Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Doping in Elite Sport-Do the Fans Care? Public Opinion on the Consequences of Doping Scandals

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Doping in Elite Sport-Do the Fans Care? Public Opinion on the Consequences of Doping Scandals

Article excerpt

Executive summary

For decades, athletes' use of doping seemed to have no influence on the willingness of commercial actors (i.e. sponsors and TV broadcasters) to be involved in sport. During the past few years, for some sports this pattern has changed. In cycling, for example, several sponsors have withdrawn their support due to the many doping scandals. Similar reactions have been identified among TV broadcasters. In 2008, ARD and ZDF, the two German public service broadcasters, decided to pull out of the Tour de France because of the many doping incidents. Such reactions from sponsors and TV stations have had serious consequences, among them, the cancellation of the 2009 Tour de Germany.

Sponsors and TV broadcasters represent the derived demand for sport. These stakeholders commit resources to sport because of direct demand, i.e. from the general public. Therefore, the views and attitudes of sports spectators towards doping is of great importance in determining in which sports sponsors and TV broadcasters will become involved.

A survey (N=925) conducted in Norway investigated opinions and attitudes towards doping. It revealed no tolerance of pure doping substances, such as EPO, amphetamines and anabolic steroids. The results were mixed with regard to so-called 'supplements' and methods that can be categorised as belonging to a 'grey zone', including high-altitude chambers.

An overwhelming majority of respondents supported tough reactions from sponsors towards the athletes/teams involved in doping scandals, for example a reduction in sponsor support. The same applied to the idea that athletes caught doping should pay back financial support to their sponsors. A large proportion agreed that commercial actors who continued their involvements in sports associated with doping were accomplices in doping.

Regression analyses revealed that the older the respondent, the more negative they were towards doping. A similar pattern applied to those who highly emphasised the uncertainty of outcome and the calculative motive. Contrary to this, people who were very interested in sport expressed more liberal attitudes. They disagreed with the idea of punishing the athletes, and did not blame the commercial actors who continued being involved in doping-associated sports. The regression analyses did not uncover specific differences in attitudes towards doping among those who strongly identified themselves with teams/athletes and others.

However, the regression models displayed low values on obtained R-squares, which is an indication of a low model fit. Due to significant differences between genders, the regression analyses presented in this paper only cover men. The general model, including both genders, displayed significantly lower explanatory power than the 'pure male model'. Hence, it is correct to say that the regression analyses provided some explanation of men's attitudes towards doping in elite sport, but not those of women. This indicates that future research should consider alternative theoretical and empirical perspectives to better analyse what influences women's attitudes towards doping in elite sport.


Elite athletes have used performance-enhancing stimulants since the ancient games (Finley & Pleket, 1976; Donohoe & Johnson, 1986), but it was not until the middle of the 20th century that doping was treated as a problem. One reason for this was that new substances such as anabolic steroids and amphetamine led to several deaths during sports performances (Houlihan, 2002). Doping controls were introduced in main events, such as the 1966 World Cup soccer finals and the 1968 Olympic Games (Dimeo, 2007). However, during the following decades, doping became widespread. This development ran parallel to other processes in elite sport, such as professionalisation, politicisation and commercialisation (Waddington & Smith, 2009). The fact that athletes used drugs did not have any negative effect on the commercialisation of elite sport. …

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