The Freeloader Effect: Examining the Influence of Engagement and Attitudes in a Virtual Fan Community

Matthew Walker
Courtney Hodge
and Gregg Bennett

Virtual fan communities (VFCs) have become a popular online platform for millions of sport team fans to interact and share information. Traditionally, teams, leagues, and their close affiliates have assumed control of these communication platforms as free services for fans. However, a marked increase in third-party VFCs have given rise to a growing number of independent sites focused on monetization via subscriptions. The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of a subscription-based third-party VFC indirectly affiliated with a large university athletics program. Data were collected from a sample of VFC subscribers and nonsubscribers to examine differences in attitudes and engagement across interactivity measures. Notably, the tested relationships revealed that nonsubscribers accounted for more variance across all of the outcome variables. These results show that free services are more influential and that “freeloaders” are an important population for digesting online marketing content.