Mixing Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Sports Fan Research


Although the use of a single methodology has been advocated by a number of authors, many of the supporting arguments are decidedly pragmatic, such as time constraints, the need to limit the scope of a study, and the difficulty of publishing the findings (Creswell, 1994).

The crucial aspect in justifying a mixed methodology research design is that both single methodology approaches (qualitative only and quantitative only) have strengths and weaknesses. The combination of methodologies, on the other hand, can focus on their relevant strengths. The researcher should aim to achieve the situation where "blending qualitative and quantitative methods of research can produce a final product which can highlight the significant contributions of both" (Nau, 1995, p. 1), where "qualitative data can support and explicate the meaning of quantitative research" (Jayaratne, 1993, p. 117). By adopting the following assumptions, the researcher should ensure that the final product maximises the strengths of a mixed methods approach.

Qualitative methods, especially observation, or unstructured interviews allow the researcher to develop an overall "picture" of the subject under investigation. This may guide the initial phases of the research.

Quantitative analysis may be more appropriate to assess behavioural or descriptive components of sports fandom.

The descriptive analysis, such as the socio-demographic profile of the crowd, may allow a representative sample to be drawn for the qualitative analysis. Marsh, et al. (1978) who note that quantitative research may confirm or deny the representativeness of a sample group for such qualitative research. Thus the mixed methodology will guide the researcher who is carrying out qualitative research, that his or her sample has some representativeness of the overall population.

Sports fandom involves cognitive and affective characteristics, as well as overt behavioural aspects. Thus a qualitative "core" is appropriate to investigate these aspects, by examining the informants point of view.

Much sports fan research is still largely exploratory. The use of qualitative methods allows for unexpected developments that may arise as part of such research (i.e., serendipity).
Quantitative analysis may complement the findings of qualitative methods by indicating their extent within the fan population.

Quantitative analysis may confirm or disconfirm any apparently significant data that emerge from the study. Thus, for example, if level of fandom, as measured by existing scales (such as Wann & Branscombe, 1993) appears to have an effect upon aspects of fan behaviour, quantitative methods can be used to enable statistical testing of the strength of such a relationship.

If such a relationship is determined, then quantitative methods are weaker in providing explanation. Qualitative methods may assist the researcher in understanding the underlying explanations of significance.

The inclusion of quantitative methods and analysis within leisure research may increase the likelihood of publication, especially within those journals with a strong positivist tradition.

As noted before, the purpose of this paper is not to suggest that a mixed methodology is the only suitable research design for this topic, rather that it is an appropriate, and at times desirable design. The overall choice needs, of course, to be the most suitable one to achieve the objectives of the research. A mixed methodology however, has a number of advantages within sports fan research, as well as other social science disciplines, and may be able to enhance the quality of such work in such ways as have been outlined.


The Qualitative Report, Volume 3, Number 4, December, 1997(http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR3-4/jones.html)

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