Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
European Sport Management Quarterly
For a Special Issue on
Delving Deeper: Examining Individual-Level Sport Brands
01 July 2022
Special Issue Editor(s)
Griffith University, Australia
Temple University, USA
University of Georgia, USA
University of Bath, UK
Temple University, USA
Delving Deeper: Examining Individual-Level Sport Brands
The popularity of many individual-level sport brands eclipses the attention directed toward the organisation-level brands to which they are associated (Kunkel & Biscaia, 2020; Su et al., 2020). This is partly due to the advent of social media platforms, which provide unprecedented opportunities for individuals in the sport industry to brand themselves (Abeza et al., 2015; Filo et al., 2015). Social media and other technological advancements enable individuals involved in sport to brand themselves as influencers and connect with consumers in innovative and creative ways. For example, former University of Oregon softballer Haley Cruse is well known for her on-field abilities and creative TikTok videos. Meanwhile, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford was recently made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his ongoing charity work, which was documented and shared worldwide. Numerous other examples exist whereby individuals involved in sport have used their platform for altruistic purposes or to raise awareness for important social issues, and recent external forces accelerate the relevance of personal branding of individuals within the sport industry. For example, in 2021 the NCAA started allowing collegiate student-athletes within its system to monetise their name, image, and likeness (Kunkel et al., 2021); and the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation and postponement of competition – shifting consumer attention from teams and leagues towards individuals (Su et al., 2020). Rapid advancements in technology, including artificial intelligence, the emergence of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and immersive social platforms (e.g., the metaverse) will place further emphasis on individual brands collectively and in sport contexts specifically as branding practice evolves and continues.
Illustrating the power of individual-level sport brands today, Cristiano Ronaldo’s (@Cristiano) 373 million followers make him the most followed person in Instagram history, whilst also representing a figure eclipsing that of his last three clubs combined (@ManchesterUnited – 52.6m; @Juventus – 51.6m; @RealMadrid – 106m). Outside of the professional sport environment, significant changes in NCAA legislation have seen student-athletes provided with opportunities to build their brands through sponsorship and endorsement. Gatorade recently signed their first collegiate athlete, opting to partner with the University of Connecticut basketballer Paige Bueckers in an historic deal. Beyond athletes, the UFC’s Dana White attracts significant media attention given his large control over the organisation’s match making; with many considering White the UFC’s main powerbroker; and Pierluigi Collina is still the most well-known soccer referee 15 years after gracing the FIFA 2005 video game cover in his last season. These are some of many instances indicative of the rise of individual brands in the sport brand ecosystem.
Within this special issue of ESMQ, we seek to expand the scope of individual-level brand research within the sport industry and advance knowledge pertaining to: (1) how individuals in the sport industry develop and manage their brands; and (2) how such brand development and management influences, and is influenced by, related brands (e.g., other individuals, teams, leagues, sponsors, communities). Considering brands within the sport industry are connected through their interactions within the sport ecosystem (Kunkel & Biscaia, 2020), through this special issue, we seek to build upon extant research focused on branding at the sport event (e.g., Hallmann, 2012; Xing & Chalip, 2006), league (e.g., Kunkel et al., 2014), team (e.g., Bauer et al., 2008; Daniels et al., 2019; Gladden & Funk, 2002; Ross et al., 2006) and sponsor (Geurin & McNary, 2021; Jensen & Cornwell, 2017) levels, by focusing on important, yet overlooked components within the sport brand ecosystem. Specifically, we call for further research on brands that operate at an individual, rather than collective, level.
Notable work has begun to examine branding at the individual level – with the bulk of this attention thus far dedicated toward athletes. Within this line of work, scholars have provided both conceptual and empirical evidence of the components that contribute to athlete brands (Arai et al., 2014; Carlson & Donavan, 2013; Hasaan et al., 2018; Su et al., 2020), validated athlete brand measurement scales (Arai et al., 2013), investigated how athletes use social media for brand development purposes (Doyle et al., 2020; Geurin, 2017; Geurin-Eagleman & Burch, 2016; Geurin-Eagleman & Clavio, 2015), and examined how consumers respond to brand extensions (Walsh & Williams, 2017). Additionally, researchers have explored how athlete-specific on-field and off-field brand associations impact consumer connections to the athlete’s team and sponsor (Kunkel, Biscaia, et al., 2020), and how athletic identity has been perceived in the context of influencer marketing (Su et al., 2021). Despite these advances, the bulk of sport-based scholarship remains focused on examining contexts focused on the sport, event, federation, league, or team level – with less focus placed on individuals (Filo et al., 2015), despite their growing appeal often surpassing collective-level brands.
In response to the above, scholars have called for further research on individual-level sport brands, identifying opportunities remain to add to the understanding of how athletes may use social media effectively (Geurin, 2017), leverage philanthropic or charitable activities into their brands (Kunkel, Doyle, et al., 2020), monetise their brands, and restore their brands after encountering negative publicity (Agyemang, 2011; Chang, 2018; Chien et al., 2016). These aspects each apply to athletes who are currently active at various career points, those transitioning into retirement, and those who are competing under collegiate affiliations. In addition, scholars have called for further research to help navigate particularly challenging branding issues faced by sportswomen (Geurin, 2017; Lobpries et al., 2018; Mogaji et al., 2020; Taylor et al., 2020) and niche sport athletes (Geurin-Eagleman & Clavio, 2015). Deriving further knowledge pertaining to individual brands involved in esports, which represents a growing and important pillar of sport research, has also figured heavily with calls from the academy (Cunningham et al., 2018; Funk et al., 2018). Whilst athletes, spanning traditional sports and esports, form an important individual stakeholder group, it is our vision that this special issue will also invite critical debate and research also covering other individual-level stakeholder groups which could include, but are not limited to:
- Administrators & Executives
- Managers & Agents
- Commentators, Broadcasters, & Streamers
- Referees & Officials
- Super Fans & Influencers
- Brand Ambassadors
Possible topics within this special issue could pertain to brand development and management of any of the above individual-level sport brands and their influence on related entities within their broader ‘brand ecosystem’ (e.g., Kunkel & Biscaia, 2020). Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method research studies producing both theoretical and practical insights are particularly encouraged. We further welcome research on a diverse range of phenomena, stakeholders, and methodological approaches. Two main themes of classification within the special issue are:
1.Brand Development and Management. This research theme contains articles focused on positive and negative aspects surrounding individual-level brands. Specific research may be focused on uncovering how individual-level sport brands can capitalise on opportunities presented to them (e.g., Geurin, 2017) or how they may be impacted by controversies or challenging circumstances (e.g., Chang, 2018). Suggested topics may include (but are not limited to):
- The impact of technology and new media on the management and development of individual-level brands
- The monetisation of individual-level brands
- The intersection of philanthropy, social justice, equality, and individual-level brands
- The impact of poor performance on individual-level brands
- The impact of scandals or controversy on individual-level brands
- The management of individual-level brands during career transitions and at differing stages of their lifecycle.
2.Brand Relationships. This theme contains articles focused on understanding how individual-level brands impact related brands, and vice versa (Kunkel & Biscaia, 2020; Kunkel et al., 2013; Su et al., 2020). Suggested topics may include (but are not limited to):
- The impact of related brands' (e.g., other individuals, teams, leagues, or sponsors) successes or failures on individual-level brands.
- Co-branding between individual-level brands
- The societal value created through relationships between individual-level and other brands
- The repositioning strategies brands use that are focused on individual-level brands (e.g., the Tom Brady or Rhonda Rousey effect)
- The impact of technology in fostering connections with individual-level and other brands.
- December 13, 2021: Call for papers “Individual-level Sport Brands”
- July 1, 2022: Submission deadline for full manuscripts
- October 1, 2022: Initial manuscript decision and feedback to authors
- February 1, 2023: Submission deadline for revised manuscripts
- May 1, 2023: Papers prepared for final publication
- Summer/Fall 2023: Publication in ESMQ
Please select the "Delving Deeper: Individual-Level Sport Brands" special issue title when submitting your manuscript via ScholarOne.
Manuscripts will not exceed 8000 words including tables, captions, footnotes, and endnotes, but excluding references. Manuscripts exceeding this length will not be considered.
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