What is rivalry?
According to Tyler & Cobbs (2017), a rival group is…
A highly salient outgroup that poses acute threat to ingroup identity and/or esteem

What are rivalry points?

To measure fans’ perceptions of rivalry, we provide our survey respondents with 100 ‘rivalry points’ to allocate across their favorite team’s opponents. We also ask respondents about their feelings and reactions toward rivals, as well as why their favorite team and the teams to which respondents allocate points should be considered rivals.

See the About page for a more thorough explanation of rivalry points.

What sparks a rivalry?
A thorough explanation can be found in Tyler & Cobbs (2015), but in short, there are 11 main antecedents that can be grouped into three categories: Conflict, Peer, and Bias.


Defining moment: Specific incident, positive or negative, between the competitors

Frequency of competition: Recurring competition between the opponents

Historical parity: Comparable success over a long period (greater than 10 years)

Recent parity: Comparable success within the last 10 years

Star factor: Extraordinary individuals (performers, personalities, or legacies)


Geography: Teams are located close to each other

Cultural similarity: Shared values between the teams/institutions/cities

Competition for personnel: Competition for recruits, coaches, players


Cultural difference: Disparate values between the teams/institutions/cities

Relative dominance: One team aspires to overcome the historical success or dominance of the other team

Unfairness: Perceived preferential treatment toward one team by league or competition authorities (e.g., governing bodies, referees)

Selected rivalry works by Tyler and/or Cobbs

Tyler, B. D., Cobbs, J., Nichols, B. S., & Dalakas, V. (In press). Schadenfreude, rivalry antecedents, and the role of perceived sincerity in sponsorship of sport rivalries. Journal of Business Research.

Emotion impacts fans’ information processing and evaluation of sport sponsors. This paper examines the emotion of schadenfreude within rivalry contests, which have become attractive opportunities for marketers. Study 1 reports on relationships between schadenfreude and 11 rivalry antecedents using survey data from 5,459 fans across six sport leagues. Results show that unfairness and cultural difference have the strongest association with schadenfreude. Study 2 utilizes an experimental design involving 543 fans of professional teams in four US-based rivalries. Findings show positive effects of schadenfreude on fans’ reactions to the sponsor, as mediated by perceived sincerity of the sponsoring brand. Specifically, this suggests that emotionally-engaged fans (based on heightened schadenfreude) see sponsor support as more sincere, which, in turn, increases fan interest, favorability, and intended consumption of the brand. Implications for sponsors include recognizing how rivalry games may alleviate drawbacks present when sponsoring just one side of a rivalry.

Cobbs, J., Nichols, B. S., & Tyler, B. D. (2019). Rival team effects in cause-related sports marketing. International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship. doi: 10.1108/IJSMS-01-2019-0010

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine how reference to a rival or favorite sports team within cause-related sports marketing (CRSM) campaigns affects fans’ intentions to support the cause. The purpose of the studies is to assess the perils of featuring a specific team in league-wide activations of cause-related marketing.
Design/methodology/approach: The research comprises three experiments. Study 1 employs CRSM advertising to test fans’ responses when rival or hometown team imagery is featured by Major League Baseball (MLB). Studies 2 and 3 utilize a press release to activate a cause partnership in MLB and the National Basketball Association (NBA) and assess the potential influence of team involvement and schadenfreude toward the rival team.
Findings: Contrary to previous research, results demonstrate that rival team presence in league-wide activation can reduce intentions to support the cause effort across both leagues, but not in all circumstances. The influence of rival team exposure on perceived sincerity is moderated by team involvement with the cause in MLB, but not the NBA. However, sincerity consistently enhances cause support across all studies. While conditional effects of schadenfreude are noted, it is not a significant moderator of cause support.
Research limitations/implications: This research exposes the nuance of league-wide CRSM activations. Specifically, the rival team effect on perceived sincerity seems to be league dependent, and subject to team involvement with the cause. Moreover, these results are limited to the leagues studied.
Practical implications: League administrators and their cause-related partners should exercise due diligence when promoting their affiliation using specific teams and levels of involvement with the cause.
Originality/value: These studies produce results that differ from the limited prior research within the domain of league-wide CRSM, and therefore advance the conversation regarding how best to activate such campaigns.

Cobbs, J., Martinez del Campo del Castillo, D., Tyler, B. D., & Ditter, J. (2019). Regional variation in rivalry: Canadians really are friendlier. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 31(3), 191-202. doi: 10.1080/08961530.2018.1531364

Spectator sports embody social group conflict, where consumers periodically interact with opposing fans, thereby providing outlets for negative brand affect in the form of acrimony toward rivals. To assess the regional nature of rivalry, this study compared 5,145 sports consumers across the four United States Census regions and Canada, including five professional leagues. Consistent with regional personality clustering, fans of Canadian teams harbor less acrimony toward rivals, and fans of teams in the Northeastern US generally exhibit the most acrimony. When developing events and promotional partnerships, sports marketers and sponsors should recognize regional differences in how consumers react to rivals.

Tyler, B. D., Morehead, C., Cobbs, J. B., & DeSchriver, T. D. (2017). What is rivalry? Old and new approaches to specifying rivalry in demand estimations of spectator sports. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 26(4), 204-222. URL

Although the concept of rivalry is widely recognized as a contributing factor to consumer demand for sporting events, who constitutes a rival and to what degree rivalry influences attendance remains vague. Previous demand models consistently included rivalry as an explanatory variable but represented rivalry in inconsistent ways that often violated rivalry’s core properties (non-exclusive, continuous in scale, and bidirectional). This study reviews past specifications for rivalry and tests multiple rivalry variables, including a 100-point allocation measure that conforms to rivalry’s core properties, in attendance demand models for both Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League. Results across models generally favor the 100-point measure to represent the special attention fans give to certain opponents. This fan-derived rivalry representation offers researchers, marketers, event managers, and sponsors a more complete picture of rivalry as related to demand estimation for purposes such as promotional planning, game scheduling, and event security protocol.
1 minute video summary, part of SMQ Podcast

Cobbs, J. B., Sparks, D., & Tyler, B. D. (2017). Comparing rivalry effects across professional sports: National Football League fans exhibit most animosity. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 26(4), 235-246. URL

Previous research on sports rivalry has emphasized fans’ social identity and the threat posed by rivals. Much of this scholarship is based on intercollegiate sports, where many fans, such as students and alumni, have a formally defined identity with the university. In this study, fans (N = 4,828) across five major professional leagues—MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, and NHL—are surveyed to compare their animosity toward rivals based on four variables: schadenfreude, disidentification, prejudice, and relationship discrimination against rivals. The results consistently demonstrate that NFL fans harbor significantly greater animosity toward rivals than their counterparts in other leagues. Apart from the NFL, fans of NHL teams generally exhibit more animosity compared to other leagues, and NBA fans exhibit the least. While fan identification is relatively consistent across leagues, highly identified fans react more adversely to rivals. These differences in rivalry reactions have implications for promotional planning and event security protocol.
1 minute video summary, part of SMQ Podcast

Cobbs, J. B. & Tyler, B. D. (2017). The genesis of team rivalry in the New World: Sparks to fan animosity in Major League Soccer. Soccer & Society. doi: 10.1080/14660970.2017.1399609

While rivalry debates rage among soccer fans and the media, scholars have focused much of their research on clashes between specific clubs that share a considerable history of competition. Yet, historical conflict is just one of several elements that contribute to enduring sports rivalries, and several soccer teams—particularly in America and Canada—have limited history but salient rivals. This study compares the intensity of rivalries within Major League Soccer through a league-wide fan survey that also measures the importance of eleven antecedents to rivalry and how these elements are associated with fans’ negative reactions to rivals. While geography and frequency of play are the two most important rivalry antecedents according to fans, elements of bias such as cultural difference and unfairness are more closely associated with fans’ schadenfreude and relationship discrimination against rivals. Quotes from fans aligned with the most intense rivalries in MLS illustrate these findings.

Parrish, C. T., & Tyler, B. D. (2017). Superclásicos and rivalry antecedents: Exploring soccer club rivalries in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Soccer & Society. doi: 10.1080/14660970.2017.1399604

This paper utilizes empirically derived rivalry antecedents as an analytical framework to encapsulate the basis of a selection of enduring football club rivalries in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. The inclusive cases (rivalries) in this article were selected based on longevity as well as the presence of key rivalry antecedents which, in the end, allow for rich contextualized descriptions. The authors make connections between salient rivalry antecedents and existing literature about the clubs to provide descriptions of the spatial, historical, and cultural foundations of competing ideologies and assertions of identity that define and give meaning to the rivalries.

Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2017). All rivals are not equal: Clarifying misrepresentations and discerning three core properties of rivalry. Journal of Sport Management, 31, pp 1-14. DOI:10.1123/jsm.2015-0371

Rivalry is ubiquitous across sports, yet the representation and specification of rivalry varies widely. Such discrepancy poses problems when distinguishing between multiple outgroups and when employing rivalry to explain related questions such as demand for sport consumption. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the many differing conceptions of rivalry and to discern properties of rivalry across different sports. We survey college football fans (N = 5,304) to empirically test the exclusivity, scale, and symmetry of rivalry; then, we replicate the study twice in the context of professional sports (1,649 NFL fans; 1,435 NHL fans).

Results consistently indicate that fans perceive multiple rivals (non-exclusive), rivalry intensity varies among rivals (continuous in scale), and opposing fans rarely share equivalent perceptions of the rivalry (bidirectional). Accordingly, we develop and test a parsimonious 100-point rivalry allocation measure that specifies these three properties of rivalry.

Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2015). Rival conceptions of rivalry: Why some competitions mean more than others. European Sport Management Quarterly, 15(2), 227-248, DOI:10.1080/16184742.2015.1010558
Full Paper

Research question

Despite pervasive attention to the concept of rivalry, there is neither uniform definition nor universal understanding. The purpose of this paper is to explore sport rivalry and derby matches from the fan perspective and identify the most influential elements that characterize rivalry.

Research methods

This work employs a sequential exploratory mixed method design. Study 1 engaged 38 fans through open-ended questions to explicate antecedents to 76 rivalries. Study 2 used an exploratory factor analysis based on survey responses (n=429) that measured a broader sampling of rivalries to quantify the importance of the rivalry elements identified in Study 1.

Results and findings

We define a rival group as a highly salient outgroup that poses an acute threat to the identity of the ingroup or to ingroup members’ ability to make positive comparisons between their group and the outgroup. Study 1 identified 11 recurring elements of rivalry: frequency of competition, defining moment, recent parity, historical parity, star factors, geography, relative dominance, competition for personnel, cultural similarity, cultural difference, and unfairness. Study 2 confirmed these elements within three primary dimensions: Conflict, Peer, and Bias.


Our findings expand rivalry research by recognizing core rivalry antecedents useful for scholars investigating topics such as ticket demand, promotions, and sponsorship strategy. From a managerial perspective, these findings provide guidance to sport entities seeking to leverage rivalry to increase fan interest; conversely, when animosity surrounding a rivalry becomes overheated or violent, better understanding rivalry’s underpinnings can help managers deemphasize the rivalry’s most salient contributors.


Conference presentations/posters

Morehead, C., Cobbs, J. B., DeSchriver, T. D., & Tyler, B. D. (2017, October). Accounting for rivalry in estimations of demand in MLS and the NHL. Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Boston, MA. Presentation slides (forthcoming)

Xantos, Y., Laumann, M., Harris, S., Cobbs, J. B., & Tyler, B. D. (2017, October). Sparks to the rivalry fire: Comparing the antecedents to rivalry across professional sports. Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Boston, MA. Presentation slides (forthcoming)

Nichols, B., Cobbs, J. B., & Tyler, B. D. (2017, August). Data-driven approaches to cause-related sports marketing: Conflicting effects of rival team presence. Research presented at the Summer Conference for the American Marketing Association (Summer AMA), San Francisco, CA. Presentation slides (forthcoming)

Cobbs, J. B. & Tyler, B. D. (2017, June). Rivalry in Major League Soccer: Antecedents to rival fan discrimination. Research presented at the Annual Conference for the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), Denver, CO. Presentation slides

Sparks, D., Cobbs, J. B., Tyler, B. D., & Gardner, J. (2016, November). Measuring rivalry across professional leagues: Is animosity consistent across sports? Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Indianapolis, IN. Presentation slides

Folz, A., & Cobbs, J. (2016, November). The spoils of championships: Fan identification, envy, and rivalry. Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Indianapolis, IN. Poster (pdf)

Ditter, J., Cobbs, J., Tyler, B. D., & Nichols, B. S., (2016, November). Rivalry variation by geographic region: Are Canadians really more friendly? Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Indianapolis, IN. Presentation slides

Tyler, B. D., & Cobbs, J. (2016, August). Why is rivalry important to college football fans? A comparative analysis of 12 elements. Research presented at the Summer Educators Conference for the American Marketing Association (AMA), Atlanta, GA.

Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2014, May). Visualizing rivalry intensity: A Social Network Analysis of fan perceptions. Research presented at the meeting of the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), Pittsburgh, PA.
Full Abstract | Presentation Slides

Central to the conceptualization of rivalry is the process of social categorization and seeing the self and others as members of ingroups and outgroups. For some sport fans — especially those deemed highly identified — a favorite team becomes an extension of one’s self, and opposing teams and their fans are seen as dissimilar outgroups. Akin to other definitions, we view a rival as being a highly salient outgroup that poses an acute threat to the identity of the ingroup. To bring further clarity and consistency to the rivalry discussion, we quantify the perceived rivalries within a closed network of organizations by surveying college football fans (n=5,317) from 122 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, or Division I-A) teams using on an online questionnaire posted on 194 fan message boards. Through employing social network analysis (SNA), we graphically map rivalry scores in Netdraw and conduct further statistical analysis via UCINET SNA software. The network analysis results are most interesting when viewed graphically as nodes (universities) with bi-directional ties among them of various magnitude. In the study, we employ SNA measures of ego networks, centrality and power to reveal insights about the nature of rivalry.

Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2009, October). Advancing toward an understanding of sport rivalry. Paper presented at the meeting of the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Cleveland, OH.
Full Paper

The concept of rivalry is nearly ubiquitous across sports, and although the term “rival” appears frequently in academic work, researchers have not applied a consistent approach to determine what constitutes a rival. The purpose of this research is to identify key characteristics of a rivalry and the antecedents to rivalry formation. Also explored are the behavioral outcomes of a rivalry and, specifically, how individuals react toward a rival team and its fans. This initialization of a more rigorous conceptualization of rivalry began with a qualitative inquiry to set the foundation for a subsequent survey. Structural equation modeling was employed to analyze the potential indicators and outcomes of sports rivalry that emerged from the survey.


Academic Course: Cobbs, J. B. (2015). Website for SpB 200: Rivalry & Ritual in International Sport
Open access course site | Syllabus

‘Rivalry and Rituals’ uses the socially prominent context of international sports to examine cultural development, influence, and conflict within and across persons and geographic boundaries.

A Rivalry Bibliography

This is a limited but ever growing list. Please email us with omissions.

Angell, R., Gorton, M., Bottomley, P., & White, J. (2016). Understanding fans’ responses to the sponsor of a rival team. European Sports Management Quarterly, 16(2), 190-213. doi:10.1080/16184742.2015.1135975

Havard, C. T., Eddy, T. W., & Ryan, T. D. (2016). Examining the impact of team identification and gender on rival perceptions and consumption intentions of intercollegiate athletics fans. Journal of Applied Sport Management, 8(2). doi:10.18666/JASM-2016-V8-I2-6444

Lenor, S., Lenten, L., & Mckenzie, J. (2016). Rivalry effects and unbalanced schedule optimization in the Australian Football League. Review of Industrial Organization, 49(1), 43-69. doi:10.1007/s11151-015-9495-7

Wann, D. L., Havard, C. T., Grieve, G. F., Lante, J. R., Partridge, J. A., & Zapalac, R. K. (2016). Investigating sport rivals: Number, evaluations and relationship with team identification. Journal of Fandom Studies, 4, 71-88. doi:10.1386/jfs.4.1.71_1

Converse, B. A. & Reinhard, D. A. (2016). On rivalry and goal pursuit: Shared competitive history, legacy concerns, and strategy selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(2), 191-213. doi:10.1037/pspa0000038

Kilduff, G., Galinksy, A., Gallo, E., & Reade, J. (2016). Whatever it takes to win: Rivalry increases unethical behavior. Academy of Management Journal, 59(5), 1508-1534. doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0545

Delia, E. B. (2015). The exclusiveness of group identity in celebrations of team success. Sport Management Review, 18, 396-406. doi:10.1016/j.smr.2014.10.006

Quintanar, S. M., Deck, C., Reyes, J. A., & Sarangi, S. (2015). You are close to your rival and everybody hates a winner: A study of rivalry in college football. Economic Inquiry. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ecin.12215

Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2015). Rival conceptions of rivalry: Why some competitions mean more than others. European Sport Management Quarterly, 15(2), 227-248. 10.1080/16184742.2015.1010558

Sanford, K. & Scott, F. (2014). Assessing the intensity of sports rivalries using data from secondary market transactions. Journal of Sports Economics http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1527002514527112

Kilduff, G. J. (2014). Driven to win: Rivalry, motivation, and performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1948550614539770

Havard, C. T. (2014). Glory Out of Reflected Failure: The examination of how rivalry affects sport fans. Sport Management Review, 17, 243-253. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.smr.2013.09.002

Dmowski, S. (2013). Geographical typology of European football rivalries. Soccer & Society, 14, 331-343. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14660970.2013.801264

Havard, C. T. & Eddy, T. (2013). Qualitative assessment of rivalry and conference realignment in intercollegiate athletics. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 6, 216-235.

Havard, C. T., Gray, D. P., Gould, J., Sharp, L. A., & Schaffer, J. J. (2013). Development and validation of the Sport Rivalry Fan Perception Scale (SRFPS). Journal of Sport Behavior, 36, 45-65. http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/IJSMM.2013.060628

Havard, C. T., Reams, L., & Gray, D. P. (2013). Perceptions of highly identified fans regarding rival teams in United States intercollegiate football and men’s basketball. International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, 14, 116-132.

Havard, C. T., Wann, D. L., & Ryan, T. D. (2013). Investigating the impact of conference realignment on rivalry in intercollegiate athletics. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 22, 224-234.

Benkwitz, A. & Molnar, G. (2012). Interpreting and exploring football fan rivalries: An overview. Soccer & Society, 13, 479-494.

Dalakas, V. & Melancon, J. P. (2012). Fan identification, schadenfreude toward hated rivals, and the mediating effects of Importance of Winning Index (IWIN). Journal of Services Marketing, 26, 51-59.

Cikara, M., Botvinick, M. M, & Fiske, S. T. (2011). Us versus them: Social identity shapes neural responses to intergroup competition and harm. Psychological Science, 22(3) 306-313.

Kilduff, G.J., Elfenbein, H.A., & Staw, B.M. (2010). The psychology of rivalry: A relationally dependent analysis of competition. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 943-969.

Luellen, T. B. & Wann, D. L. (2010). Rival salience and sport team identification. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 19, 97-106.

Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2009, October). Advancing toward an understanding of sport rivalry. Paper presented at the meeting of the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Cleveland, OH.

Armstrong, G. & Giulianotti, R. (Eds.) (2001). Fear and loathing in world football. Oxford, UK: Berg.