Football fandom and the Association Principle

The association principle can manifest as associating with a sports team, especially a sports team that’s well-liked or performing well.

A referee voodoo doll with pins stuck in it. Next to the doll is a pin cushion with additional pins for patrons of the shop to stick in the doll.
A day after the January 20, 2019 NFL Conference Championship game where the New Orleans Saints lost to the Los Angeles Rams, I walked into a New Orleans craft store to find this referee voodoo doll prominently displayed. The store owner invited me to push another a pin into the doll. Many residents of New Orleans blame the game loss on a referee’s bad interception call.

A while ago, I was listening to a local radio station when a female caller asked a dating question. She’d been on a few dates with a guy and noticed that he is what is often referred to as a “super fan.” His apartment was covered in logos and memorabilia from a particular sports team. His clothing also was mostly for that team, down to the slippers he wore. And his vehicle was covered with stickers for the team.

Her problem? The rival team is her team.  Her question was whether he’d continue to date her when he found out.

But I think her question should have been, “Why does this guy so heavily associate with the team?”

Association Principle

The association principle is when two or more things that are not related are somehow connected in our minds to create a relation between them. For example, in Ivan Pavlov’s famous study where he rang a bell and the fed dogs, the dogs eventually connected the bell to food and began salivating when he rang the bell, even in the absence of food. They’d associated these two things with one another food + bell.

Association Principle and Advertising

Advertisers absolutely love the association principle because they can associate their product or service to another positive product or service to drive sales.

Examples:

  • Marlboro cigarettes + tough cowboy = Men who smoke Marlboro cigarettes are tough and rugged.
  • Corona + beaches = The drink you should drink at the beach or to feel like you’re at the beach is Corona.
  • Successful business person endorsement + book = Successful business people read this book. If you want to be successful, you should too.
  • Beautiful celebrity + skincare product = If you use this product, you’ll be like this celebrity.
  • National Basketball League (NBA) + Nike shoes = If you want to be in the NBA or play like NBA players, wear Nike shoes.

There’s also the fun world of negative advertising association, in which a competitor works to associate your brand with something undesirable.  For example, it’s rumored that a competitor to the Gucci brand sent Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi a Gucci handbag to make Gucci less desirable to luxury buyers.

Self-Esteem, Association Principle & Football

Yet another way of looking at the association principle is through the lens of social status and self-esteem. The belief is that if we surround ourselves with favorable people and things then that positivity will also be associated with us. One example is people with low self-esteem and low social status. In these cases, a person has a tendency to want to associate with someone or something of a higher or “winning” status.

And, as by now you’ve probably guessed, that can manifest as associating with a sports team, especially a sports team that’s well-liked or performing well. Think about some of the behaviors that sports fans exhibit:

  • Fans watching the game in a bar giving other fans “high-fives” when their football team scores a touchdown even though they didn’t physically complete the play themselves.
  • Someone becoming a “super fan” of a university football team even though they never attended that university.
  • University students saying “we won” when their university’s team wins and “they lost” when their university team loses. By doing so, they are associating themselves when the team does well by using “we” and distancing themselves when the team does poorly by using “they.” (Cialini et al. 1976)
  • A fan believing “their team” won’t win if the fan doesn’t wear a certain shirt or eat a certain food during the game.

While enjoying a sports game can be a fun hobby and someone with a favorite team doesn’t necessarily suffer from low self-esteem, it’s interesting to look at the most extreme examples of sports fandom and try to understand the potential motivation behind it.

CAMEX: Products I loved

I recently attended CAMEX, the campus market expo, where college bookstore managers come to learn about products and services for their bookstores (we were there promotion open educational resources).

I was very impressed by the expo and with the products & services I saw, as well as the creative booth designs. A friend of mine asked me to keep an eye out for new vendors/products that might be good for her high school stores, so below is a combination of ideas for her as well as other products that were unique and exciting.

ResquMe had keychains that had a seat belt cutter and a glass hammer in one. I was so impressed I bought 2. They also had infrared pepper spray so police can identify attackers up to 4 days after the attack.
ResquMe had keychains that had a seat belt cutter and a glass hammer in one. I was so impressed I bought 2. They also had infrared pepper spray so police can identify attackers up to 4 days after the attack.
A package of team twists, that look like multi-colored braids when put in hair
Team Twists provide an easy way to add team colors to long hair
A set of cute portable keychain phone charges, such as a pig, a pineapple, and a slice of cake
Portable phone chargers in all shapes are really popular. These ones from BUQU are really cute and have a lifetime warranty.
A set of coolers with a wrap around them with a team's logo on them.
Custom logo coolers would be very expensive, so how about a foam wrap (like a koozie) for your cooler? Victory Corps offers this economical solution in various sizes.
The Diva Cup menstrual cups are a wonderful product for women.
The Diva Cup menstrual cups are a wonderful product for women.
A display of clear bags and purses where you can see all of the contents in the bags.
With schools and many professional sports requiring women to carry clean bags only into the stadium, the retailers have responded with a wide array of options.
A display of individual packets of mug cake mix to make in a coffee mug
Ah, the modern version of the Easy Bake Oven: Mug Cakes! Molly & Drew make it easy to make one with these individual packets. I sampled the cake and it was wonderful. Their beer bread mixes are also excellent.
A series of necklaces covered in two colors of Swarovski crystals, including 3-D designs of a football and basketball.
DreamTime Creations specializes in reasonably-priced designs made with Swarovski crystals in your school colors.
A display of fair trade products, including necklaces, earrings, etc.
Minga Fair Trade Imports had a wide variety of socially and ecologically conscious options, including notebooks of paper made from elephant dung.
A display of composition books that decompose, so they are called decomposition books
One of my personal favorites, the bookstore managers I spoke with said Decomposition Books are top sellers at their stores.
I often worry about the next generation growing up with minimal financial skills, so I was excited to see a board game, Bulls & Bears, to teach them the basics of finance and budgeting.
I often worry about the next generation growing up with minimal financial skills, so I was excited to see a board game, Bulls & Bears, to teach them the basics of finance and budgeting.
A display of various collegiate headbands with the school name or logo in sparkles.
Bling is big, which shows in these sparkly and big headbands from GlamFans.

NFL tries to appease female fans after purse ban: “Fanicures,” pop-up stores and things that go wrong

A photo of a hand with manicured nails. The nails are blue, red and white in varying simple designs to match the colors of the Houston Texans
Thanks to CoverGirl for my “fanicure” at the Houston Texans game.

Before heading to the Houston Texans game today, I read CultureMap’s article titled,  NFL tries to court back female fans: Does a pop-up lounge with “fanicures” make up for purse ban?. As a marketer, things like this fascinate me, so one of my friends and I ventured into the pop-up store.

The merchandise was exactly what they said, very female-oriented and very trendy. the free “fanicures” were great (thanks CoverGirl!) and the photo booth was fun. Overall, do I think they won back some female fans with it? Maybe. I, for one, at least appreciated the gesture.  And I learned a lot about products now available that I didn’t know about before.

But not everything went well for this special promotion event. There were three broken windows that they might want to address before their next event:

  • There was an hour wait for a “fanicure,” But, they took my cell number and told me they’d text me when it was my turn. Two hours of holding my cell at the game and still no text. So, I went back. Their text feature wasn’t working, but the woman organizing the fanicures told me she’d fit me in next and she held true to that.
  • The CultureMap article said they wouldn’t be selling purses. Ironically, they were.  Just don’t try to bring the purse you buy there into the stadium. They don’t meet the NFL Bag Policy guidelines.
  • The photo booth was a lot of fun and we had a good time partaking in that.  But, when we got our printout, we had no where to put it to keep it safe. The printed photo strip was longer than our allowable bag size, so it wouldn’t fit anywhere.

Overall, I think this was a great event in the long process of winning-back female fans and the broken windows were pretty minor considering. Best of luck to the NFL and GO TEXANS!