Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Using Sex Appeal as a Sport Promotion Strategy

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Using Sex Appeal as a Sport Promotion Strategy

Article excerpt


Recently the International Beach Volleyball Federation (FIVB) implemented a uniform rule that many protesters felt was designed to use the female players as sex objects to attract an audience. In marketing terms, the FIVB implemented a sexual appeal strategy to market their sport. This is only one example of the use of sex and eroticism to promote a sport. There are many others including cheerleaders, fitness programming, bodybuilding, men's professional soccer and Australian Rules football. Sex in advertising has been a long-debated subject and very little is known about its lasting effects. Sexual appeals play to the sexual survival motive that consists of three elements: sexual gender, sexual impulse and sexual inhibition. Whenever any of these elements appear in advertising, the general goal is to arouse desire for a product. In this paper I examine the strategic purpose for using sexual appeals, the manner in which they impact target audiences, and the potential consequences of this marketing approach. It is clear from the literature that sexual appeals draw attention to the sport using it. However, this attention occurs at the risk of target audiences perceiving the athlete as poor quality, as a negative symbol, or as something less that a true athlete. Sponsors must also worry about being associated with sports that use sex appeals because if the spectator is irritated then this irritation could transfer to the sponsor's products.


The eroticized imagery of a woman has been a popular device for enticing consumers to purchase products for decades. Indeed, sexual images of women in advertising are said to be so pervasive that they are "scattered like parks or resorts, little retreats for the male imagination, strokes to the ego and hooks for commerce (Schultz, 1995)." This marketing strategy is referred to as the sexual appeal approach and it is frequently seen in both male and female sports.

Benjamin Rader (1984) pronounced the Dallas Cowboys NFL team as the world leader at exploiting sex appeal via the Cowboy Cheerleaders. He described the Cowboy Cheerleaders as "flaunting heaving, skimpily covered breasts and short shorts, which exposed some of the curvature of their posteriors." (Rader, 1984, p. 138). The International Beach Volleyball Federation (FIVB) regulation uniform for their elite women is very skimpy and caused substantial international outrage when the rule for the uniform was first released. According to Gabrielle Reece Hamilton, one of the sport's more famous players, the Federation was offering "this fantasy for people who say, 'I love the beach, I love the summer, I love sandy people.' Malibu Barbie stuff and they're trying to play off that. The bottom line is, sex sells" (Anonymous, 1999) (page 6). To enhance their own commercial value, some elite beach female volleyballers have reportedly had their breasts enlarged and others overtrain their stomach muscles in an effort to obta in the hard, rippled abdomen now touted by the fitness industry as the sexy in-look for women (Anonymous, 1999) (page 6). The intent for both these body-sculpturing strategies is to use sex appeal to attract an audience to the contests and to attract commercial sponsorship and endorsement contracts.

There are also many examples of male athletes exploiting their sex appeal. The Australian Rules footballer, for example, wears very skimpy shorts reportedly because Australian women find them seductive (Smith, 1997). Australian Rules football draws more women to the games than any other football code in the world. James (Gentleman Jim) Corbett, who was extremely popular with women in the late l800s, played to the fantasies of his female fans by wearing boxing trunks during his fights that revealed large sections of his buttocks (Streible, 1997). The now defunct Minnesota Strikers professional soccer team approved a "Hot Legs" marketing theme based on research data suggesting that women found the legs of soccer players sexually pleasing (personal communications with the Minnesota Strikers marketing department, 1992). …

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