Academic journal article Sport Marketing Quarterly

Ethical Failures in Sport Business: Directions for Research

Academic journal article Sport Marketing Quarterly

Ethical Failures in Sport Business: Directions for Research

Article excerpt

Introduction

It seems odd to observe how some journalists and sport executives are quick to glorify athletic success, laud financial acumen, or praise academic excellence, yet all-to-often draw back from considering performance in the realm of ethics. Arguments that our ethics are strictly subjective or a personal matter may dissuade some sport industry practitioners from evaluat- ing poor choices. Nevertheless, public judgments of misconduct regularly surface in the press with very real financial impacts on stakeholders and those affiliated with infringements brought on by players, sponsors, teams or leagues (Goodstein & Wicks, 2007). Significant attention documents the positive impact 'socially responsible' actions have on a sport organiza- tion's reputation and sales (Stinson & Pritchard, 2013; Walker & Kent, 2009). Yet work that tackles ethical failures and their negative impacts is lacking from the sports marketing literature. This deficit is surprising given important links between financial performance and a company's commitment to ethics (Verschoor, 1998) and the collateral damage irresponsible actions have on the reputation of stakeholders and other brands in the marketplace (Laczniak, Burton & Murphy, 1999).

Historically, research on ethical problems in main- stream marketing has attracted a healthy degree of attention. Some critique the sufficiency of the work done due to a lack of theory or systematic inquiry. However, these limitations have not slowed multiple streams of inquiry from developing. Various studies have attended to (i) the translation of ethical theories from philosophy to marketing, (ii) models of ethical decision-making in marketing, (iii) reports on how various groups view ethical/unethical practices (e.g., sales, advertising), and (iv) ways marketing managers train employees for ethical dilemmas (Hunt & Vitell, 1986). Despite these efforts, work in sports marketing on these types of ethical issues remains largely unde- veloped. This propels the need for the current paper which uses a review of the literature to clarify the mat- ter further, note deficiencies and underscore directions for research.

Drawing from Aristotle's view of ethics, some mar- keters contend virtue and good conduct arise from habits acquired by repeated action and correction (Williams & Murphy, 1990). Sir Francis Bacon (1625) took the same stance when he observed "our abilities [were] like natural plants that need pruning by study." Perhaps it is a lack of "study" that has led to the cur- rent dilemma, where despite capacities for good, ethi- cal failures continue to plague today's sport business landscape (Burton & Howard, 2013). Either way the issue is particularly relevant to marketers in sport organizations whose marketing budgets are small and rely on the buzz of mass or social media to convey their brand message. When times are good, media cov- erage will praise heroic performances and present the athletes, team, league or sport favorably. But public media are encouraged to be objective. This frequently means covering and investigating negative stories as they develop. Sport marketers rarely want this cover- age, yet feel helpless to prevent such occurrences. When ethical breaches happen marketers are often left to scramble, losing the ability to act strategically. In short, they become reactive and are restricted to dam- age control.

Similar to the conundrum facing sports, higher edu- cation has also been reacting, scrambling for a remedy to what many see as "a widespread decline in ethical standards" (Willard, 2004). But is there a solution? Aristotle's pronouncement of practice appears to make ethics intensely practical, a lot like how we refine or improve our athletic or intellectual abilities. However, Dallas Willard, longtime professor and former chair of Philosophy at The University of Southern California, thinks there is more to it, that it is not just a lack of practice but of moral knowledge itself (Willard, 2004). …

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