Considering Taking Up A Cause? Here are some lessons

When American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos experienced and observed the plight of Black Americans, they knew they had to do something. So, on October 16, 1968, Smith and Carlos, winning gold and bronze in the men’s 200 meters, respectively, each wore black socks without shoes to the medal podium. They proceeded to extend one black-gloved fist over their bowed heads during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the U.S. “The boos were about as profound as the silence was when we raised our fists and bowed our heads in prayer,” Smith recalled (Zacardi, 2018, para. 36).

Disruption is hard. Some people succeed, able to transform their organizations or institutions in which they operate. Others are not so effective, incapable of unsettling the current situation that exists within their environment. One reason for such “failure” is because people often tend to oppose change that disrupts the status quo. We saw this in 1968. Interested in this story of disruption, we recently set out to better understand this essential yet poorly understood aspect of social change. We gathered and analyzed interviews with 59 members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team concerning their reactions (see Agyemang, Berg, & Fuller, 2018).

In general, and as you may imagine, Smith and Carlos’ teammates did not approve of the protest. Based on the interviews, we identified four main reasons why teammates disliked their activism: (1) the sacred spirit of competition should supersede all else; (2) the Olympics should be apolitical; (3) the Olympics should be cherished as an entertainment spectacle; and (4) nationalism and representing the U.S. team is more important than any sociopolitical viewpoint. Building on this and other research, I address the following question: how do change leaders harness and manage the negative perceptions they encounter concerning their disruptive activity? Here are some takeaways and how they may apply to people working for change:

Become an expert in the area which you seek social change.

At the end of the day, change leaders cannot force people to believe in the same social causes they do. This is why people working for social change should focus on the things they can control. One way is to be an expert in the area in which you intend to disrupt and desire social change. Occasionally groups resisting may lack essential information and not understand the social cause. In other cases, those opposing the social change frequently attempt to obscure a change leader’s message. Based on reading and observation, sometimes this is easier to do because change leaders do not fully understand what they’re doing. As a result, they are unable to generate empathy from the broader public because their message is unclear. For instance, Colin Kaepernick said that he had considered taking a stand for a while, but before he did, he wanted to make sure he was well read on the subject matter. Though he has faced criticism for his actions and his beliefs, it is clear he is strong in his convictions and is able to back them up given his understanding of the issues.

Not all causes are seen the same.

In 2016, I spoke with a renowned sports journalist about the current wave of athlete protests. Comparing the likes of LeBron James to Colin Kaepernick, the journalist noted how there is a fundamental difference between calling for an end to gun violence (i.e., James at ESPY Awards) and calling for systemic change to social institutions that have historically wronged racial and ethnic minorities. He contended that the former is much more likely to gain consensus (or at least close to it) from the public than the latter, which is much more divisive. Regarding the latter, opposition may even dispute the social issue even exist. The biggest challenge here is to articulate how and why the change you are calling for will benefit those who are not yet onboard. Human nature is to operate from a “what’s in it for me?” mentality. If change leaders desire commitment from others, they should consider what these groups want and need.

Anticipate resistance.

Related to the point above, I think one of the more obvious takeaways is that change leaders should always anticipate resistance. This occurs for many reasons, including dominant groups are more prone to uphold the status quo and not champion change, because they benefit from societal norms. Contrasting to that, peripheral actors who are often less privileged members of society and are less favored by the status quo are more to desire change. We saw this in 1968 during Smith and Carlos’ time, and we see similar scenes today. For example, Colin Kaepernick’s silent gestures beginning in 2016 has received backlash both for his tactics (i.e., kneeling during the national anthem) and the causes he’s bringing attention to (i.e., police brutality against Black people).

Embrace the challenge.

Sure, people resisting a social cause you believe strongly in can be a frustrating and oftentimes agonizing experience. However, as cliché as it may be, it is important for change leaders to not withdraw from the resistance, but embrace it. One piece of advice I received was to think of resistance as strength training. We use resistance (e.g., dumbbells) to build muscle and endurance so that we can gain strength. The same could be said for the opposition change leaders face when attempting to bring attention to a social cause. So, keenly listen. Attempt to understand why they are resisting. This seems to be a lost art in today’s divided political climate. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to concur with every single criticism; but listening to opposition criticisms can open your eyes to blind spots you may have not considered, and serve to ultimately strengthen your cause when you respond to these blind spots.

Social position matters.

A person’s social position is based on various social groups they belong to (e.g., profession, gender, race, culture, relationships) and provides them consent to perform certain actions and enter certain spaces. One of the more interesting observations from the study is that Smith and Carlos’ protest may have been viewed differently if they had the support of their teammates and people in positions of power. Based on this, it would behoove change leaders to seek ties with people with access to resources and “clout” they need to make change. For instance, recently, professional athletes have established relationships and met with Congressional leaders about issues related to race and policing, among others. These relationships could provide your change effort more legitimacy.

Final remarks

When we consider what is necessary for social change to take place, it regularly demands some type of disruptive act. Change leaders can play an integral role in this process. The challenge is this is often complex, and will often entail resistance to both the change and the tactics a change leader will use. Yet, I’m reminded of what John Carlos recently told me: If anyone ever calls you a troublemaker, rest assured you’re in damn good company. Don’t let them [opposition] intimidate you and scare you away from doing what you feel is right.”

Click here for full research article in Journal of Sport Management Vol. 32, Issue 6.

 

 

Author note: another version of this blog appears at: https://kwameagyemang.com/considering-taking-up-a-cause/

Agyemang, K. J. A., Berg, B. K., & Fuller, R. D. (2018). Disrupting the disruptor: Perceptions as institutional maintenance work at the 1968 Olympic Games. Journal of Sport Management, 32(6), 567-580.

Zacardi, N. (2018, October 3). Tommie Smith, John Carlos remember Olympic protest on 50th anniversary. NBC Sports. Retrieved from https://olympics.nbcsports.com/2018/10/03/tommie-smith-john-carlos-black-power-salute/

Observations from the WWC Part 2: Interview with Current Sky Blue FC GM

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.

A continuation from last week, we followed up with someone who has been dedicated to women’s sport, and women’s soccer specifically, for years. In a practitioner insight interview to compliment last week’s blog, I interviewed a long-time friend, Alyse LaHue. She is the current Sky Blue FC General Manager & Adjunct Instructor at East Tennessee State University. Here’s the interview:

How has the WWC in France impacted Sky Blue FC attendance, media and sponsorship interest?

I would suggest it’s less so the general World Cup and more so the USWNT’s success during it that has driven this interest. It always seems to become a national cultural moment when the USWNT plays in the World Cup. You see media coverage on all outlets: online, tv news, newspapers. Everyone covers it and with that comes enhanced interest in women’s soccer in general. The victory is the major icing on the cake in that you then have a long extension of the WWC through parades, talk shows, and general ongoing appearances via everything you could imagine.

We’ve certainly seen a surge in attendance with two sellouts and a third on the horizon out of our 6 post-WWC games. We even just moved one to Red Bull Arena to accommodate demand. Sky Blue has never played there before. It allows us to engage more media and sponsors by playing in a venue like that, a bit closer to NYC.

What questions do you and others who work in women’s soccer have that you can’t answer right now?

A major item for me is the measurables. There has been an instinct that women’s sports in general have that intangible emotional connection with fans, which I won’t deny. But as front offices we have to operate on data and numbers. Sponsorship ROI and impressions are areas that we typically have not been able to afford on the teams I’ve worked for. Those analyses can be very expensive but it’s something that would be intriguing to me. How many impressions on average does the jersey front get during the course of a season? How can we further measure the actual ROI for our partners instead of just treating their sponsorship like a donation?

What role do you see academics playing in women’s soccer? Have you collaborated with academia in your organizations?

I wish we had more collaborations! During my time in Chicago we had a group of students from Canada work on a semester-long project then come down and present it to us. It included many outside-the-box marketing ideas, many of which we actually ended up exploring

 

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.

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

IMG-4623
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…

Diversifying the Face of the U.S. Sport Industry – A Call to Educators

by Dr. Jörg Vianden (University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse) and Dr. Liz A. Gregg (University of North Florida)

Sport is a white, male-dominated, multibillion-dollar industry characterized by a severe lack of racial and gender diversity among its leaders. In all levels of collegiate and professional sports, white men represent the upper echelon in leadership, front office, and coaching positions.

The lack of diverse sport management undergraduates and alums perpetuates the underrepresentation of diverse sport industry leaders. Among sport management majors, women typically represent fewer than one third of all students, while African Americans represent one tenth (Hancock & Hums, 2011). Faculty in sport management are also overwhelmingly white and male (Jones, Brooks & Mak, 2008). This may negatively affect racially minoritized students who struggle to connect with the program’s exclusively white faculty.

Diverse environments in sport organizations and academic programs prepare future professionals for the workforce, reduce stereotypes, and encourage collaboration and cultural understanding (Brooks, Harrison, Norris, & Norwood, 2013). Yet, women and people of color struggle to advance in the sport industry because of dubious hiring practices, sexual and racial harassment, work-life balance constraints, a lack of role models, and the tight network of white men who limit the advancement of minoritized sport industry professionals. (Click here for full references)

The Straight White College Men Project

The Straight White College Men Project is a qualitative study sampling 180 college students with traditionally privileged and oppressed identities at 13 institutions of higher education around the country. The study explores how participants view their own campus diversity efforts, how they conceptualize privilege and oppression relative to race, gender, and sexual orientation, and how they articulate their own perceived responsibility to enact social change. For the purposes of the Sport Management Education Journal article (Vianden & Gregg, 2017), we asked 22 heterosexual white male participants at a Southeastern university about their thoughts on how they could foster diversity in the sport industry.

Emerging Themes

  1. Perceived barriers: Toxic masculinity, male dominated culture, resistant or racist team owners
  2. Roles of women in managing sport: Women should fit specific roles in the sport industry, such as marketing
  3. Hiring policies in sport: Meritocratic ideals about who should be hired, affirmative action rules, increased competition for positions if more women or people of color were recruited
  4. Responsibility for change: Advocacy easier by current sport leaders versus those professionals fresh out of college, remaining open minded to learn about diversity without concrete commitment to enacting social change

Key Takeaways: First, participants sensed a bit of resignation about fostering diversity initiatives. Comments such as “that’s just the way it is” or “not much will change” speak to this resignation, but also to privilege and acceptance of the status quo. Second, participants painted a narrow view of diversity in sport. To them, diversity meant women and African Americans and some participants held stereotypical views specifically about women. Third, participants could not articulate or commit to having individual or collective responsibility to make sport more diverse.

Tips for Sport Management Educators

  1. Name White Male Privilege in Sport

Use white male hegemony in the sport industry as points of departure for classroom discussions. Interrogating white male privilege in sport helps both students and instructors raise critical awareness and foster commitment to social justice and equity.

  1. Infuse Diversity in Sport Management Curricula

Sport management as a major program of study has a captive audience of students who need to learn about diversity, but who seldom select such coursework unless required. Sport management programs have the ability, perhaps the obligation, to offer more diversity content in its curricula. Start with one required course, or establish learning outcomes in each course that target the understanding and application of issues of power, privilege, and oppression in sport.

  1. Inspire Responsibility in White Men to Stand up for Diversity

White male sport management students will one day hold the leadership roles in which they could affect sweeping change. Given this context, sport management educators must inspire white men to express their understanding of the roles they play in a fast-changing U.S. and global social environment. White men in sport must recognize how their privileges have the potential of keeping their peers from minoritized social groups without the opportunity to advance in the field.

Additional References
Brooks, D.D., Harrison, Jr., L., Norris, M. & Norwood, D. (2013). Why we should care about diversity in kinesiology. Kinesiology Review, 2, 145–155. doi: 10.1123/krj.2.3.145
Jones, D. F., Brooks, D. D. & Mak, J. Y. (2008). Examining sport management programs in the United States. Sports Management Review, 11(1), 77–91. doi:10.1016/S1441-3523(08)70104-9
Hancock, M. G. & Hums, M.A. (2011). If you build it, will they come? Proceedings of the North American Society for Sport Management Twenty-Sixth Annual Conference, London, Ontario.

Explaining Sponsorships Using Analogy

By Jesse King, Ph.D. (Weber State University) and Robert Madrigal, Ph.D. (California State University, Chico)

Most sponsorship alignments do not make sense. For example, what does FedEx have to do with the NFL? This sponsorship is incongruent because the brand and property (e.g., events, teams, leagues, etc.) have little in common. In such cases, the brand must explain to consumers how it is related to the property. In a recent article in Journal of Sport Management, we find that using analogies is one tactic for explaining an incongruent sponsorship to consumers.

Understanding an analogy is like solving a puzzle. By highlighting shared associations, analogies provide a creative way for sport managers to explain how the brand is similar to the property. For example, FedEx makes use of an analogy by awarding the “Air and Ground Players of the Year” to the NFL’s top quarterback and running back.  The analogy allows fans to connect the actions of running backs and quarterbacks to ground and air delivery of a package, respectively. The package and football each plays the same relational role in this analogy. Just as a football may be passed through the air by a quarterback or carried by a running back on the ground, a FedEx package can be sent by air via a plane or ground delivered using a truck. Good analogies are useful because they promote a deeper understanding of the sponsor-event alignment. In this way, a sponsorship that once did not make sense to a consumer can explained in a way that links core equities of the property with those of the brand.

Creativity is required for fans to understand analogies and for sport managers to build them.  The goal for sport managers in creating analogies is to help the customer understand common functions in the sponsoring brand and sport property. To build analogies, managers should:

1) Identify Brand Action Words: Identify actions performed by the brand. This can be accomplished by identifying actions in terms of verbs used to describe a core function (e.g., Gillette razor blades shave hair off the body). Keep in mind that there are often many ways to describe the same action. For example, a close shave is achieved through close contact between the razor and few missed hairs.

2) Identify Property Action Words: Consider actions performed by the property that might align with those of the brand. Avoid shared surface traits such as common appearance (e.g., both property and brand’s logos are red) or immaterial detail (e.g., both players and employees wear uniforms). Instead, focus on common patterns of relationships that exist for the brand and for the property.

3) Avoid the Abstract: When creating analogical explanations, avoid abstract descriptors such as “excellence” or “integrity.” If no relevant actions within the property can be identified, the sponsor should work with the property to create something (e.g., award, event) that will serve a similar role to the actions that the brand wants to emphasize (e.g., the turnaround play of the game).

Analogies that explain deeper relationships are likely to be more effective than those that only explain surface similarities. For example, Gillette could explain a partnership with competitive swimming, a sport in which competitors “shave” the hair off their entire body prior to a major competition, by emphasizing shallow similarities associated with shaving hair and shaving seconds from a race time. However, a better fit might be achieved by explaining deeper patterns of shared relations. For instance, Gillette recently explained their partnership with Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby by emphasizing the relational importance of establishing close contact between a razor and skin as a way of making sure to not miss any hair follicles on one’s face with the importance of a baseball batter making contact with the ball in order to miss fewer pitches.

King Blog Photo 1

Key Takeaways:

In this research we found analogy improves sponsorship fit, relative to other types of explanation. They help because analogies are perceived as creative. Also, short explanations of analogies seem to be equally effective as more detailed explanations.

For sport managers this means that short messages such as “The FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Year Awards” may be as effective as full press release in explaining a brand-property alignment.  Analogies are capable of concisely conveying a great deal of information. Because space and time are often severely limited in a sponsorship message, the use of analogy offers an efficient and creative method for concisely explaining how an incongruent brand is similar to a sports property.

Sport, Twitter Hashtags, and the Public Sphere: Curt Schilling Case Study

Instantly, the hashtag #CurtSchilling became a flashpoint for debate about the issue on Twitter. Thousands of users deployed the hashtag over the following 24 hours, either criticizing Schilling for his homophobia, or castigating ESPN for political correctness. Capturing 10,000 of those hashtags revealed fascinating findings.

By Dr. Brendan O’Hallarn (Old Dominion University)

“Twitter is Destroying America”

This stark headline greeted readers of current affairs and politics website The Week early in 2017, after a particularly ugly Presidential election campaign. The piece joined others with similarly bleak prognoses in The Atlantic and Medium as the popular social media site faced a rash of criticism over the prevalence of bad behaviors by its users.

For me, unabashed Twitter enthusiast, the critique represented a challenge. Can the enlightened, pro-democratic discourse Twitter promised during its hopeful early days

NASSM Blog Habermas
 Jürgen Habermas

as a vital organizing tool used by Arab Spring protesters still be realized? Can it still offer the potential to create dialogue akin to Jürgen Habermas’ public sphere?

The passion and consumption pattern of sport fans, along with specific aspects of Twitter architecture—notably the nimble hashtag—could spur the type of online discourse that Habermas termed deliberative democracy. Of course, barriers exist to that construct, notably the limitation on the length of tweets and the Online Disinhibition Effect, the tendency for online interactions to turn angry and negative.

On April 20, 2016, a former World Series-winning pitcher decided to make his political views very public.

The Military Child Education Coalition 17th National Seminar
Curt Schilling

Schilling was fired after sharing a meme on his Facebook wall about HB2, the North Carolina law which prohibits transgender people from choosing which bathrooms to use. It featured a picture of a large man in ill-fitting women’s clothing and the caption: “Let him in! To the restroom with your daughter or else you are a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving, racist bigot who needs to die!!!” Schilling was swiftly fired by ESPN.

Clearly, two “teams” of Twitter users materialized—with pro-Schilling and pro-firing tweets appearing in abundance. Analyzing the conversation patterns demonstrated there was very little interaction between the “poles”—the two sides were almost exclusively talking past each other.

However, an online questionnaire given to users of #CurtSchilling in the time interval of the study revealed three interesting things:

  1. The users themselves felt a tremendous kinship with other users of the hashtag, feeling like they were part of a collective conversation;
  2. Almost universally, they had no interest in communicating with the other “side” in the debate, feeling like everyone’s mind was already made up; however,
  3. Despite the lack of interactions, hashtag users knew all of the arguments being put forward by the other side. Even though they weren’t discussing the issue actively with them, they were consuming the alternative viewpoints.

Why This Matters:

The general fulfillment from users of the hashtag and the awareness of differing viewpoints (even if not commented upon) suggest some behavior approaching the Habermasian public sphere is present in the interactions.

For #Sportsbiz Professionals:

If they are running an active Twitter feed for their organization, the feeling that “engagement” with followers is the only way to feel like your feed is making an impact. Sometimes it’s worth simply knowing that even if they don’t voice their opinions, people are listening.

 

For those interested in reading in more detail, find the full research article here.

Challenge accepted: Why women play fantasy football

As expected, women play fantasy football for similar reasons as men, but also play for unique reasons. A total of five motivation factors were uncovered.

Three factors (Enjoy, Enhance, and Socialize) are similar to motives previously found by sport management and communications scholars, and two factors (Challenge and Connect) are unique to female participants.

By Brendan Dwyer (Virginia Commonwealth University), Joshua M. Lupinek (University of Alaska-Fairbanks), & Rebecca Achen (Illinois State University)

Women dominate the consumer economy. Some estimate that they control over 75% of all discretionary purchases and represent a growth market larger than China and India combined. Yet, our marketing strategies for this lucrative population are often stuck in the 1950s. Spectator sport marketing provides a harrowing example of this, as we often engage women’s sports fans through the “Pink it and Shrink it” strategy. That is, we take a product initially marketed toward men, like a football jersey and make it pink and smaller. While strategy may reach some women, it fails to fully represent the unique needs and wants of this important demographic.

fantasyfootball_infographic
Credit: Julia Gilbert (www.juliagilbertart.com)

In the context of fantasy football, women make up nearly 38% of participants and represent the fastest growing demographic for the activity. This is unique phenomenon, as fantasy football has been portrayed as a highly masculine domain. In the sport management and communications literature, most of the research on fantasy football has focused on why people participate. The resulting motives vary from one study to the next, but consistency between the studies exists in that nearly all of them surveyed or interviewed male participants only. A few studies have then taken the motive instruments developed through male samples and applied them to female samples.

This provides some utility; however, similar to the above “Pink it and Shrink it” strategy, it misses the opportunity to understand the unique motives of female fantasy participants. Certainly women play for the same reasons as men, but they may also play for reasons that have never been measured. The current study aimed to explore this phenomenon.

The current study explored why women play fantasy football through a scale development research design. We conducted multi-stage, mixed methods study where women fantasy football participants and sports fans were inductively interviewed, motives were then developed, refined, and retested on two larger samples of female fantasy football participants. In total, 450 participants were studied.

As expected, women play fantasy football for similar reasons as men, but also play for unique reasons. A total of five motivation factors were uncovered.

Three factors (Enjoy, Enhance, and Socialize) are similar to motives previously found by sport management and communications scholars, and two factors (Challenge and Connect) are unique to female participants. These factors include:

  • Enjoy: playing for fun and entertainment
  • Enhance: to improve the time spent engage in NFL-related activities
  • Socialize: to bond, compete, and stay in contact with friends, family, and coworkers Two factors, however, represent new motives for the fantasy sport knowledge base.
  • Challenge: The first unique motive. It represents the opportunity to engage and defeat male opponents in a male-dominated environment.
  • Connect: The second motive signified the drive to connect with individual NFL players on a deeper level through fantasy participation.

Validity testing found that the Enjoy and Enhance factors predicted NFL viewership, the Connect factor predicted social media use, and the Challenge factor negatively predicted enjoyment with the activity and positively predicted frustration. In general, the findings provide a number of takeaways for both academics and practitioners.

For academics, there remains a need for understanding the unique attitudes and behaviors of female sports fans. The current study is evidence that similarities obviously exist with males, but there are also distinct aspects to being a female sports fan.

For practitioners, the Challenge factor may represent an opportunity for more empowerment-related marketing tactics for female fantasy football participants and potentially female sports fans, in general. Empowerment marketing has grown recently, since its inception in the late 1960s. Companies like Under Armor and Dick’s Sporting Goods have utilized empowerment messages directly with sports equipment and apparel. Fantasy football may represent another platform for this marketing strategy. Similar to the female consumers, in general, female sports fans are powerful, and more empirical research in this area is advised.

Interested in learning more? Read the full article here.