Early Commercialisation in Sport: Looking for Evidence and Searching for Meaning

Wray Vamplew
Universities of Edinburgh and Stirling

When sports historians have looked at commercialism and sport, they have paid too much attention to the mass spectator, gate-money sport that developed from the late nineteenth century in Europe and North America. Here it is argued that this takes too narrow a definition of commercialisation which instead should consider all economic/monetary transactions involving sport. This new definition has significant implications for when we can say that sport and commerce were becoming intertwined. Even in Ancient Greece and Rome, there is significant information on commercial activity involved with sport, including regularly organised events, large-capacity sports stadiums, sports entrepreneurship, professional athletes with trainers and free agency, sports tourism, and gambling on sport. Professional knights, regular tournaments and teaching professionals for the Medieval and Renaissance periods also make it clear that commercialisation in sport did not infer modernisation of sport. Although sport had changed in these later eras, this is immaterial to the argument which sees commercialisation as something existing at a point in time with no necessary links forwards or backwards chronologically. A model for assessing the level of commercialisation in any sport at any time is proposed.

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WRAY VAMPLEW is Emeritus Professor of Sports History at the University of Stirling and Global Professorial Fellow in the Academy of Sport at the University of Edinburgh. Author or editor of 37 books, he has also published 159 articles and book chapters as well as over 100 other publications. His most recent book is Games People Played: A Global History of Sport (Reaktion 2021) and he is a General Editor of Bloomsbury’s six- volume Cultural History of Sport (2021). His Sports Economics for Non-Economists will be published by Routledge in 2022. He is now working on a global economic history of sport.

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