Important milestone in the development of sport business research

Hans Lundberg
Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden

Sten Söderman & Harald Dolles (red) Handbook of Research on Sport and Business 576 sidor, inb. Cheltenham, Glos: Edward Elgar 2013 ISBN 978-1-84980-005-1
Sten Söderman & Harald Dolles (red)
Handbook of Research on Sport and Business
576 sidor, inb.
Cheltenham, Glos: Edward Elgar 2013
ISBN 978-1-84980-005-1

Edward Elgar continues its ambitious and highly appreciated strategy of frequent publishing of research handbooks aiming at providing a thorough overview of the state-of-the-art within a discipline or a topical theme in focus. And now, the time has come for “a youngster”; the body of research done at the nexus between sport and business that gradually have been forming itself as an emerging sub-field in-between several mother disciplines. Now, after roughly 20 years of development on European soil, this sub-field has reached one important milestone, its own first handbook summing up major efforts and main contributions done in sport management research during this time. As I have followed and (for 5-6 of the early years) very actively participated in this development in Europe since its emergence around the turn of the millennium, the first feeling I got when this handbook landed in my post box was “finally; long awaited!”. So, will this initial positive feeling stay with me after I’ve done my critical reviewer reading? Overall, yes; this handbook is a milestone just by its existence but also because it indeed is a robust quality handbook, doing the kind of specific job such a focused academic product should do. Let me explain why I think so. This said, no academic product is free from lacks and limitations, why I will highlight some of the main ones, from my point of view.

Under the editorship of professors Sten Söderman and Harald Dolles, 42 researchers from about ten Western European countries, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zeeland has contributed to the Handbook of Research on Sport and Business. The book is organised into five main thematic clusters, ‘Governance and performance’, ‘Media and technology’, ‘Place, time and spectators’, ‘Club management and teams’, ‘Sport branding and sponsoring’, comprising 29 chapters all in all. The geographical distribution of researchers reflects, for better or worse, how this field functions; sport management is largely “a Western affair” dominated by three academic bodies (EASM=European Association for Sport Management; NASSM=North American Society for Sport Management; SMAANZ= Sport Management Association of Australia and New Zealand).[1] One can and should critically discuss such Western hemisphere dominance over a particular knowledge domain but such critique should be targeting these three (and other) academic communities rather than the editors of this handbook. They have, in general, turned to where “the knowledge is available” and have overall managed to attract a solid team of researchers for this handbook.

The same logic applies to gender distribution; only 6 of 44 contributing researchers are women, a gender imbalance that is as unfortunate as it possibly can be, but nevertheless is a rather proportional ratio relative to how this field as of now is constituted (very male dominated), why the editors’ choices can bee seen as a logical reflection of a field infamous for its institutionalised gender imbalance. It would have been populism and political correctness en masse to “polish up” this imbalance by staging a more gender balanced team of contributors; better then to show “how it actually is” even if it is a reality many would prefer to be different. By displaying it transparently, rather than hiding it, the editors contribute to visualizing the problem visible and thereby send a signal to the academic communities to improve the situation locally.

If the two biases so far mentioned are to be ascribed to structural and discursive forces beyond editors scope of action, the first of two other biases that the editors could and should have done away with is the over-representation of researchers from the Scandinavian countries (8 of 44 researchers, of which three, as well as one of the editors, are affiliated with Molde University College, Norway). This bias in favour of one particular Norwegian institute and one minor geographical region within international sport management research does not correspond to factual situations (Molde, Norway, is not the centre of sport management in Europe; the Scandinavian countries are not the leading countries within international sport management). This bias is thus a relatively serious flaw given the rigorous and extra-ordinary demands on representativity that naturally accompanies the Research Handbook genre.

This gargantuan presence reflects that sport management research still has a long way to go to decouple itself from obvious financial power structures and specific sport industry ideologies.

The second of the biases the editors could and should have done away with is the huge over-representation of chapters either based on or partly building upon football/soccer as empirical context (11 out 29 chapters, almost half of the handbook!). This is absurd. “According to the World Sports Encyclopedia (2003) there are 8,000 indigenous sports and sporting games” ( Yes, football/soccer is by many considered to be the leading/major sport out of these 8 000 sports and sporting games, but nevertheless; one is one is one is…, no matter how big, popular or money stained this “chosen One” is. This gargantuan presence reflects that sport management research still has a long way to go to decouple itself from obvious financial power structures and specific sport industry ideologies. The day when sport management researchers actually stop being seduced by big money and stop being too much of cheerleaders of the multi-billion Euro industries they are supposed to critically and rigorously research, then sport management will level up to be accepted and respected as a fully legitimate academic sub-discipline in broad terms. As of now, some steps in the right direction are taken and this handbook represents an important milestone towards this improvement, despite the lacks and limitations highlighted here.

The strengths of this handbook are quite many and rather important for a knowledge field still under intense formation. The major strengths in my reading are the following ones:

  • Topical relevance: The handbook truly mirrors the major topics that have dominated sport management research agendas for the last two decades. Most of the chapters are written by leading researchers on each topic respectively. Thereby, the handbook serves its most obvious objective, to be a guide and first stop source for entering a given topical area within established sport management research.
  • Good balance between Economics and Business Administration: This is a classical question in all business related research, sport management is no exception. Sometimes, a source for conflict, but not very much so within sport management though. On the whole, macro and micro approaches have co-existed along the years rather constructively, and this “relative harmony” is mirrored in the good balance between macro and micro oriented chapters in the handbook.
  • Very clear pedagogical structure: The editors, their team and the publisher has obviously done very far-reaching efforts to develop, explain and communicate a clear pedagogical structure of the handbook as a whole. Chapter 1 is very long (almost 40 pages) but it really pays off to read, as it provides a very thorough and detailed rationale for the structure and disposition of the handbook. Yes, this in general is to be expected for any product in the handbook genre, but here it is done with extraordinary quality and clarity.
  • A highly relevant concluding ‘Reflection’ section: The same reasoning as in the previous bullet; a section like this is in general to be expected for any product in the handbook genre, but also here it is done with extraordinary quality and clarity. No less than three whole chapters are dedicated to various forms and nuances of reflection over the field as such and its future. Extra important are the many and relevant questions and problems formulated in these chapters. It is a sign of quality for a handbook of a young sub-discipline like this, that the reflexive output of the handbook effort is the stating and sorting of relevant future questions rather than the provision and reification of over-simplified answers to truly complex phenomena.
  • Intensified focus on within-paradigm methodological pluralism: Several important intellectual traditions from the last 30-40 years within social theory, i.e. all “post-isms” (postmodernism, poststructuralism, post-colonialism, feminism, post-politics), were fading out from the major academic battle lines as sport management really started its formation processes, which is why these intellectual traditions never gained ground and are more or less completely absent from sport management theory. So, in that sense, one can definitely not speak about methodological pluralism, on the contrary. However, a considerable development in favour of methodological pluralism within the neo-positivist paradigm that the sport management field operates by, is clearly visible. This within-paradigmatic-logic development is an important epistemological step, a step that one day might develop towards increased ontological pluralism as well, one can hope. This development is visible throughout the handbook, but is most obviously manifested by the fact that a whole chapter is dedicated to this matter (chapter 2).

Linked to this last bullet (methodological pluralism), I, as concluding words wish to reflect upon what I understand as an important strategic choice made by the editors regarding the early formative years of European sport management, leading to, among other things, this handbook. As member of the top management team and long time serving Board Member of the European Academy of Management (EURAM), from the decision-maker’s point of view I have been following the initiation, growth, consolidation and development of the ‘Sport as Business’ Strategic Interest Group’ (SIG) of EURAM as main strategic platform for developing sport management research in Europe. Editors Söderman and Dolles use the whole preface to explain their strategic rationale:

Our early ambition was to bring sport management research from a specialist niche market and focused conferences into international management conferences as the industry increasingly developed towards internationalization, professionalization and commercialization. By doing so, we aimed to develop and establish research on sports and business as a serious new stream of management research in hope that it would later be broadly accepted in leading business schools. […]

In 2008 […] for the first time in the history of EURAM a track on the business and management of sports was accepted. […] By encouraging this development, the EURAM board concluded that the main topics chosen for the track […] were promising emerging areas of research. In a seemingly parallel development we have been approached by Francine O’Sullivan from Edward Elgar about editing this research handbook about sport and business (Söderman & Dolles, 2013; preface xviii-xix).

I am convinced that this strategic step, the crucial decision to abandon various rather myopic sport niche contexts (in which the hard-core sport fans reside, dressed up as ‘researchers’), and instead deciding to establish a respected research platform within EURAM as the leading management conference and management researcher community in Europe, was and is fundamental for the development and improvements that have taken place within sport management research. As long as I serve as board member and executive committee member of EURAM, I will continue to do what I can do to support future developments of a vital and relevant sport management research platform within the European Academy of Management.

Copyright © Hans Lundberg 2014


[1] Nowadays there’s also a global organisation of sport management, World Association for Sport Management ( [editor’s note].



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