How Can Sport Contribute to Community Recovery from COVID-19 and Beyond?

By Yuhei Inoue (Manchester Metropolitan University), Daniel Lock (Bournemouth University), Leah Gillooly (Manchester Metropolitan University), Richard Shipway (Bournemouth University), & Steve Swanson (Deakin University)

Image by Kawolf via Wikimedia Commons

For this year’s International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, António Guterres—the United Nations’ secretary general—communicated his belief that “the world of sport has crucial contributions to make in forging a safe and sustainable recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic. That sport may facilitate crisis recovery is hardly a new idea. In past crises—9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, to name a few—sport organizations and their members were said to have played important societal roles (Inoue & Havard, 2015). Yet little attempt has been made to explore “how” sport organisations can contribute to crisis recovery. 

The Organizational Identification and Well-being Framework, which we proposed in a recent article, seeks to answer this question. It rests on the capacity of sport organizations to serve as a prominent source of group identity (i.e., a shared sense of who “we” are) for individuals (Lock & Heere, 2017). People may identify with a range of social groups, such as ethnicity, gender, and religion. Yet what makes identification with a sport organization significant is that it tends to map onto other group identities (e.g., sport and geographic region; Heere & James, 2007). 

Moreover, once people identify with a sport organization, they gain access to shared resources (e.g., social support, relatedness) that can enhance their well-being (Inoue et al., 2015; Wann, 2006). As such, the central premise of our framework is that sport organizations—where they have capacity—can facilitate recovery from a crisis to the extent that they foster shared identification (i.e., sense of oneness) to galvanize support towards relief efforts. 

Roles of identity leadership

We do not assume that identification with sport organizations will always be instrumental in crisis recovery. Rather, our goal is to illustrate how leaders may reimagine their organizations’ in-group identity in a way that is meaningful in the crisis context. To do so, we draw upon identity leadership, which focuses on how group leaders cultivate in-group identity for their followers (Haslam et al., 2020; Reicher & Hopkins, 1996). Specifically, when situations surrounding a group change due to social events (e.g., crises), leaders may create a new vision for the boundaries (i.e., who is included in “us”) and content (i.e., what “we” exist to do) of an in-group to offer meaningful responses to the crisis (e.g., encouraging social distancing during COVID-19). 

How leaders define their in-group’s boundaries is important, because people tend to mobilize more resources for those included in the same group (i.e., in-group members) than for those excluded (i.e., out-group members). In addition, the content—or meaning—of in-group identity establishes a common understanding of how members should behave.

Exercising on a golf course. Image by Austin Community College via Flickr

Against this background, organizations and their leaders aiming to address new community needs created by a crisis should consider the following course of actions in relation to in-group boundaries (1) and content (2):

  1. Temporarily (or permanently in some cases) redefine the in-group to include both existing members (e.g., employees, fans, club members) and the broader population leaders seek to support (e.g., all residents affected by a crisis). For example, during the COVID-19 lockdown, executive boards of some British golf clubs decided to open their courses to the public—inclusive of both club members and other residents—to address an urgent community need for safe exercise spaces.
  2. Communicate a new or updated vision for the in-group to accentuate common experiences or needs shared during the crisis. This applies to the International Surfing Association’s use of International Surfing Day 2020. Through this event, the organization featured multiple surfers who had actively contributed to COVID-19 relief efforts and encouraged its followers to share similar stories on social media. This was a shift from the organization’s past annual celebrations that typically included paddle outs and beach clean-up, rendering its identity content more relevant and meaningful amidst COVID-19. 

In short, when responding to a crisis, leaders should try to align the boundaries and content of their organization’s identity with needs exacerbated by the crisis. This, in turn, will make identification with sport organizations an asset that can accelerate community-wide and cross-sector efforts to mobilize resources for those in need. 

Opportunities for future research

Some questions remain. For example, what if typical leaders, such as Chief Executive Officers and Presidents, lack experience or expertise (e.g., public health knowledge) in shaping a response to address common needs created by a crisis? Or, should organizations respond to a crisis even if they are inadequately resourced? In the article, we provide some preliminary answers to these questions; however, more theoretical and empirical developments will be needed to refine the framework. We hope our initial theorizing will inspire a new line of research that will further sport’s roles in contributing to recovery efforts for COVID-19 and beyond. 

Click here for the full article to be published in Sport Management Review.

References:

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. J. (2020). The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence and power(2nd ed.). Routledge.

Heere, B., & James, J. D. (2007). Sports teams and their communities: Examining the influence of external group identities on team identity. Journal of Sport Management21(3), 319–337. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsm.21.3.319

Inoue, Y., Funk, D. C., Wann, D. L., Yoshida, M., & Nakazawa, M. (2015). Team identification and postdisaster social well-being: The mediating role of social support. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice19(1), 31–44. https://doi.org/10.1037/gdn0000019

Inoue, Y., & Havard, C. T. (2015). Sport and disaster relief: A content analysis. Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal24(3), 355–368. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPM-12-2014-0276

Lock, D., & Heere, B. (2017). Identity crisis: A theoretical analysis of ‘team identification’ research. European Sport Management Quarterly17(4), 413–435. https://doi.org/10.1080/16184742.2017.1306872

Reicher, S., & Hopkins, N. (1996). Self-category constructions in political rhetoric; an analysis of Thatcher’s and Kinnock’s speeches concerning the British miners’ strike (1984-5). European Journal of Social Psychology26, 353–371.

Wann, D. L. (2006). Understanding the positive social psychological benefits of sport team identification: The team identification-social psychological health model. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 10(4), 272–296. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2699.10.4.272

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…