Observations from the FIFA Women’s World Cup – Part 1

For many former and current sports business professionals and academics, attending sporting events are often simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. Here are a few academic-professional observations from my 5th live Women’s World Cup, and suggestions for research.

By Dr. Natalie L. Smith (@NatalieLSmith)

Natalie is an Assistant Professor at East Tennessee State University, a former Sky Blue FC & MLS employee, and is currently recruiting a Graduate Assistant for Fall 2020.

For many former and current sports business professionals and academics, attending sporting events are often simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. Here are a few academic-professional observations from my 5th live Women’s World Cup, and suggestions for research. Watch for Part 2, an interview with interim GM of Sky Blue FC, Alyse LaHue.

Creation of liminal spaces

Many fans I spoke to felt a lack of atmosphere in most of the French cities, something I also felt in Winnipeg 4 years earlier. They strongly desired a feeling of togetherness, celebrating women’s soccer as a group. While there were fan zones, most whom I spoke to thought they were solely children focused. This may not be what the event organizers intended, but it is how many people felt. Once finally inside the stadium however, the feelings of community and atmosphere were different. USA-France was a magical combination of European fan culture and USA supporters. It was the best sporting event I’ve ever attended. Exploring women’s sporting events as liminal experiences may be a wonderful opportunity for academic-organizer collaboration.

Understanding your fan base

Regarding the 2011 WWC, Hallmann (2011) is a good read. I wonder do those findings apply to France? Or those who travel internationally? Thanks to a summer research grant from Clemmer College at my university, East TN State University, I conducted a small exploratory project regarding coaches who traveled to the WWC, and an interesting point came up: It isn’t just about the sport. These individuals who have dedicated their lives to soccer, also spoke of seeing the cultural sites, drinking good wine, and spending time with friends and/or family in a foreign country. It also included a focus on learning, it was about conversation with each other during games. Similarly, in my informal conversations with fans across the English-speaking spectrum, I noticed while they came for a variety of reasons, none of them traveled alone. Those who research this space are probably thinking, “yeah duh, Natalie,” but is that research translating to organizer decision-making?

Level of play differences

For all the press the 13-0 game received, no one seemed to notice that on average, the level of play has improved dramatically since 1999. While there is a great deal of Uncertainty of Outcome research related to various aspects of men’s sports, works such as Valenti et al. (2019), only recently published, addresses the dearth of generalizability for women’s sports. What will happen when the women’s game moves to 32 teams?

Sponsorship bundling

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WWC Commemorative Cup Collection

Some of the conversations around the games this summer was the “value” of women’s soccer, and finally someone pointed out what I’ve known since working at Soccer United Marketing, women’s soccer national teams are mostly bundled with their male counterparts. Anecdotally, there are vastly different approaches to this bundling paradox. Most of my supervisors in business development could’ve cared less about women’s soccer back in 2010 and sold it as an afterthought, however I’ve seen this bundling used intelligently to provide value for the whole National Team or international federation brand. Exploring those differences, a hybrid sponsorship-organizational behavior research exploration could provide valuable insight for sport organizations seeking to maximize all their properties.

 

Effect on domestic situations & leagues

Some previous work (Feng et al., 2018) in Chinese men’s soccer found Chinese Super League attendance actually went down after the men’s World Cup. However, the presence of star players can positively impact attendance after an event like the men’s World Cup. Indeed, an entire issue of Soccer & Society considered this issue, but as the editors themselves note the issue was entirely about men’s events. For the 2011 WWC, research indicated attendance improved dramatically at Women’s Professional Soccer games, however the league folding that year left many unanswered questions. The appearance of stability for the NWSL and other domestic leagues around the globe could provide a better opportunity to understand this relationship. Which is why I asked a current NWSL GM to update us on the situation, which you can read about in Part 2 next week…

In conclusion, so many questions remain about how our current management theories relate to the realities of women’s soccer, and perhaps women’s sport more generally. Fortunately, this seems to be a growing area of interest for scholars. In the past year alone, we have seen a book published on the business of women’s sport (co-edited by Drs. Nancy Lough and Andrea Geurin), and a call for papers with the International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing for a special issue on marketing in women’s sports (submissions due in December). This increased academic focus on women’s sport is needed and welcomed. Clearly those in the women’s sports space want more collaboration with academics, what an opportunity for us to provide much needed research.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, right here at nassmblog.com…

Writing Case Studies to Engage with Industry (And Become a Better Writer)

By Aaron Mansfield

Aaron Mansfield is a PhD student at UMass Amherst and an Associate Editor at ESPN

This summer, Zion Williamson – whom legendary former Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro describes as “the most marketable person I’ve seen” – hit the sneaker market. A bidding war ensued.

While the No. 1 NBA draft pick was ruining rims for Duke, pundits speculated about which brand he’d select: Nike or Adidas? Late in the game, however, a dark horse emerged: Puma.

Though Zion ultimately chose Nike subsidiary Jordan, the German giant’s commitment to basketball was evident. Puma announced its re-entry into hoops in 2018, after its attempt in 1998 famously flamed out. Twenty years later, Puma – sensing an opportunity to play “provocateur” – gave it another go, launching an ambitious campaign with Jay-Z.

I recently broke down this situation from a sport marketing perspective for the McCormack Case Study Collection at UMass Amherst. In the case, I offer context, highlight opportunities and challenges, and outline teaching points and assignments. For students, the case offers the chance to engage with a story developing right now – the type of thing they’re already talking about. For instructors, the case offers relevant, vetted material and a ‘plug and play’ design.

UMass’ collection is one of several such resources for sport educators – for example, check out Case Studies in Sport Management, or search for your topic of interest on the expansive Sport Management Case Studies Repository. Academics often hear of the importance of bridging theoretical instruction with industry. This is especially significant in sport because of our discipline’s applied focus (Chalip, 2006; Irwin & Ryan, 2013). Further, because consumer sport is young and rapidly developing, the subject matter we explore is dynamic. Trends and talking points arise constantly. (Consider the emergence of esports, or how many jobs are now centered on sport analytics.) It’s difficult to make a meaningful contribution in the classroom without industry awareness.

Case studies offer such a bridge, invigorating the classroom. Students excitedly participate in discussions. Well-suited for either individual or group work, cases offer a refreshing supplement to tried-and-true approaches like lecturing and textbook assignments.

I also encourage you to consider writing a case of your own. For example, the leader of UMass’ collection, Will Norton, is searching for quality content. Unsure what to write about? Well, when it comes to building theory, sport scholars have alluded to the importance of personal passion for the subject matter (Chelladurai, 2013; Fink, 2013). That insight extends to case studies. What are you passionate about?

The similarities between writing for journal publication and crafting a case may not be immediately apparent, but there is carryover. As a scholar and journalist, I have learned this to be true: writing is writing. When I am attempting to make a theoretical contribution for a journal, I am becoming a better editor; when I am coaching a writer on an NFL season preview feature, I am becoming a better theory-builder. Writing is akin to training your central nervous system – it doesn’t matter which muscle group you’re targeting. Working on a case refines your voice and sharpens your editorial sense, which come into play every time you write-up research (or review a peer’s work).

The language and conventions are different, but constructing a case is much like constructing a journal article: you start with a big idea, narrow its focus as you peruse related literature and take notes, break it down into component parts, and slowly but surely – making exponential progress, adapting as you discover new sources –mold it into a cohesive product. Perhaps most importantly, you spend time between writing wrestling with the concepts. Doesn’t that sound like the process of theory building that Fink (2013) described?

I specifically recommend that PhD students consider this opportunity. You’ll bolster your writing ability, enjoy exploring a topic of interest, and feel satisfied knowing your work could impact leading sport programs. Oftentimes, such as with the UMass collection, you’ll also be compensated financially.

Case studies are a tool for scholars who aspire to shape the future of the academic discipline and the next generation of sport professionals. I encourage you to take advantage of such a valuable resource: consider using a case in your next course or writing one of your own.

 

Citations
Chalip, L. (2006). Toward a distinctive sport management discipline. Journal of Sport Management, 20, 1-21.
Chelladurai, P. (2013). A personal journey in theorizing in sport management. Sport Management Review16, 22-28.
Fink, J. S. (2013). Theory development in sport management: My experience and other considerations. Sport Management Review16, 17-21.
Irwin, R. L., & Ryan, T. D. (2013). Get real: Using engagement with practice to advance theory transfer and production. Sport Management Review16, 12-16.