Professional sports and Voluntary sport Essay

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Hannah Ingram Commercialisation In Sport. The media is now more powerful and pervasive than ever before; in todays world its impossible to go anywhere or to read a magazine or watch TV without a sports star encouraging you to buy the latest craze item. Whether its trainers, clothing, perfume or a car a sports personality will endeavour to sell it to you. The advertisement market loves to use sports people to sell their products, as they know these people attract an eclectic range of attention and puts their product in the public eye.

Popular sports stars now earn as much through advertising as they do from competing and there are many examples of this. Probably the best-known sports star in Britain is David Beckham who earns in the region of 4. 6 million a year playing for Manchester United. His personal sponsorship deals include products such as; Adidas, Pepsi and Police Sunglasses. All¦ Since its formative years sport has had a commercial component to its operation. As early as 590 BC Greek athletes were financially rewarded for an Olympic victory (Harris, 1964).

However, in no previous time period have we seen the type of growth in the commercialization of sport, that we have seen in the last two decades. Today, sport is big business and big businesses are heavily involved in sport. Athletes in the major spectator sports are marketable commodities, sports teams are traded on the stock market, sponsorship rights at major events can cost millions of dollars, network television stations pay large fees to broadcast games, and the merchandising and licensing of sporting goods is a major multi- national business.

These trends are not just restricted to professional athletes and events, many of them are equally applicable to the so-called amateur sports. In some ways parallelling the increased commercialization of sport has been the emergence of academic interest in the business and management of sport. Much of the work in this area, including some of my own, has been concerned directly or indirectly with issues of effectiveness and efficiency and has the implicit or explicit aim of improving managerial practice and the functioning of organizations.

From this perspective, sports goods and services are commodities which, like other goods and services, are subject to market forces. The managers of sport organizations are presented as purveyors of rationality and the management of a sport organization is considered to be a socially valuable technical function that is carried out in the general interest of athletes, employers, sponsors, and spectators alike.

However, such approaches do little to challenge the virtue of commercialization and the managerial actions that have portrayed this process as a socially desirable and unproblematic practice. Also, they do little to demonstrate the negative side of this drive towards rationality, or to present new and challenging ways of thinking about the business side of sport. Rather, such uncritical views are actually concerned with the preservation of established privileges and priorities such as maintaining hierarchical control and generating profit.

The commercial trends that are occurring in sport are far too important and wide ranging to be accepted unquestioningly and it is here that I would like to think there is a role for the sport sociologist; to challenge some of these practices. While the organizational and managerial changes we have seen take place as sport has increasingly become a form of commercial activity can be enabling and beneficial for sport and sports people, they can also be constraining and, as such, should be the subject of more critical analysis than occurs at present.

In this brief paper, I look critically at the use of marketing in voluntary sport organizations. I focus specifically on these organizations not because they are exemplars of marketing practice, but because as governments in many countries have reduced funding for amateur sport, marketing has been presented as the solution to financial problems. I offer a brief critique of this practice and show that while there are certainly benefits to the effective marketing of sport there are also a number of concerns which emerge about its use.

In the world of amateur sports, the concepts and practices of marketing have become centrally important. In the discourse which is promoted by government bureaucrats, professional sport administrators and politicians, the voluntary sport organization is about much more than the development of athletes. Rather, it is about selling sport to potential and existing customers.

This requires informing these individuals and collectivities about what is on offer and, in the process, articulating and shaping needs (Morgan, 1992), i. emarketing the sport. In large part the increased interest in marketing has been the result of a reduction in state funding for amateur sport organizations which have had to turn to the private sector for the shortfalls they are experiencing (Slack & Berrett, 1996). The growth in importance of marketing is evidenced by the number of organizations that now employ in-house marketing personnel or hold contracts with external marketing agencies.

It is also evidenced by the increased amount of corporate support given to sport (more than $3.5 billion per year in North America albeit a significant proportion on professional sport), the growth of sport marketing as a sub-disciplinary area in sport studies, and the emergence of organizations such as the Sport Marketing Council in Canada and the Institute for Sport Sponsorship in the UK. Marketing as a managerial activity occurs primarily at two levels in voluntary sport organizations. The first of these involves the marketing of a particular sport to potential participants, usually young children who may take up the sport.

The second involves the marketing of the organizations properties such as its name or logo, events it may hold or the athletes who are its members, in order to obtain corporate sponsorship. I will deal with each in turn. The marketing of a sport to increase participation is an intuitively appealing and logical function for a voluntary sport organization. It is also consistent with the directives of mainstream management gurus who see marketing as concerned with serving the interests of potential and actual consumers by satisfying their needs.

The basic tenet, whether it being selling chocolate bars or sport, is that an increase in consumption leads to an increase in satisfaction. The basis of this premise is that an exchange relationship takes place where, in our situation, the voluntary sport organization provides the opportunity for an individual to participate in the sport and then he or she, in turn, provides loyalty to the organization through competing for them, paying membership fees, being involved in social activities and so forth. The concept of an exchange relationship implies that each individual is free to select the option they want in a free and open marketplace.

It does not take account of the fact that structures such as socioeconomic status, gender, race, and geographical location can constrain an individuals ability to respond to the marketing initiative. As Alvesson and Willmott (1996, p. 120) suggest, it presents an image of common sense voluntarism, ignores the asymmetrical relations of power in [marketing] relationships, and provides a deceptively simple easy-to- understand formulation of the complexities of human interaction and neglects to discuss how structures of domination and exploitation shape and mediate relationships.

While few would deny that it is the responsibility of those working in voluntary sport organisations to promote and publicise their sport and, that this can be to the benefit of both the organisation and the participant, an excessive emphasis on marketing presents an image of the young athlete and potential athlete as commodities. For some organizations, they may be merely another membership fee to be added to the coffers or another name on the membership list which can be used to justify the funding of the sport by government agencies and corporate sponsors.

The marketing image that is presented to young potential athletes and their parents is consistent with marketing other products and services in that it is about constructing myths. Involvement in sport is presented as healthful recreation and, more than often, as providing the potential to achieve fame through athletic success. Such images tend to downplay the negative aspects of the activity such as drugs, injuries, eating disorders, and so forth.

Also, they frequently focus on the objective criteria of winning and the pleasure that comes from such success as opposed to the more subjective satisfaction that can come from the aesthetics of performance and competing against oneself. The negative effects of such marketing can also include the reinforcement of gender stereotypes, the promotion of conformity, and an over emphasis on competitiveness. Marketing in the form of seeking and obtaining sponsorship is like the marketing of participation opportunities; an intuitively logical and appropriate activity for a voluntary sport organisation to be involved.

The increased amounts of funding that have come to sports through corporate sponsors have had considerable benefits for the voluntary organisations that stage athletic events and for a number of the athletes who engage in them. Increased sponsorship has been linked to increased media coverage and spectators in many parts of the world regularly see athletes they would not normally get to experience were not for sponsorship.

The athletes themselves have benefited; no longer shackled by the bonds of amateurism, top performers in sports like track and field, cycling, skiing, figure skating and volleyball have been able to receive compensation for their efforts. This has come about largely through the money that is obtained through sponsorship. In addition, events at all levels that may not have been possible or would have been operated in a less grandiose form are now viable because of money from corporate sponsors.

However, marketing and sponsorship are not the neutral activities that their primary advocates would have us believe. The very discourse of marketing and its incorporation into voluntary sport organisations may be seen as helping transform them at their very roots into structures that fit more easily with the dominant market and marketing ethos of 90s society (Morgan, 1992, p. 143).

On the face of it such a discourse may, as I noted earlier, promote the concept of exchange and the ideas of freedom that accompany this (cf.Copeland, Frisby & McCarville, 1996) but as Morgan (1992, p. 143) notes it is also a discourse which conceals underlying inequalities of power which are produced and reproduced both inside and outside the market transactions. First, and maybe the most obvious of these inequalities, is the ability of some sport organizations to transact in the marketplace and secure corporate support. Those organizations which have been most successful in securing corporate monies are those which are concerned with the larger and more visible sports.

Copeland, Frisby & McCarville (1996) for example, in a study of Canadian corporations found that nearly 70% of all the organizations they surveyed were sponsoring professional sport or elite level amateur sport. Sports with a lower profile are often unable to attract substantive financial investment from corporate bodies. Hargreaves (1986) has even suggested that in those organizations which do receive sponsorship this situation can contribute to uneven development within a sport because there is no guarantee of resources percolating down to the lower levels of the activity.

When state funding was the primary source of income for these agencies there was some degree of balancing of the haves with the have nots. The marketplace is less sensitive to these needs and a phenomenon where the rich get richer maybe in effect. In fact, some preliminary findings from work we are doing in Canada tends to suggest since national sport organizations have had to replace state funding with corporate support, those that have been the least successful in this are showing signs of returning to the kitchen table type of design2 (cf.Kikulis, Slack & Hinings, 1992) they exhibited prior to the large infusion of government funds (not that such a move is necessarily bad for all of these organizations).

It does, however, demonstrate the lack of stability they exhibit in the face of changing funding, something that does not augur well for their effective operation. Corporate involvement in voluntary sport organizations may also be constraining in that it may be a relatively fickle source of funding.

A change in the CEO of a sponsoring corporation and /or a change in the companys strategic direction can result in the rapid withdrawal of funds, again a factor which does not promote the long term stability of these bodies. Involvement with corporate sponsors also means that the demands of the marketplace are given precedence over the wants of athletes. Corporate sponsors who fund sport organizations and major sporting events expect a significant degree of commitment from participating athletes, whose interests in terms of their competition schedule become subordinate to the sponsors desire to have them participate in funded events.

Star athletes now compete on sponsored circuits which Aris (1990) suggests may carry more status than competing for ones country in a major event. Athletes are lured with prize money and/or appearance fees so much so, that injuries may be ignored, educational opportunities are put aside in the quest for success and banned substances are employed to enhance performance. These individuals no longer represent their club, their country or themselves, they represent the corporations who provide the money for their sport.

As Kidd (1988a, p.302) points out the expectations of corporations have become so commanding that they, in effect, have blocked the expression of the older, humanistic amateur based aspirations of Olympism and other similar values. It is, former Canadian Alpine Ski coach Curry Chapman (cited by Kidd 1988b, p. 23) notes, not just them [the athlete] going down the mountain any more but its also a bank, a drug store, and a car parts chain as well. Such concerns do not, however, appear to daunt the sporting establishment who have embraced marketing as the remedy to many of their financial ills.

Such an emphasis can, no doubt, brings its rewards, but the commodification of athletes which the marketing emphasis brings does, as I have shown, have its shortcomings. While there are a number of convincing arguments for the use of marketing as an integral part of the operation of voluntary sport organizations, it is incumbent on those of us involved in the social sciences and interested in studying phenomenon such as the commercialization of sport to not accept at face value the technological rationality and efficiency of such changes. Rather, it is important for sport sociologists to develop a critique of these practices.

While this has occurred in the broader field of policy and organizational studies, it has not happened to the extent to which I believe it should in sport and it is here that there is a role for the sport sociologist in the next millenium. 1Some of the ideas in this paper were presented as part of a keynote speech at the 1997 International Committee for the Sociology of Sport Conference in Oslo, Norway, June 30th, 1997. 2The term kitchen table refers to an organisational design characterised by undifferentiated task arrangements, low formalisation of procedures and informal decision making.

[pic] References Alvesson, M. & Willmott, H. (1996). Making sense of management: A critical introduction. London: Sage. Aris, S. (1990). Sportsbiz: Inside the sports business. London: Hutchinson. Copeland, R. , Frisby, W. , & McCarville, R. (1996). Understanding sport sponsorship process from a corporate perspective. Journal of Sport Management, 10, 32- 48. Hargreaves, J. (1986). Sport, power and culture. Oxford: Polity Press. Harris, H. A. (1964). Greek athletes and athletics. London: Hutchinson. Kidd, B. (1988a). The elite athlete. In J. Harvey & H.

Cantelon (Eds. ), Not just a game ( 287-308). Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. Kidd, B. (1988b). The philosophy of excellence: Olympic performances, class power, and the Canadian state. In P. J. Galasso (Ed. ), Philosophy of sport and physical activity: Issues and concepts ( 17-29). Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press. Kikulis, L. , Slack, T. & Hinings, C. R. (1992). Institutionally specific design archetypes: A framework for understanding change in national sport organizations. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 27, 343-370. Morgan, G. (1992).

Marketing discourse and practice: Towards a critical analysis. In M. Alvesson & H. Willmott (eds. ), Critical management studies (136-158). London: Sage. Slack, T. & Berrett (1996). Seeking corporate sponsorship: Some factors limiting the success of national sports organisations. In J. L. Chappelet & M. H. Roukhadze (Eds). Sport management: An international approach. Lausanne: International Olympic Committee. Commercialisation is the process of attempting to gain money from an activity rather than being interested in the activity purely for its own sake.

Large amounts of money can be made from sports activities from ticket sales, media rights etc. Major corporations carry out intensive research into TV viewing habits in relation to sport. They are then able to advertise their products on billboards, logos and players shirts. The growth of satellite and cable TV has meant that sport can be seen as a global commodity [hence the term globalisation] where TV companies such as Sky sports pay huge amounts of money for the sole rights to televise major sports activities. The TV companies earn their money by selling advertising opportunities to major corporations.

This advertising in real terms is quite cheap and has included advertising for questionable products such as tobacco and alcohol. Globalisation needs also to be examined in respect of spreading sports to other countries. The Superbowl is now popular in the UK and one of the fastest growing sports in the USA is Football. Additionally most professional sports usually have a diversity of different nationalities. How Commercialisation [Americanisation]has affected sport The Americanisation of sport in the UK is reflected in various ways.

Anyone visiting America is usually very surprised at the number of commercial breaks there are on TV. In the UK most commercial breaks last no more than 3 minutes and commercials are limited to 3 breaks per hour of TV. In the USA commercial breaks are every 10 minutes lasting for 4/5 minutes each time. American professional sport receives huge coverage, however both College and High School sport are televised extensively at local level. This means that many sports are organised to allow for a high number of commercial breaks which enables sponsors the opportunity to advertise their products.

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