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An interpretive analysis of Hartford Whalers fans' stories

Craig G Hyatt, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Most research on sport fans in the sport marketing and fan loyalty fields has been based on pre-conceived conceptualizations and definitions congruent with the mindset of team management. Little is known if sport fans view their experiences in this way. This dissertation examines the experience of being a fan of the National Hockey League's Hartford Whalers from the perspective of the insider. Twenty-four fans were interviewed in-depth to gain an understanding of the process of becoming a Whalers fan, being a Whalers fan, living through the franchise relocation, and living life without the Whalers. By analyzing the stories, existing concepts and definitions in the sport marketing and fan loyalty literature are questioned. Contrary to the literature, few Whalers fans progressed through stages of loyalty from sport to team to player. Many became fans by accident after attending their first game at the Hartford Civic Center. Their stories not only question the fan loyalty literature's conceptualization of team loyalty as being both exclusive and consisting of equal parts behavior and attitude, but also question the ethics of relationship marketing, considering how many fans felt betrayed when the team disrupted the relationship by relocating. This dissertation adds to the understanding of sport fans by discovering new insights not discussed in the literature. Whalers fans felt humiliated that they were outnumbered in the region by New York Rangers and Boston Bruins fans, felt a strong, positive attachment to the team's theme song and logo, appreciated the amount of player interaction in the community that would have been impossible in a larger market, felt the pain of relocation even more after the team chose to move to a city no bigger than Hartford in a region unfamiliar with hockey, developed a kinship with fans of teams in situations that reminded them of the Whalers', and came to see themselves as sophisticated hockey fans who had grown accustomed to live NHL hockey. Because of this sense of sophistication, many Whalers fans have been frustrated in their attempts to recapture what they had with the Whalers through pursuing other hockey or sporting options.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Hyatt, Craig G, "An interpretive analysis of Hartford Whalers fans' stories" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110503.