How Changes in Team Performance Impact Team Identity

Aaron C. Mansfield
Elizabeth B. Delia
Katherine R. N. Reifurth
and Matthew Katz

Despite a wealth of team identification research, little scholarship has focused on how considerable changes to a team’s performance may impact the meaning of the team identity (as such a meaning is understood/exposited by in-group members). To this end, we examined fans of a historically poor-performing team that had reversed course, becoming a winner. We conducted semi-structured interviews with supporters of Major League Baseball’s (MLB’s) Chicago Cubs to explore how the team’s 2016 World Series (i.e., championship) win had impacted supporters’ identification with the team. We noted two primary themes defining how the team identity had changed: (1) different expectations for performance following the championship; and (2) the team’s new success representing a threat to interviewees’ understanding of the team identity meaning. We also observed constants in the composition of the team identity, factors unchanged by the success. We make our primary contribution by addressing the role of considerable team performance changes in the meaning of team identity.