Despite the global cancellations of sport due to COVID-19, the Australian Football League (AFL) commenced the 2020 season in empty stadiums. It was for short time one of the only sports still played globally, before the league eventually postponed the season days later. At the time, these handful of games acted as a beacon of hope and a distraction for fans to connect with their sport and teams, albeit with consumption limited to media platforms, with no fans in attendance. This paper uses qualitative thematic coding to analyse user generated content from Twitter (n=2484) and to explore how fans engaged with, integrated, and responded to sport in a global crisis, as well as how they navigated and rationalised their fan experience during this unprecedented time. It provides a particular focus on how macro influences, such as COVID-19 and other social issues, impact perceptions of sport’s role and importance in society. The study highlights the constructs of fandom that regulate fan sentiment, illustrates the depth of a fan’s relationship with sport based on moral and ethical identification and reinforces the need for sporting organisations to connect with fans on a social level, rather than simply offering a form of entertainment, amusement, or distraction.
Assoicate Dean, Higher Education, Sport, Holmesglen Institute (Associate Dean) and Swinburne University of Technology (Adjunct Research Fellow), Victoria, Australia
Fandom, Social Media, Community, Communications, User Generated Content