Before reviewing the current state of sport management research, it is important to define the scope of sport management. DeSensi, Kelley, Blanton, and Beitel (1990, p.33) defined sport management in a broad sense as “any combination of skills related to planning, organizing, directing, controlling, budgeting, leading, and evaluating within the context of an organization or department whose primary product or service is related to sport and/or physical activity.” Additionally, VanderZwaag (1998) identified other areas of sport to be included within the professional realm: recreational sport programs, industrial and military sport programs, corporate-sponsored sporting events, sporting goods, developmental sport programs, sport news media, and sport management academic programs. Refer back to the highlight box on pages 4 and 5 for a conceptualization of the various subdisciplines of sport management and their contexts.
The need for sport management was evident in 1957, when Walter O’Malley, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, wrote,
I ask the question, where would one go to find a person who by virtue of education has been trained to administer a marina, race track, ski resort, auditorium, stadium, theatre, convention or exhibit hall, a public camp complex, or a person to fill an executive position at a team or league level in junior athletics such as Little League baseball, football, scouting, CYO, and youth activities, etc. (Mason, Higgins, & Wilkinson, 1981, p. 44)
O’Malley’s question was posed to Dr. Clifford Brownell, a professor at Columbia University, and later conveyed by Dr. Brownell to his doctoral student, Dr. James Mason,who led the development of one of the first sport management programs in the United States at Ohio University in 1966 (evidence also exists of an earlier program at Florida Southern University from 1949 to 1959). About 20 years later, the North American Society for Sport Management was formed during the 1985–1986 academic year. The Journal of Sport Management was first published in 1987 to address sport management in the context of management theory and practice;it focused specifically on sport, exercise, dance, and play, since these activities are pursued by all sectors of the population (Parks & Olafson, 1987).
In the first issue of the Journal of Sport Management, Zeigler (1987) addressed the past, present, and future of sport management as a field of study. He concluded that the field still had an opportunity to relate significantly to the developing social science of management but that it needed to do so soon. Zeigler also emphasized that the vast enterprise that is sport must more effectively address the urgent need for qualified managers, and he highlighted the then-new North American Society for Sport Management as an entity that could make a significant contribution in this regard. Finally, Zeigler recommended that such developments should be carried out in full cooperation with the National Association for Sport and Physical Education within the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance and with the Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (now known as Physical and Health Education Canada).
Zeigler (1987) recognized potential conflicts between practitioners and scientists early on, and this issue still affects the field of sport management today. Practitioners often claim that scientists are out of touch with reality while scientists charge that practitioners often fail to properly base decisions on research. Further, he criticized sport management scholars for their lack of significant contribution to research during the prior 20 years. When discussing the academic quality of sport management programs, he commented, “One can only speculate about the intellectual level of these programs when the professors and instructors have typically been such reluctant, unproductive scholars themselves (p. 10).” Such harsh yet realistic comments from one of the most respected scholars in sport management helped usher in a new era of productivity in the field.
Paton (1987) took the initiative to critically examine the progress of sport management research in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Sport Management. After an exhaustive literature review, Paton concluded that the bulk of the research was descriptive in design and directed toward postsecondary institutions. Furthermore, major research emphasis was placed on leaders and leadership behavior, yet few concrete conclusions had emerged from such research. Paton recommended that researchers work to improve the theoretical base and strive to make the knowledge sensible and useful. He also recommended that sport management researchers broaden their horizons to examine noneducational organizations: “[P]rojections suggest that we must turn our attention to other areas such as professional and amateur sport organizations and the increasingly diverse organizations in private enterprise” (p. 30). Although more research is available today on professional sport teams, a majority of research still focuses on collegiate teams, and only scant research has addressed amateur sport organizations.
Other sport management scholars have also voiced their concerns about the direction of research in the field. James Weese (1995) argued that in addition to enhancing the field of sport management from a theoretical perspective, sport management research should serve practitioners in professional and organizational sport settings and environments. He suggested that practical implications should be addressed in order to assist sport industry professionals in understanding the conclusions of research.
Trevor Slack (1996) expanded on Weese’s (1995) idea that sport management research has not kept pace with the growth of the sport industry. Slack claimed that the bulk of sport management research has been geared toward issues involving physical education and athletic administration, whereas little attention has been given to enterprises such as athletic equipment and apparel and sport organizations. Slack suggested that sport management academicians must broaden their areas of research, as well as the theoretical basis for this research; if they do not, he cautioned, the field of sport management will remain limited and lack generalizability. Slack (1996) suggested steps by which sport management researchers could improve in these needed areas. It is essential, he said, for researchers to be familiar with current management concepts, theories, and strategies. Such information can be obtained by reading management books and journals outside the field of sport management. Slack also urged sport management academicians to present their research to a broader audience and sustain scrutiny from other academic fields. He suggested that credibility in the field of sport management can be earned if sport management academicians teach outside of their respective domains—for example, within business schools.
Slack (1996) also suggested areas of research that would help the field of sport management stay current—among them, organizational strategy, the impact of technology on the sport industry, organizational culture, and the power and politics found in the sport industry. There has been some growth in research addressing the topics suggested by Slack, such as organizational culture, but many of the topics he suggested are still sparsely researched in the realm of sport.
In addition, Slack (1996) advocated other types of research—some that are not so heavily quantitative, such as the biographical approach (examining an organization’s past, present, and future) and the use of secondary data to analyze and draw conclusions. Since Slack’s suggestion, secondary data has indeed been used more often, primarily in sport finance and economic research. The biographical approach has yet to be used to its full potential.
Slack’s (1998) suggestions for creating a unique aspectin the field of sport management from the overall management discipline include being reflective and critical of personal scholarly research and identifying voids in the field, especially as viewed from a theoretical or practical viewpoint. Also, he suggests that researchers must theorize their work and use sport organizations to test their own theories as well as more established theory. Finally, Slack suggests that sport management academicians must broaden the types of sport organizations they examine and expand upon the subdisciplinary areas of sport management education. Slack’s insightful comments have challenged sport management programs to reconsider their approach to research. Even today, many of his research suggestions remain current and applicable.