Following the principle of fit?

Cecilia Stenling
Pedagogiska institutionen, Umeå universitet

Leigh Robinson, Packianathan Chelladurai, Guillaume Bodet & Paul Downward (red) Routledge Handbook of Sport Management 470 sidor, inb. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2012 (Routledge International Handbooks) ISBN 978-0-415-58788-4
Leigh Robinson, Packianathan Chelladurai, Guillaume Bodet & Paul Downward (red)
Routledge Handbook of Sport Management
470 sidor, inb.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2012 (Routledge International Handbooks)
ISBN 978-0-415-58788-4

There is a challenge attached to me doing this review. As I have proclaimed in earlier reviews (e.g., Stenling, 2011), my point of departure is that the empirical focus of sport management research is the organizing and management of sport (on various levels). This phenomenon can – and should – be analyzed from many disciplinary vantage points and with varying emphasis. I have also proclaimed that I adhere to the research approach which is concerned with understanding how, why, and with what consequences sport is organized (the sociological approach), as opposed to the one concerned with understanding and thus designing efficient organizations (the business economics approach; e.g., Amis & Silk, 2005). As I have continued my academic journey, however, I have grown increasingly aware that there is a better fit between the latter approach and sport management as a label. The subject of this review – the Routledge Handbook of Sport Management – is a good example of that. Consequently, some would justly argue that I am unfit to make a fair review of this book. Thus, while I conceive of the book as consisting of a collection of texts which are – as far as I can judge – of high quality according to the criteria of their respective discipline, I cannot help thinking about other ways to approach the various topics which are treated throughout the book, or – for that matter – topics which are not treated at all. Hence, when I give some examples of this throughout the review, I urge the reader to keep in mind that the views presented are, to some extent, those of “an outsider looking in”. Well then, enough with the disclaimers, let’s get going.

Preceded by an introduction and closed by a chapter on the future of sport management, the main thrust of the book is four parts, each consisting of six to eight chapters. Thus, in total, the book comprises 32 chapters, spanning over 470 pages. Each part opens with an editor’s introduction to the topic treated in it as well as a brief foreshadowing of the chapters – a very useful guide to the reader. Between them, these parts and chapters present a variety of styles and emphases. Whereas some of them are “hands-on” guides for sport managers, others are thorough research reviews or theoretical/conceptual discussions. Given the length of the book, it is not possible to give adequate due to each chapter. I will, therefore, attempt to give a brief description of the parts as well as some of my thoughts on the approaches used in them.

The first part, edited by Leigh Robinson, is entitled “Managing the performance of sport organizations”. The point of departure for the chapters in this section is that cuts in public spending, reductions in the discretionary expenditure of customers, and growing public intolerance of unethical and unprincipled behavior by those responsible for the managing of sport organizations, has created an increasing need for 1) “accountability, transparency and ethical behavior in sport organizations” (p. 3), and 2) “greater organizational competitiveness across the industry as a whole” (p. 3). Consequently, the chapters present various tools to be used by managers to fill this need, i.e., techniques for good governance (chapter 2, 3), performance management (chapter 4-8), and change management (chapter 9). These chapters are, indeed, a product of our time. For example, in chapter 3, it is argued that “good governance” can be achieved by the use of the so-called CaS framework, composed of various standards (e.g., structural, planning, performance, and transparency) and their associated components. It is, furthermore, argued (p. 39) that the nature of the CaS framework is “non-prescriptive” in that it “allows organizations to develop governance standards that account for the different governance requirements associated with the recreational and elite/competitive elements of the sport”. I agree with this stance in the sense that the content of strategic, annual, or meeting plans (planning standards), for example, is not pre-given.[1] However, from my vantage point, the very advocacy for the use of such techniques is a normative stance situated within a managerial framework. Thus, while I would be the first to underscore the need for tax payers’ money to be handled with care and for sport organizations to display ethical behavior, the underlying rationale for, and wider implications of, sport organizations’ adoption of various “techniques” in order to display accountability is, in itself, an interesting topic for analysis. Researchers concerned with the making and implementation of sport policies and programs have written extensively on this topic.[2]

Or, for those of you who, like me, tend to view the strategy of “holding all other variables constant” (ceteris paribus) as kind of the opposite of what you are trying to achieve, i.e., the consideration of context in the analysis of social phenomena.

Part two of the book, “Managing human resources in sport organizations”, is edited by Packianathan Chelladurai. The title of this review is inspired by one of the main arguments put forth in the editor’s introduction; that all HRM-practices should be guided by “the principle of fit”, i.e., the fit between the person (me) and the task (reviewing this book). In addition to the editor’s introduction, the five chapters comprising this part cover, in order, a service-based approach to HRM in sport; volunteer management; organizational support; the psychological contract and contingent workers in sport organizations. As indicated by these topics, the chapters represent a psychological perspective on HRM, and the overall impression is that they display very thorough and informative research reviews and conceptual discussions. Thus, these chapters will appeal to those of you (researchers) interested in a treatment of HRM-topics from the vantage point of psychological theory. As for me, the chapters – once again – turned my mind to the question of what wider systems of meaning are (re-)produced and changed as organizations in which volunteerism (in its widest sense) is a linchpin, introduce practices which aim at making these organizations more “work-like”.[3] What are the implications, for example, of volunteers being subjected to performance appraisals? Or, how does a system based on volunteerism change as “customer” replaces the term “member”?

The third part of the book, “The Marketing of Sport”, contains chapters which, according to the editor Guillaume Bodet, reflect three streams of marketing: 1) the relationship marketing approach and the core issue of loyalty which “is thought to produce many positive organizational outcomes and management of which is seen as costing less than recruiting new partners or consumers” (p. 225), 2) the experiential aspect of sport consumption and its implications for marketing, and 3) the identification, segmentation, and satisfaction of consumers according to the social bonds and relationships they try to create in their consumption activities. In addition, three chapters cover the opportunities, threats and changes in consumer behavior following globalization and the development of new technologies and media.

Sport marketing has definitely developed into a field in its own right, and those interested in sport marketing will find these chapters worthwhile. However, there is a vast discrepancy between my own field of interest and the material presented in this section. Consequently, for me, the description of customer segmentation strategies in relation to sport spectators (chapter 19), for example, prompts the question of how, why, and with what consequences, in terms of (re)production of gendered and ethnicized stereotypes, do sport managers use segmentation strategies?

The fourth and final part of the book, “Contemporary Issues in the Economics of Sport”, is edited by Paul Downward. The chapters in this section draw heavily on statistical economic models in order to analyze, for example, football players’ labor markets and the determinants of player salaries. Thus, these chapters will appeal to those of you who have the term “ceteris paribus” as part of your daily vocabulary. On the other hand, some of the chapters will probably be rather difficult to penetrate for those of you who, like me, have only a fragments of knowledge left from the course in macro-economics. Or, for those of you who, like me, tend to view the strategy of “holding all other variables constant” (ceteris paribus) as kind of the opposite of what you are trying to achieve, i.e., the consideration of context in the analysis of social phenomena. Two of the chapters do, however, differ somewhat from the other. First, Downward, Lera-López, and Rasciute’s chapter will appeal to those of you interested in large scale surveys on the patterns and determinants of sport participation and its implications for the almost ubiquitous promotion of the sport-for-all ideal by westernized states. Second, Gratton’s chapter on the economic benefits to cities from hosting major sport events will be interesting for those of you who welcome a scrutinizing of westernized states’ almost ubiquitous use of the regeneration argument in the legitimization of tax payers’ money being pumped into the bidding and hosting of sport events.

To sum up, is the Routledge Handbook of Sport Management “the most up-to-date and comprehensive guide to theory and practice in sport management ever published” (Preface)? Well, no doubt, the book treats topics which will be of interest and use to many researchers and practitioners, and it does so in a well-implemented way. However, implicit in any claim of comprehensiveness is the assumption of a fit between the knowledge presented and the importance, usefulness and need of that knowledge. In that sense, and as indicated throughout the review, I consider a number of perspectives and topics not represented in the book as equally fitting for research which has as its empirical focus the organizing and management of sport.

 Copyright © Cecilia Stenling 2014

[1] Depending on the theoretical framework employed, however, it could be argued that it more or less is.

[2] See, for example, the stream of work produced by Slack and colleagues (e.g., Slack & Hinings, 1994) on the organizational change following the Canadian government’s introduction of the Quadrennial Planning Program, Sam and Macris’ (2014) study of the introduction of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in New Zealand sport, or O’Gorman’s (2011) analysis of the implementation of the Charter Standard Scheme in English football.

[3] I am fully aware that there are hundreds of thousands of people employed in the sport industry. Nevertheless, the majority of sport organizations worldwide are non-profit organizations, governed by volunteer boards and supported by governments which ascribe value (social capital, democratic schooling, etc.) to the voluntary organizations as an organizational form.

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