting focus on the ownership and sponsorship interests as these relate to Qatar (e.g. Qatar Sports Investments, Qatar Airways, Qatar Foundation) or on the players in the present rosters that have represented both clubs (e.g. Zlatan Ibrahimovic).

In mirroring the esteem parameter, the Zlatan exemplification relates to the importance of winning in stimulating fans to identify highly with a football player or a football team. For instance, Borussia Dortmund’s run to the Champions League Final against FC Bayern Munich in 2013 shows that the German club’s successful journey to the final was linked to higher levels of fan identification with the club and associated revenue streams. This displays that football fans are motivated by vicarious achievements and AS Monaco’s surprising victory against Arsenal reflects that the French club suddenly received much positive attention in the omnipresent UEFA Champions League conversations worldwide. Being associated with winning underlines the vitality of the intersection between social identity theory and sports psychology in this context. Scholars (Aronson, 2007; Cialdini et al., 2010) state that BIRGing (basking in reflected glory) and CORFing (cutting off reflected failure) are examples of how motivation to attend or watch a football game is tied to winning in the sense that a fan’s or a fan group’s feelings of self-esteem may be boosted by the identification with a favorite player’s or a favorite team’s winning performances. To explain this, think about the previous game between Arsenal and AS Monaco. If you ask an Arsenal fan about the result, he/she may say: ‘they lost’ whereas a fan of AS Monaco may say: ‘we won’. So, esteem is closely linked to motives of group affiliation achievement, community support, self-esteem and vicarious achievement (Funk et al., 2004; Madrigal, 2006; Trial & James, 2001; Wann, 1995). That stimulates me to look back at me growing up and being highly motivated by the successful improvement of the Danish national team’s (football) performances in the 1980s and how the individual players on the team represented Denmark at the national team level and in top clubs across Europe. Their positive approach to the game characterized by an appealing attacking style and great individual and collective capabilities sparked the pride of a Danish football enthusiast like me.

The diversion parameter is also very present in the motivation to attend or watch football at this stage of the UEFA Champions League as a way to practice some escapism, which people seek as a way to escape the obligations of a busy everyday schedule. This is linked to higher levels of mental wellbeing and the stressful hassles of a normal day routine and escape and fantasy (Funk et al., 2004; Madrigal, 2006; Trial & James, 2001; Wann, 1995). See the videos below as an exemplification of how Heineken applies the diversion parameter in the company’s UEFA Champions League activation:

Check out the infographic below to see some of the statistics that are relevant in the upcoming quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League:

UEFA Champions League Quarter Finals 2014/15

These quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League reflect the situational elements that portray the multidimensional characteristic of what motivates football fans to watch these games. This is to be found in the convergence between the individual and collective interest, knowledge and understanding that is associated with the entertainment value of this fantastics sports product. For instance, the drama to be expected in the game between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid may be associated with the intensive city rivalry. The case of rivalries is an omnipresent part of the path to fan identification and an important part of selling any professional football league. At the same time, the uncertainty of the outcome in the games at this stage is a great example of the appeal of the knock-out phase as the tournament often presents surprises. Juventus and FC Bayern Munich are huge favorites to proceed to the semi finals but AS Monaco and FC Porto have the opportunity to tease the Italian and German powerhouses; both teams surprised the football world in 2004 when they made it to the final of tournament.

*This does not mean that I support such comments because footballers are also role models.


Aronson, W. A. (2007). Social Psychology 6th Edition. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Cialdini, R. B., Kenrick, D. T., Neuberg C. B. (2010). Social Psychology 5th Edition. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Funk, D. C., & James, J. (2001). The psychological continuum model: A conceptual framework for understanding an individual’s psychological connection to sport. Sport Management Review, 4(2), 119-150.

Funk, D. C, Ridinger, L., & Moorman, A. J. (2004). Exploring origins of involvement: Understanding the relationship between consumer motives and involvement with professional sport teams. Leisure Sciences, 26,35-61.

Funk, D. (2008). Consumer behaviour in sport and events. Routledge.

Kahle, L. R., & Close, A. G. (Eds.). (2011). Consumer behavior knowledge for effective sports and event marketing. Routledge.

Madrigal, R. (2006). Measuring the multidimensional nature of sporting event consumption. Journal of Leisure Research, 38, 267-292.

Trail, G. T., & James, J. D. (2001). The motivation scale for sport consumption: Assessment of the scale’s psychometric properties. Journal of Sport Behavior, 24, 108-127.

Wann, D. L. (1995). Preliminaiy validation of the sport fan motivation scale. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 19, 377-396.

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