Few flickering lights in an otherwise overwhelming darkness

Hans Lundberg
Linnaeus University

James J. Zhang, Brenda G. Pitts & Lauren M. Johnson (eds.)
International Sport Business Management: Issues and New Ideas
300 pages, hardcover
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2021 (World Association for Sport Management series)
ISBN 978-0-367-74046-7

This is the fifth book in the World Association for Sport Management series, this one (like the previous ones) edited by series editors J.J. Zhang and B. G. Pitts, with one of Zhang’s PhD students, Lauren M. Johnson, as third editor.

The World Association for Sport Management (WASM, https://wasmorg.com) was formed 2012 as an alliance between the six major regional/continental sport management associations from North America, Europe, Australia/New Zeeland, Asia, Africa and Latin America (NASSM, EASM, SMAANZ, AASM, ASMA, ALGEDE). The mission of WASM is “to facilitate sport management research and teaching and learning excellence worldwide” (https://wasmorg.com/about/vision-and-mission/) and two of WASM:s nine purposes/objectives are to “promote scholarship and education in sport management” and “celebrate diversity and foster cross-cultural comparison of sport management behaviour and practice” (https://wasmorg.com/about/vision-and-mission/).

An interesting detail in the bibliographic page of the book clarifies that it actually is WASM that holds the intellectual copyrights and thereby is listed as the actor having dealt with chapter selection and editorial matters, despite that the three aforementioned individuals are listed as the editors on the cover and elsewhere in the book. Since WASM have taken on the role of editorship, I will accordingly do my review with the mission of WASM and two of the nine purposes/objectives for WASM in mind. So, how does WASM put ‘worldwide’, ‘celebrating diversity’ and ‘scholarship promotion’ into practice in this book? Not at all, is the short answer. The more elaborated answer is as follows:

Some chapters are so poor in all possible aspects that the only decent thing I as a reviewer can do is to avoid mentioning them and instead just flag their existence as a short warning here: simply do not buy or use this book in any way.

Worldwide? No, not at all. Yes, Latin America (ALGEDE; Brazil, 1 author), Africa (ASMA; Tanzania, 2 authors; South Africa, 1 author), Asia (AASM; China, 2 authors; Taiwan, 2 authors; Iran, 1 author) and Europe (EASM; The Netherlands, 3 authors; France, 1 author; Poland, 1 author) indeed are represented, while Australia and New Zeeland (SMAANZ) are not. But a few splashes does not make a lake. These 14 authors from 4 out of 5 member associations/continents vs. the 24 authors from North America (NASSM) gives the ratio of rest-of-the-world 36,8% and USA 63,2%. That is, ‘worldwide’ understood in that very special way that probably only is possible in the US at the moment.

Celebrating diversity? No, not at all, but indeed unabashedly celebrating nepotism. The book manifests a very skewed representational set-up in several ways, but most omnipresent is that the state of Georgia, USA, is represented by no less than 14 authors (3 senior scholars, 10 PhD Students, 1 Master Student) out of in total 38 authors. That is 36,8% of the authors in the book. All of these 14 authors except one is from University of Georgia. Two of these 14 authors from the state of Georgia, USA, are the two senior book series editors as well as editors of this book, J.J. Zhang and B. G. Pitts, who also have been very instrumental in the formation of WASM (https://wasmorg.com/about/evolution-of-wasm/). Nothing wrong with the state of Georgia in USA, it is a beautiful and wonderful state with great people and fine universities. Somewhat more wrong is to blur boundaries between organizations, individual roles, missions and actions – to blur that individual senior scholars with distinct influence, reputation and power in these subject areas co-opt a Routledge book to boost “their people” and to do this local nepotism in the name of ‘international issues’ (book title), ‘global issues’ (part I of the book, 8 chapters) and in the name of an organization claiming to serve sport management communities ‘worldwide’ (WASM mission). I am not sure which is the worst: the blatant nepotism as such, the fact that it is done fully in the open and without reservations from any of the other scholars participating in the book, that Routledge (once a strong-hold of academic integrity and quality) has sunken this low in its internal quality control in the rat race for market shares, or that WASM seems to be a con organization (alternatively an organization hijacked by a few individuals in order to promote US exceptionalism and interests).

Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro (Photo: Brazilian Government)

Scholarship promotion? No, not much, but some flickering exceptions are to be found. Why overall not much of scholarship promotion? 1) The skewed representation and lack of diversity described above makes it impossible in a reasonably fair way to deal with what the book announces (‘international sport business management’). 2) The three editors of the book are also chapter authors, J.J. Zhang in two chapters, Brenda G. Pitts and Lauren M. Johnson in one chapter each (exempted from these numbers is chapter 1, where editors have written and should write a framework for an edited book). The fact that book editors are involved also as authors in 4 of 15 book chapters is a hallmark sign of low academic standards. 3) 16 out of 38 authors are junior scholars or not scholars (11 PhD students, 3 master students/master degree/consultant, 2 no affiliation/strange titles). There is nothing at all wrong with inviting/publishing relevant individuals with a variety of backgrounds, if done in the right way, but 16 out of 38 make up 42,1%, which is distinctly higher ratio for these categories than most other comparable products. 4) Some chapters are so poor in all possible aspects that the only decent thing I as a reviewer can do is to avoid mentioning them and instead just flag their existence as a short warning here: simply do not buy or use this book in any way.

Some flickering exceptions though, in a substandard book with low levels of scholarship: Routledge do not sell single chapters as pdf-files, but if you in one way or another can get your hands on single contributions, some useful prospects are the following: Flavia da Cunha Bastos provides a fine helicopter view of the “Emerging sport management challenges in Latin America” (chapter 2) and have both the scholarly and practical credits to undertake such a difficult task in less than 20 pages. Informative, well written and even with a touch of critical thinking (which most often is completely absent within sport management and related subject areas). Anneliese Goslin provides us with a similar helicopter view when in a descriptive way leading us through “Sport management curricula in Africa” (chapter 3). Ben Hattink, Gerco van Dalfsen and Adri Broeke provide us with a very good written forecasting chapter asking interesting questions about “The sport management professional of tomorrow” and build this chapter up with a quite broad and interesting set of models, concepts and theoretical underpinning (for instance, distinctly rooted in Sarasvathy’s effectuation theory). They are also able to integrate these components in the end, finishing up with contrasting the old-school managerial ways with more contemporary entrepreneurial styles of managing sport organizations in the future.

All-in-all, avoid this book. And ask someone at Routledge what they actually are up to nowadays.

Copyright © Hans Lundberg 2022


Table of Content

      1. Issues and new ideas in international sport management: an introduction
        James J. Zhang, John Breedlove, Andrew Kim, Hannah H. Bo, Devin J. F. Anderson, Troy T. Zhao, Lauren M. Johnson & Brenda G. Pitts

PART I Global issues

      1. Emerging sport management challenges in Latin America: a look at professional preparation
        Flávia da Cunha Bastos
      2. Sport management curricula in Africa: issues and challenges
        Anneliese Goslin
      3. How to assess the sporting impact of international sporting events in Taiwan: methodological perspective
        Yu Huang
      4. Challenging issues in youth and high school sports in the United States
        Rachel Madsen & Annemarie Farrell
      5. Issues, challenges, and suggestions for youth sports in America: who is really winning?
        Zachary Beldon
      6. Diversity in sport innovation
        Jepkorir Rose Chepyator-Thomson, Willy Kipkemboi Rotich, Sehwan Kim, Katja Sonkeng, Shannon Jolly & Chenelle K. Goyen
      7. Global issues and new ideas in sport management: exploring the role of culture in Ladies Professional Golf Association viewership
        Euisoo Kim, Tyreal Y. Qian, Lauren M. Johnson & James J. Zhang

PART II New ideas

      1. Impact of digital technology on optimizing organizational and social dynamics of the sport industry in China
        Liangjun Zhou, Linyan Wang & John Breedlove
      2. Antecedents of establishing small and medium-sized sport enterprises
        Seyed Morteza Azimzadeh, Jerred J. Wang & Brenda G. Pitts
      3. Entrepreneurial intent and orientation in cohorts of a university-accredited sport business management certificate program in Malawi
        Anneliese Goslin, Darlene A. Kluka & Karolina Nessel
      4. Assessing sports broadcasters’ website quality: an examination of the influence of game quality
        Nicolas G.A. Lorgnier, Nicolas Chanavat, Che-Jen Su & Shawn M. O’Rourke
      5. The sport management professional of tomorrow
        Ben Hattink, Gerco Van Dalfsen & Adri Broeke
      6. Strategies used by secondary school administrators to motivate teachers and students to be involved in sports
        Alfa Simwanza & Stephen Mabagala
      7. Athletic identity and academic performance of student-athletes in the U.S.: application of the Multiple Intelligence Theory
        Akuoma Nwadike & James J. Zhang
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  1. An uncompromising book review, Hans, that registers a wider problem in contemporary academic publishing characterised by overproduction falling standards, and a plague of predatory publishers.

    Not so long ago I was approached by the editors of one of those ‘magisterial’ handbooks/companions/compendia that have proliferated in recent decades – including in the listed chapters of my CV. They said that I was no doubt busy, so perhaps I could get a graduate student to do most of the work and it could be published under both of our names. It took me about 30 seconds to decline with strained civility.

    In the case of this book I would also ask how the field of sport management got hijacked by business. Several of the chapters don’t seem to be about business as such, so I can only conclude that it was put in the title for rather cynical marketing purposes.

    I am glad that you did not specifically criticise the junior academics and research students who are so heavily represented. This book was a great opportunity for them. There are many outlets for such new voices, but a book from a major publisher claiming to feature “work from leading sport management scholars from around the world” is not one of them.

    Should they read your review, I would not want these emergent scholars to be discouraged. It is the World Association for Sport Management, the publishers and the senor editors (I exempt the PhD student who is the third editor) who should reflect on the important matters that you have raised.

    Your candid book review, which contrasts with many bland summations, has done a signal service to the field of sport studies. We all need to think seriously about the conditions under which we publish and read, and to do what we can to distinguish genuinely valuable new work from the under-processed, industrialised output that swamps our mental space.

    • Dear David, many thanks for your thoughtful and important comments, and for taking the time to share them, I appreciate it very much.

      I am happy that my review have done a signal service to the field of sport studies. I have for long time (early 2000s) been puzzled by what you mention, why the relation sport management/its research object (business) seem to be immune to evolve/mature in similar ways that most young disciplines do over time. Maybe it simply is basic behaviorism (commercial interests is too strong; sport passion is too overwhelming) that affect this “immunity”. Yet, we must try to do something about it. I’d start with publishers. Not that they are less commercially oriented, on the contrary, but just because they want to sell more books good quality should be in their interest.

      Thank you also for especially pointing out the importance of not being harsh on emergent scholars, and for noting that I made an effort to pinpoint the two senior editors, WASM and Routledge as the ones 100% responsible for this. It is a pity that emerging scholars find themselves ending up in a context like this, but in case they read the review I hope that also they see that the critique is not targeting them.

      Finally, many thanks for also connecting my review with Hallgeir Gammelsæter’s article in the same vein. Hopefully this will initiate a critical discussion within the sport management community about its role in future development of sports.

      All the best,

  2. Thanks for this review, uncompromising as it is, and for inviting me in. There is surely reason for being concerned, for sport management, but also for what some term the crisis in management studies more generally (e.g. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/management-studies-in-crisis/97E2D8388F93110EAB86A4DBFB58C715). What you put your finger on is important, Hans. I have not read the book you review, and I am not tempted to, having seen your most honest appraisal, but the practice of publishers to contract with academic associations (EASM do have a similar contract) to do book series should be debated. Looking up the WASM webpage I notice that seven volumes have been produced btw 2018 and 2021 and that another three are in the pipeline. Strangely, despite the seeming variety in topics, the seven first books are edited by the same two editors (Zhang and Pitts), and one of them (Zhang) continues through to the next three. With this pace of publishing it is hard to believe the contributions are subjected to blind review, and that the editors can do a proper job! It is also hard to believe these books will sell, but with a global market which includes university libraries, and prices at £120, I guess Routledge easily cover their costs and run with profits. The problem is the demand created by these contracts. Who should fill these books, and with what content? No wonder the editors end up with many emerging scholars keen to add a new publication to their emerging lists. It would be interesting to scrutinize this publishing practice in its entirety, in WASM, EASM and other associations presumably based on scholarly criteria. As for sport management there is of course hope, but I want to see more authors engaging in a debate about what we are and should be. I am currently working on a SI on the topic in ESMQ, so there will be more in 2022.

    Best wishes

    • Dear Hallgeir, many thanks for providing great details and informed reasoning to this. Especially, your line of reasoning around Publisher/Association relations is very interesting. I think you nail the problem there, that it basically is impossible to uphold quality with that fast-paced production scheme, while Routledge nevertheless has no problems with making money despite the poor quality it results in.

      I guess main revenues on books and book series comes from university libraries as you mention, and that series like this is difficult/impossible to unbundle (they are a minor part of a major content package for which libraries must buy/pay “all-or-none”), so to approach our libraries might be one way to go ahead. And align to the open science movement, that deal with these problems on a bigger scale already. The supply-side seem to be difficult to break (publishers make money, associations get visibility, keen emerging scholars wanting to fill up their CV:s), so I’d go for the demand-side; kill the demand for institutionalised mediocracy, and we might have an improvement.

  3. Thanks Hans and Hallgeir for pushing the discussion along. It would be good to hear some other voices too. Perhaps we could persuade our esteemed Editor Kjell to open a space in idrottsforum.org for short contributions to the topic?!

    I would add, though, that it is rare in my experience for a book chapter to be blind peer reviewed. There is usually a heavy reliance on the editors and, sometimes, a manuscript reviewer to guarantee the quality of the contributions. As an editor of many books and special issues myself, I would say that in some cases I and/or co-editors have almost merited co-authorship after doing a lot of work to bring chapters up to scratch!

    Also, while book series involving academic associations can be of low quality, there are some very good ones. For example, I’m a member of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, which publishes two book series and is involved in various other publication activities. It has its own Publications Committee which “operates under a set of guidelines adopted by the International Council in April 2015. The guidelines set out the structures, responsibilities and obligations of various IAMCR bodies in relation to publications, including books, book series, post-conference publications and Section and Working Group journals.” https://iamcr.org/publication_committee

    Looking at the World Association for Sport Management website, there is no sign of anything like this level of oversight regarding its publications. If I was a member – and clearly I am not and would never be – I’d want to have some guarantee that what goes out with the imprimatur of the Association is properly monitored by it.

  4. Dear David, great continuation of our loop here, many thanks. Like you, I like the book format as it, properly managed, makes it possible to write up forms and types of research that journals don’t deal with. And the quality mechanisms can then, accordingly, be somewhat different than the peer process, like the great example you mention with more collaborative writing and editing processes (where indeed editors and co-editors have ”merited co-authorship after doing a lot of work to bring chapters up to scratch”). And the other way around as well; I’ve been part of some great book processes where editors list all chapter authors (+ themselves) as authors in, for instance GS and researchgate, to signal/mark this ”dying art” of genuine in-depth collaboration to form a book where parts and whole constitute each other and all (chapter authors and editors) are in-depth involved in each others work). Time consuming indeed, but very quality oriented. Nowadays, the way you work with institutional quality guidelines (IAMCR), is a good way to ensure quality mechanisms for books in a less time consuming way than my example. Role modelling via book awards is another method to communicate quality standards that might function complementary (we started that in European Academy of Management, EURAM, some years ago).

    All-in-all, books really have a function to fill also in our journal dominated digital era, but mechanisms and processes for quality assurance needs to be updated and upheld. Let us keep that torch flaming.


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