(Social) media comment: sport's next great frontier?

Sport, Business and Management

ISSN: 2042-678X

Article publication date: 13 July 2012


(2012), "(Social) media comment: sport's next great frontier?", Sport, Business and Management, Vol. 2 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/sbm.2012.51202baa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

(Social) media comment: sport's next great frontier?


Article Type: Editorial From: Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal, Volume 2, Issue 2.

Over the last decade, the world has seen the emergence and dramatic growth in social media. Such has been the impact of social media, that its pioneers and innovators are now heralded and revered as icons of our age. The sport industry has often been at the forefront of developments; for instance, The Chain, which was part of Nike's Joga Bonito campaign launched at the time of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, was an early showcase for the way in which consumers could be engaged to generate content for a marketing communications campaign. More recently, several sports teams have begun to actively employ Facebook to the extent that there some organisations now compile sporting league tables of “most followed teams”.

According to Kaplan and Haenlein (2010), social media is “a group of Internet-based applications that are built on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content”. Among the most commonly used and prominent forms of social media are Twitter, Facebook and You Tube. In addition to these forms of social media, there have also been several other significant developments, such as the Huffington Post which is an online newspaper with content generated by its readers.

In one respect, the impact of social media on sport was inevitable, as it has long been held that the relationship between sport and the media is a symbiotic one. Indeed, as the dynamism of the media landscape has intensified over the last two decades, the symbiosis between sport and the media has arguably strengthened as the technology and product portfolios of global media corporations have changed. Accompanying these changes, there have been simultaneous changes in many countries such as the growth of a consumer culture. These changes have, for instance, enhanced the voice of fans; hence, there has been a significant growth in radio phone-in programmes, fanzines and specialist television programmes.

Yet in spite of the symbiosis, the established relationship been sport and the media has essentially been a bi-directional one, with the media located at the nexus of a network that includes fans, customers, teams, events, venues and governing bodies. At this fundamental level, the emergence of social media has re-configured the nature, scale and flows within the network. This is already having profound effects on sport, not least in the way that social media enhances democracy, speed and immediacy across the media space.

As a result, instead of fans being distant customers, mediums like Twitter have enabled them to gain direct access to athletes, players, coaches and managers. At the same time, teams and clubs have been able to open themselves up to the world, providing insights they have never been able to provide before. At the same time, sports’ commercial partners have actively begun to leverage social media as a way of activating their relationships with the sector. Even in the case of athletes, many use social media as a means of engaging with fans and as a way of publicly expressing views they might otherwise be unable to express, while some even use social media as a signalling device (as in the case of some professional footballers who have tweeted the availability for transfer on Twitter).

The rapidity of social media's appearance in the sport industry landscape poses some interesting issues for academic researchers, indeed for applied researchers in the field too. The fields of business and management are replete with research opportunities, especially in terms of conceiving and understanding the new media environment in which sport functions. Researchers should, however, make a cautionary note: fast changing, rapidly evolving technologies can pose some problems, such as the way in which a phenomenon might significantly change over a period of analysis.

Notwithstanding the difficulties in researching social media, there are nevertheless still numerous areas that are likely to be of interest to, and be potentially fruitful for, researchers. Conceiving of the role that social media plays in the business and management of sport would appear to be an obvious and immediate opportunity for researchers working in this field. Beyond this, analysing the strategic (and tactical) role of various social media would inevitably emphasise some interesting issues. For instance, in marketing there is already a widespread acceptance that Twitter and Facebook are effective mechanisms for acquiring and retaining customers. Opinion is still divided nevertheless about how to monetise this form of engagement.

At the same time, it is often claimed that social media is changing the way in which sport organisations operate, by opening them up to their external stakeholders, in a way never previously experienced. For those with an interest in sporting governance or corporate social responsibility, this poses some interesting questions, not least whether social media can affect or has affected a change a change in the way sport organisations operate. Accepting that a change has taken place (or is at least in progress) implies that there are some interesting studies to be undertaken that examine to change process, as well as the outcomes of any such changes. Furthermore, as the dual agenda of good governance and corporate social responsibility continue to prevail, understanding the contribution that social media makes to both would make for an interesting study.

There are several other areas of business and management in which social media in sport could be researched and analysed; for example, in organisation behaviour, management information systems, human resource management and so forth. But for the purposes of this one of the more intriguing aspects of social media is the way in which it potentially serves as a signalling mechanism. In recent case from English football, a Premier League player used Twitter to signal his availability for transfer to another club. Such a move was highly unusual, circumventing the normal process for alerting clubs to one's availability, while also negating the role that agents might normal fulfil in such situations. Why social media is being used in this way, and how it influences labour market dynamics, signalling activities, human resource management strategy and the role of intermediaries all represent highly intriguing research opportunities.

While some may dismiss the growing prominence of social media as merely fad and fashion, it rapid proliferation strongly suggests otherwise. As such, there are clear issues for sport, which should be embraced by sport business and management researchers, and which should therefore stimulate new and exciting research themes in sport. One hopes that readers of this journal will become part of this important new area of research and duly make appropriate future submissions to our journal.

A note on this edition

This edition of the journal brings together five papers which ideally represent the breadth and scope of the journal's coverage. It contains studies undertaken from the perspectives of performance management; scandal and financial performance; the creation of peoples’ identities around brands; advertising and recruitment in sport; and sponsorship decision making. These studies focus on practices in areas of the sport industry including: soccer; sportswear; and ice hockey.

Mazanov, Lo Tenero, Connor and Sharpe's paper “Scandal+football=a better share price” is extremely timely, investigating the impact of scandal on investor valuation of sport by examining changes in share prices of three football clubs involved in the 2006 Italian “Calciopoli” controversy. The paper examines share price variation and volatility across 2006, in particular analysing share performance for Juventus (the centre of the scandal), Lazio (also involved) and Roma (uninvolved) over different (qualitatively defined) phases of the scandal. The movements in share price are compared to three benchmark indices – FTSE MIB, DJ Stoxx Europe 600 and DJ Stoxx Europe Football – indexed from 2 January 2006. Findings show that, despite speculation and high volatility, the share price of all three clubs increased by 30 per cent in 2006, outperforming benchmark indices (15 per cent). This suggests the Calciopoli scandal increased the perceived value of the clubs, intuitively implying that scandals in sport have a negative impact. This paper suggests that scandal could have a positive impact on a club's share price and therefore the overall financial value of sport.

In “Tailoring performance management systems: a sports merchandiser's case”, Carenys and Sales consider the emergence, applicability and appropriateness of measures of performance in sport. Their research aims to analyse how the special features of sport businesses influence the performance management system of a sports merchandiser. Using a case study of a sports retailer, that manages the merchandising and image rights of a major European football club, the research was conducted using Otley's performance management framework. The authors find that organisational objectives were clearly known by all managers at all levels, despite not articulated in explicit statements, but conveyed in less formal ways. The main outcome of the paper is an explanation of how a performance management system can be structured to effectively respond to the sports setting in which a company operates. Among the factors identified are constant meetings, shared values, information exchange and fast response to events substituted planning and forecasting.

Brands can perform a significant role in the lives of consumers and in their paper “Identity and sport: young French Canadians and the Montreal Canadiens hockey club”, Richelieu and Korai analyse the cultural impact and the importance of the Montreal Canadiens hockey club for its francophone fans, in particular defining the extent to which young French Canadians (Quebecers) associate themselves with the team as a part of their identity building process. Utilising an exploratory qualitative research, the authors initially conducted four semi-directed group discussions (120 people), followed by individual interviews from a distinct sample group of 35 students. Findings show that the associations of their identities form indelible memories that remain present in the heart of young French Canadians. The Montreal Canadiens appear to be an entity strongly tied to Francophone Quebec that both feeds and is fed by the team. Such a finding indicates that innovative marketing strategies in an experiential framework should be a priority in building engagement between a sports team brand and its young fans.

Pierce, Petersen Clavio and Bradley's paper, “Content analysis of sport ticket sales job announcements”, examines the current state of job announcements relating to sport ticket sales and service positions in the USA. A content analysis methodology was used to examine 733 sport sales job announcements from two subscription-based sport job web sites posted over a six-month time period. The researchers found that sport sales jobs were geographically clustered with over half of the positions within only eight states led by California (12.7 per cent), New York (9.3 per cent), Texas (7.2 per cent) and Florida (7.2 per cent). The majority of organisations posting jobs were specific teams or integrated sport/entertainment companies owning specific teams (76 per cent) followed by media firms (11 per cent), outsourced sales firms (6 per cent) and sporting goods companies (6 per cent). Of the 12 major job types, inside sales positions were the most common (32.3 per cent) followed by sponsorship sales (13 per cent) and media advertising (12 per cent). Logistic regression revealed that directors and non-entry level hires were more likely to supervise other salespeople and utilise consultative sales techniques, while a strong work ethic and cold calling was sought from entry-level personnel.

The study has several practical implications, including how education and training programmes for entry-level sport salespeople are created (for instance, through the use of experiential learning).

In the final paper of this edition, Lee and Ross adopt an Analytic Hierarchy Approach to examining sponsorship decision making in the global marketplace. In this study, the authors employ three criteria level factors and a total of 13 sub-criteria level factors that were identified though a literature review, expert panel review and pilot test. A total of 410 e-mail accounts from global corporate sponsors were contacted three times to request on-line survey participation. AHP local weights showed that sport team factors were far more important sponsorship decision-making factors than the country factors and environment factors. AHP global weights showed that media exposure opportunity was the most influential factor followed by sponsorship fit, team image and fan base strength. The study is especially notable as it is the first to utilise AHP in sport sponsorship literature, examined sport sponsorship in the global market context by contacting corporate sponsors.

Simon Chadwick


Kaplan, A.M. and Haenlein, M. (2010), “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media”, Business Horizons, Vol. 53 No. 1, pp. 59-68