At one stage during Saturday night's defeat of the Bulls by the Crusaders, as I looked around the crowd I was reminded that sports- and in this case- rugby- or more specifically the Crusaders - operate as what we can term a situational tribe.
By 'situational tribe' I mean that in particular contexts we experience new forms of tribalism, new forms of tribal experience and identity that are specific to particular contexts. There in front of me were a couple of Filipino dads with their sons and daughters, to my left were Maori and Samoan dads and kids, to my right was an Indian dad and his son. Behind us sit a NZ-Scots family; we came to the game with a family of mixed pakeha-chinese identity. In the wider crowd are a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and identities, a wide range of ages, a mix of males and females, a mix of ethnicities all united, for the period of the match into a particular, transitory tribe called the Crusaders. Of course the Crusaders are first and foremost a professional rugby franchise and this means they are a business and fans are their customers. The success is really that what the Saatchi guru and rugby-head Kevin Roberts terms a 'lovemark"- a brand, a brandmark that creates and inspires a different level of brand loyalty and devotion. The Crusaders have been perhaps the most successful lovemark or superbrand in NZ Rugby outside the All Blacks. The Crusaders management recognize the importance of the event- so we get the horses, the conquest of paradise theme, the free flags for everyone, the scarves for season ticket holders; yet to keep the tribe coming the team needs to inspire loyalty not only by winning, but even more so by the way they play. This is what was so worrying about the opening games for the Crusaders- and made this past weekend so central. It was not so much that the Crusaders had lost, but the manner in which they played to loose. The situational tribe identifies as much with the manner in which the team plays as the results they achieve. The manner of play, what they represent in the style they play is what is the transcendent claim of the tribe. For the tribe is, in the end, 'buying' into a particular idea, an identity, a symbolic representation. The transcendent claim is what allows such a disparate group come together to symbolically affirm the situational tribe. The transcendent claim is what is celebrated in a brief overcoming of every-day differences. Last weekend there were positive signs that the transcendent claim was on the way back.