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31 January 2022
Sport Management: Mission and meaning for a new era
Sport management has developed as a scholarly discipline in an era marked by increasing professionalisation, commercialization, commoditization and globalization of sport. Since sport management became a ‘field of study’ at the end of the 1980s (Pitts, 2001), the sport ecosystem has seen tremendous expansion and integration. We have seen a dramatic increase in athletes’ movement across borders and regions, and quantum leaps in technology (i.e. TV and Internet) and revenue generation that have rendered modern sport a vehicle of commercial and political branding.
The expansion of sport management can be seen in the increasing number of education programs, research projects, journals, academic books, conferences, as well as associations in all continents. For instance, since Journal of Sport Management, the first academic journal in the field, started to publish in 1987, scholars writing on sport management may now submit their research to a dozen of international outlets directed particularly towards sport management. The thirteen papers published by JSM in 1987, multiplied to 235 papers, published by nine journals in 2019.
Despite the surge of empirical research and publications in a growing number of journals and books, some critics ask if the field has immersed itself in the neoliberal political and commercial project that has swept much of the world concurrently with the development of sport management as an academic discipline (e.g. Coakley, 2011; Newman, 2014; Gammelsæter, 2020). While this is arguable, the field’s academic journals have never invited to debate the state of the art of the discipline. Until now.
The Covid-19 pandemic that recently hit the global society, and the subsequent sweeping and unprecedented lockdown of most forms of organized activity, including organized sport, accentuate taking stock of our field in what might permanently turn out to be a changed sport landscape. What has been, and what should be the role of sport management research in society?
Stating the art of sport management should address the most essential issues pertaining to research in the field (and presuming that our research informs our teaching). Below we put forth three of these essentials.
- The mission of research. “I would wish to argue that this [urban regime theory], like its political counterpart New Right thinking which refuses to focus on collective interests, is mistaken.” uttered Ian Henry, the 2017 Chelladurai Award winner, in the first edition of ESMQ (Henry, 2001, p.18). Henry did not restrain from taking on a mission in his research, but his paper was hardly cited in any sport management journal, perhaps because we seldom ask what the notions of management are in our field, and how it is understood and bound up with how management should be used and to what ends? What is the mission of our field and of our research? How do we understand management in sport, and whom sport management research benefits?
- Critical distance. Most sport management researchers have an affinity for sport and would treat the positive aspects of sport as more fundamental than the negatives. With this luggage, becoming “sport lovers in critic’s clothing” (Lenskyj, 2000, p.3) is not straightforward. However, concomitant with the expansion, commercialization and globalization of sport, and the entrepreneurial use of sport as a strategy for e.g. social development, we as academic writers face increasing expectations of joining the entrepreneurial crusaders. We are called on to develop research-based intervention strategies whilst simultaneously responding to intensified claims to contribute to our institutions’ rankings, citation counts, research grants and impact. In reflecting on our field, we should question whether we as a community live up to our own standards of critical research or if demands in our environments debilitate our efforts to rest our research questions, analyses and conclusions on scholarly curiosity and independence from powerful others.
- Towards sport focused theory of sport management? Back in 2006, Laurence Chalip contended that: “if sport management is to be anything more than the mere application of general management principles to the sport context, then there must be something about sport that renders distinctive concerns, foci, or procedures when sport is managed” (p.3). Some years later Nauright (2013) observes that: “at elite and grassroots level sport is increasingly less about health and more about the creation of consumers in and through sports and generating profit from related products and services.” (p.2). If sport is increasingly about its commodification “at elite and grassroots level”, is there still a need for sport management or is the term merely a disguise for “sport industry management”? Are we any nearer to developing a sport focused theory, or better, theories, and what it means to be sport focused? Has time shown that Chalip was wrong and that what we are left with is the “mere application of general management principles”?
We think sport is still important, and so is our endeavor to study it, understand it and contribute to its use as public good. In times of pandemics and not to forget climate warming (e.g. McCullough, Orr & Kellison, 2020), more than ever we are incited, if not forced, to rethink what sport is, what it means to us, and whether it should and can return to its previous structures and manners.
As a research community on sport, it is our obligation to critically reflect upon the essentials mentioned above. Without further listing of themes and topics (we think the essentials can be approached from many angles), we would invite authors to submit papers on the theme “Sport management: Mission and meaning for a new era”.
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Papers should be submitted in electronic format through Manuscript Central using the following link: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/resm
Please indicate that you target your paper for the Special Issue: Sport Management: Mission and meaning for a new era
Contact: [email protected]
- June 10, 2021: Submission of full paper, first draft
- August 20, 2021: Feedback to authors
- September 1-4, 2021: Panel during EASM European Sport Management Conference London 2021 (for participation details see conference website)
- October 20, 2021: Submission of revised full paper
- January 31, 2022: Papers prepared for final publication
- March 15, 2022: Publication in ESMQ SI 2022
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