Key Concepts in Sport Management


Terri Byers, Trevor Slack & Milena M. Parent

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    About the Authors

    Terri Byers is a Principal Lecturer in Sport Management at Coventry Business School and provides strategic leadership on Applied Research. Terri has published a variety of book chapters and journal articles, presented at conferences in the USA, Scotland, England and other European countries, and possesses over fifteen years' experience consulting for sport organizations and federations. She has been an external reviewer for the European Science Foundation, the International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, Journal of Sport Management and the European Sport Management Quarterly. She has a particular interest in voluntary sport organizations and the use of Critical Realism in Sport Management research.

    Trevor Slack is a Professor in the faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, Canada. He has also taught organizational theory in that university's business school to MBA students and has held a position as a Canada Research Chair in sport and leisure management. In addition Trevor has previously held positions at De Montfort University in Bedford, England, where he was head of the School of Physical Education, Recreation and Sport, and also a position at Warwick Business School, England, where he was Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Corporate Strategy and Change. He has received awards for his work on sport organizations from the North American Society of Sport Management, the European Association of Sport Management, the Canadian Administrative Sciences Association, and the Academy of Management.

    Milena M. Parent is an Associate Professor in the School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Canada. She is also an invited professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, holds a Government of Ontario Early Researcher Award, and is a Research Fellow of the North American Society of Sport Management. Her main research interests fall under organization theory and strategic management as they apply to major sports events.


    We would like to thank the staff at Sage for their assistance and encouragement throughout the writing of this book. In particular our special thanks must go to Jai Seaman and Chris Rojek as well as Martine Jonsrud and Katherine Haw. We would also like to thank colleagues both in academia and in industry for their helpful comments and suggestions about the concepts: our gratitude goes to Ian Blackshaw, Bill Gerrard, Jean Harvey, Samantha Gorse, Eric MacIntosh, Mike Provance, Vassil Girginov, Steffan Goeringer, David Rowe and Alex Thurston. Finally, we must say thank you to the anonymous reviewers who provided very useful feedback on the manuscript. (Terri, Trevor and Milena)

    My special thanks go to Trevor, who has always encouraged me in my writing and whose experience and contribution to this book have been invaluable. Thanks also to both my co-authors, Milena and Trevor, who brought considerable effort and expertise to the project. I would also like to thank my husband Andrew for his support of my work and career. (Terri Byers)

    I would like to acknowledge Terri Byers for initiating and coordinating this project and also for asking me to be involved. I would also like to acknowledge Amy Brock and Erano ‘Ernie’ Lim for their welcome help with typing. And finally, without the help, love and support that I receive from my wife Janet, I would not have been able to do any of the things I have been able to accomplish. (Trevor Slack)

    My thanks must go to Terri and Trevor for inviting me to contribute to this work. (Milena M. Parent)

    Using This Book

    This book is a quick and useful reference guide to some of the key concepts in sport management and is particularly useful for those studying the management of sport in order to identify appropriate research topics and to understand how past research is important for developing any current research focus. By examining past and current research we can start to build a rational and clear focus for our research enquiries and avoid unnecessary/repetitive studies which will add little to our field's knowledge base and/or will not contribute to the wider field of management. As the reader will notice, some of the past research to be considered includes sport-industry-specific research and more generic management and organization research rather than just focusing on the sport-specific research that has been conducted.

    Many of the concepts included here are from a knowledge base known as Organization Theory (OT) and this book will help the reader to understand the power of OT in identifying appropriate research questions/problems and demonstrate to students especially how OT can be useful in understanding the management of sport. However, other concepts included in the book are broader in nature and refer to a larger discipline of study, such as media/broadcasting, sport law, sport funding and volunteers. These concepts are examined in order to provide the reader with a comprehensive (though not conclusive) array of concepts which have been and/or are currently being investigated by researchers interested in the management of sport.

    Practitioners can also benefit from this reference guide as the concepts have very real and practical implications for those working in the industry and facing problems and challenges in the management of sport. The book identifies concepts which can be useful in meeting those challenges and managing sport successfully. It also identifies a multitude of resources, research articles and theories that are focused on the management of sport which may offer some helpful advice or solutions to the problems faced by sport practitioners.

    It may also prove useful in bridging the gap between academia/students and industry. As each concept is discussed, it becomes apparent how students/academics and practitioners have common interests in, for example, sponsorship, conflict, governance and change. For academics/students to perform their research, access to the industry is often required, yet sometimes this is difficult to obtain. For practitioners who may be busy with the day-to-day or strategic aims of their business, but who also require knowledge and information to help them make decisions, student researchers or interns can be invaluable. The concepts presented in this book are relevant both to students/academics and practitioners and are therefore examples of where collaborations between research and industry in the management of sport would produce fruitful results.

    For academic staff teaching research methods or supervising dissertations and research projects this text can be used as a starting point for discussions around forming a research question and rationale for a research project. The content of each concept should raise many questions that can be discussed by staff with students. Some challenges for students include the following:

    • Taking a concept of your own choosing, find one article published in the last three months which is relevant to the research on that concept. Discuss the content and source of this article and suggest how it fits with what is mentioned in the book.
    • Lots of relationships between concepts are discussed within this book – choose two concepts that are of interest and find one journal article that looks at these. Then suggest a possible research question you may pursue.
    • Write a research question for a concept of your own choosing and discuss why this question is important. Then consider who may benefit from the answer to your question.
    • The literature mentioned in each concept is not fully elaborated upon – choose an article mentioned in this book and access it via your library. Read the article and make a note of how you may build this into a full literature review or theoretical framework for a concept/research question.
    • Taking a concept of your own choosing, identify the research methods usually adopted by researchers and discuss how you may utilize different methods and for what reasons.
    • Make a more comprehensive chronological list of definitions adopted by researchers for a concept of your own choosing. Discuss how these different definitions would influence how you measure/recognize the concept in a research project.


    The purpose of this book is to highlight what we believe to be the key concepts which relate to the management of sport. Many of the concepts come from a field of study known as ‘organization theory’ which is increasingly being used in research on the management of sport. Some of the concepts are much broader than those found in organization theory, such as the disciplinary areas of marketing/sponsorship, funding/finance, and sports law. We have set out to produce a book of key concepts which relates to the management of sport and is aimed primarily at students and academics. Undergraduate or postgraduate students can use this introductory text to gain an overview of concepts that have been and are currently being investigated by researchers and to begin to understand some of the research which has already been conducted. Practitioners in the management of sport may also be interested in this text as it identifies key issues in the management of sport that have very practical implications as well as giving a history of research and academic interest.

    The concepts we present in this book as ‘key’ in the field of sport management are, as we have said above, primarily derived from organization theory. We have done this for several reasons. First, there has been a growing amount of research conducted using organization theory to understand the management of sport and so any person interested in studying sport management should be aware of this current knowledge base. Second, the area of organization theory covers a significant range of concepts and theoretical perspectives, which have been influential in developing current knowledge of the management of sport. And finally, it is organization theory which is our area of interest and expertise and thus we feel able to provide the reader with a thorough introduction to the numerous interesting concepts which have emerged in this area of study. However, before we begin exploring the key concepts it will be worthwhile to furnish the reader with some further details about organization theory and its significance both to sport management and conducting research in this field.

    Organizational Theory

    Organizational theory is an area within the field of business/management studies, concerned with the structure, processes, and design of organizations and their subunits. It is relevant to our understanding of sport organizations because we know little about the structural arrangement of these organizations and the influence that that structure may have on various organizational processes. Researchers who work in this field look to identify commonly occurring patterns and regularities in organizations or their subunits. Research, which examines issues related to organizational size, change, effectiveness, environment, structure and design, decision making, technology, power and politics, conflict and culture, encompasses all these organizational theory topics.

    Researchers may use a variety of theoretical perspectives, which will include but are not limited to resource dependence, institutional theory, contingency theory, population ecology, and the life-cycle approach. Unfortunately it is beyond the scope of this book to explore all of these different perspectives for the various concepts introduced. For a thorough introduction to these issues in relation to the management of sport organizations, the reader is referred to Slack and Parent (2006).

    While researchers who use organizational theory are concerned with issues of theory (that is to say, with pushing back the frontiers of knowledge about organizations), those who study the management of sport should not be concerned that the subject area has no practical application. On the contrary, scholars in this area frequently work with practising managers; the central focus of a large percentage of the research they undertake will be to discover ways to help managers in their jobs. For those who study the management of sport, organizational theory can provide a better understanding of how sports organizations are structured and designed, how they operate, and why some are effective and efficient while others are not.

    Understanding sport organizations from an organization theory perspective can help those who study sport to analyze the problems they face and in turn prepare them to respond with appropriate solutions. Much of the work that is undertaken about the management of sport is not organizational theory based, rather it is more concerned with the actions of individuals within the organization (e.g., studies covering motivation, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment), which is an organizational behaviour approach. Researchers should not think that these two approaches are contradictory: they are instead complementary. Students who are interested in organizational theory approaches should investigate work by Slack and colleagues who have examined a wide variety of important issues in the management of sport, including change, decision making and strategy. For a contemporary view of the history of studying organizations, the reader is referred to March (2007), and for some thoughts on the future of organizational theory, see Czarniawska (2007).

    Organization theory and behaviour offer key insights into the management of sport from a structural and interpersonal perspective. Yet other broader areas of research have also contributed to our understanding of the management of sport, such as economics, operations, law, ethics and marketing. So as to provide the reader with a sufficiently focused view of research on the management of sport and still be inclusive of the growing diversity of this field, we shall include concepts from these wider knowledge bases.

    Structure of the Book

    The concepts presented in this book are those that appear mainly in the journals which are relevant to the management of sport organizations, including sport-specific (such as the Journal of Sport Management and the European Sport Management Quarterly) and general management/business/economics periodicals (such as Organization Studies and Administrative Science Quarterly). While some of the concepts covered have received extensive attention from the research community, it is beyond the scope of this text to provide comprehensive and critical literature reviews for all the concepts that are of relevance to the management of sport. Instead we define each concept before going on to introduce some of the research which has been conducted, and where appropriate, we suggest some criticisms of the work and where future research may focus. By doing this we demonstrate how ‘gaps’ in the literature can indicate where a lack of knowledge exists. For each concept, a basic definition is provided within a text box and the general business and management literature is usually relayed before demonstrating how the concept has been explored by sport management scholars. In some instances, where appropriate (e.g., sport sponsorship) and owing to the specific nature of the concept in relation to sport, we address only literature from the management of sport.

    We include ‘mainstream’ literature and sport-specific literature where possible to demonstrate to the reader that when conducting research into the management of sport it is necessary to recognize literature in the general field of management and organizations as well, rather than make assumptions that sport organizations are dissimilar to other organizations. This is particularly important for those researchers thinking of publishing their work, as it encourages them to think about the relevance of their research to both the management of sport and the management of organizations more generally, thereby increasing the audience and sources of publication for their research. For broader concepts, outside of the organization theory field, we illustrate some of the key concepts which have been identified in the literature and which are contemporary to the practising sport manager. As indicated above, owing to the very broad nature of some concepts we are restricted to identifying a few relevant concepts but would not suggest that we have by any means provided an exhaustive account of all the research conducted.

    All of the concepts in this book are interrelated and in order to understand one concept it will often be necessary to refer to several others as well: as a result we highlight these interrelationships by placing concepts that appear elsewhere in the book in bold and then reiterate these at the end of each concept. Also, at the end of each entry the reader will find a short list of suggested reading. These may cover key references used in the preceding discussion of the concept, or be in addition to those references already provided. However, we would encourage the reader to explore the full list of references for each concept provided at the end of each entry and to seek additional reading by using the section on ‘Keeping Up To Date’ where we provide a short discussion of how the reader may keep abreast of current research on the management of sport by identifying appropriate journals, trade magazines and other publications where work and practice are reported. This is done in order to acknowledge the constantly changing nature and development of research on the management of sport, as well as to encourage students or academics to use the contents of this book as a starting point and the recommended publications as sources which will provide access to the most current and up-to-date research being conducted on the concepts presented. Finally, each reference list is organized in order to enable the reader to have a clear idea of those readings that are particularly relevant to every concept in the book.

    A Note About Content

    It is important for the reader to recognize that the content of this book does not represent ‘literature reviews’ for each concept, as this is beyond the scope of the Key Concept Series. We have provided an indication of some of the research which has been done on each concept and would acknowledge that for those interested in a particular concept, some further reading and searching for literature would be required in order to develop a fuller understanding and begin more systematic critiques of the themes, theories and perspectives found within this literature. For illustrative purposes, we provide some criticisms of the current research and where appropriate make suggestions for how research may be advanced with future studies. We have therefore provided an introduction to the research on each concept rather than an exhaustive or systematic critical review of each of these.

    Czarniawska, B. (2007) Has organization theory a tomorrow?Organization Studies, 28(1): 27–29.
    March, J.G. (2007) The study of organizations and organizing since 1945. Organization Studies, 28(1): 9–19.
    Slack, T. and Parent, M.M. (2006) Understanding Sport Organizations. Leeds: Human Kinetics Europe.
  • Conclusion

    Key concepts are important to identify in any field of study, for students or academics undertaking research. They are also useful for sport practitioners trying to solve problems or improve their working practices. This book offers students, academics and practitioners some useful ideas on concepts which have been identified in both the organization theory literature and in the wider literature on managing sport organizations as key to organizations generally and to the management of sport specifically. For students and researchers, the information provided on each concept provides a variety of references as a starting point for developing appropriate research questions and constructing a literature review.

    The concepts presented in this book are those that are found in the organization theory literature and the broader fields of study within research on the management of sport (e.g., sport marketing, sports law, sponsorship) are present both implicitly and at times explicitly in research on the management of sport. This is not necessarily a criticism but something of note that anyone doing research needs to be conscious of; i.e., which key concept is the focus of their study and which related concepts (and literature) may need to be considered in order to answer their research aims. We have demonstrated the interrelatedness of the concepts included in this book and while we could not provide an extensive review of the literature for every concept, we have tried to give the reader a good selection of the research that currently exists in the field of management/organization studies generally and in the management of sport specifically.

    As time passes, however, research ideas and directions will change and thus it is necessary to seek current sources of information on the concepts we have presented. To assist the reader in this task we now turn to summarize some of the sources which are most useful for this purpose. Once again, while this is not an exhaustive list it does identify many of the key sources that the reader may find useful when they begin their search.

    Keeping Up to Date: Journals

    As can be seen with each concept there are a wide variety of journals which publish research on sport organizations and an even greater variety of journals which focus on organizations generally. However, we consider the key journals that publish organization theory and topics on the management of sport to include the Journal of Sport Management (a publication of the North American Society for Sport Management – NASSM) and the European Sport Management Quarterly (the journal of the European Association of Sport Management – EASM). Alternatively the reader may be interested in looking at Sport Management Review (the journal of the Sport Management Association of Australia and New Zealand – SMAANZ), the International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing (IJSMM), or the International Journal of Sport Management. A relatively new journal launched by the publishers Emerald is Sport, Business and Management.

    There is also the International Review of the Sociology of Sport which we have often cited in this book. Of course we would recognize here that these sport-specific journals contain research other than organization standard theory-focused issues. A small amount of sport management and sport policy-related literature can be found in the European Journal of Sport Science and the Journal of Sport Sciences. Other journals that publish articles on specific aspects of the management of sport include the following:

    • Managing Leisure
    • International Journal of Sport Policy
    • International Journal of Sport Marketing and Sponsorship
    • International Journal of Sport Finance
    • Journal of Sport Economics.

    We have also mentioned a few journals published in languages other than English and increasingly, as the academic discipline and industry of sport management expand globally, publications are appearing in a variety of foreign languages. Although it is beyond the scope of this book and the authors' language skills to include all the languages which publish relevant literature related to the management of sport, we would wish to make the reader aware of the fact that publications do occur in languages other than English. Some examples include:

    • Revue Économique
    • Revue Européenne de Management du Sport
    • International Journal of Sport and Recreation Management (Greek)
    • Economy and Sport (Greek).

    In addition to these, we would recommend examining the contents of generic management journals such as Organization Studies, Journal of Management Studies, Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization, Human Relations, Organizational Science, The Academy of Management Review, Journal of Business Ethics, International Journal of Management Reviews, Corporate Governance, An International Review and Academy of Management Journal.

    The reader should also be aware that journals can be ‘ranked’ by various organizations and systems to indicate their quality and therefore the quality of the material published within a particular journal. This is not an absolute measure of the strength and reliability of a journal but it can give some indication of its developmental stage. One such ranking system is the Association of Business Schools' (ABS) ‘star system’. The ABS is an independent organization representing over 100 business schools in the United Kingdom and produces a journal quality guide, suggesting:

    The ABS Academic Journal Quality Guide is a hybrid based partly on peer review, partly on statistical information relating to citation, and partly upon editorial judgements following on from the detailed evaluation of many hundreds of publications over a long period.

    It provides guides to the range, subject matter and relative quality of journals in which business and management and economics academics might publish the results of their research – empirical and theoretical. The journals included cover a wide range of disciplines, fields and sub-fields within the social sciences, representing an inclusive approach to what constitutes business and management research.

    Another measure of journal quality is to examine its ‘impact factor’. This is a measure of the frequency with which a journal has been cited within a particular year. The system was developed by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) which is now part of Thomson Reuters. Impact factors can be found in the Journal Citation Reports (

    However, the reader should also evaluate journal articles individually and examine the theory and methods applied within articles rather than relying solely on ranking systems. Many sport-related journals produce relevant and good quality research in the field of sport management but have yet to be recognized or even to fully engage with the ranking systems. One exception is the Journal of Sport Management which is listed in the ABS guide. The European Journal of Sport Science, European Sport Management Quarterly and the Journal of Sport Science are also listed in the ISI Journal Citation Reports along with the relevant impact factors.

    In addition there are also a number of periodicals and trade publications which are either devoted to issues and concepts related to the management of sport or publish articles on sport management-related issues. These include:

    Other journals that publish articles which would be of interest to people who study sport management include:

    • Quest
    • Culture, Sport, Society
    • Soccer and Society.

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