Building brands and fan relationships through social media : the case of the Grand Slam tennis events : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sport and Exercise at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Social media have become pervasive parts of society and modern consumer culture. However, sports scholars have noted a distinct lack of knowledge and understanding related to their use among sports properties. This thesis, through the novel use of a modified circuit of culture framework (du Gay, Hall, Jones, McKay & Negus, 1997) explores how Facebook and Twitter were utilised by the four Grand Slam tennis events (Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and U.S. Open) to build their brands and relationships with fans. A unique multi-perspectival, multi-method approach involving semi-structured interviews, a content analysis of Facebook and Twitter posts, and online surveys provided rich sources of data.
The findings reveal that these events are deliberately and proactively using social media. It is apparent that social media aid in two key functions: (1) a facilitator of socialisation and emotional connections, and (2) a cultivator of brand image and brand experience. Furthermore, two unique challenges were identified: (1) providing value and meeting fan expectations, and (2) organisational adaptability. Importantly, this research has significant practical and scholarly implications, providing one of the first empirical examinations into how social media assist sports event brands in brand management efforts. Social media are shown to be sites that provide opportunities for practitioners to create a quasi-virtual brand experience, representing an online substitute for the live event. This particular aspect represents a unique finding and an aspect that is of particular relevance for sports event brands. In addition, this study was one of the first to employ a multi-method approach, framed within the circuit of culture, in sports-related social media research. The use of this approach revealed the need to modify the circuit of culture with a centralised moment of “prosumption” for future social media related studies. It is proposed that this approach would be transferable to other sports contexts, advancing the research agenda of sport management scholars.