Date of Award

Spring 5-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


Planning and Urban Studies

Major Professor

Ehrenfeucht, Renia

Second Advisor

Nelson, Marla

Third Advisor

Baxter, Vern

Fourth Advisor

Polite, Fritz


Research often frames the relationship between sports and the city in terms of economics as researchers debate the costs and benefits of using public subsidies to build stadiums, retain professional teams and host mega-events. However, people assign symbolic or intangible values to their home sports teams that cannot be measured through economic frameworks. My research examined the ways in which urban residents create value around their home professional sports team that other researchers dismissed as hard to measure. Using the New Orleans Saints as a case study, this research incorporated interviews, questionnaires, content analysis and participant observation to provide greater access to the meanings people associate with the experience of being a Saints fan.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Saints fans used their team to build a narrative of renewal and deliver messages about city recovery. These meaningful local narratives reinforced a feeling of connectedness to the city and created collective identities among diverse urban residents. The Who Dat Nation created a sense of fandom that existed outside the confines of the publicly funded stadium on game day as people encountered indicators of Saints fandom through everyday lived experiences. Through shared experiences surrounding Saints football, fans fostered public sociability and meaningful relationships across social differences. In addition, the findings outline ways in which locals embraced NFL hype and the commodification of professional football while also engineering local cultural adaptations to the economic dimensions of sport.

Through the story of the Saints in New Orleans, we can see sport spaces as a combination of symbolism and practice where sporting and urban affiliations are interrelated in complex ways through the construction of identity, culture, and commercialism. This dissertation presents spaces of sports fandom as places of empowerment to challenge, renegotiate, and rethink difference where sport spaces embody constructions of race, urban place, gender and identity. This study shows how spaces of sport fandom can be spaces to negotiate a sense of community identity and foster repetitive civil interactions. This provokes discussion on the extent to which sport fan activities influence changes in social interaction across race and gender differences.


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