Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Does the Social Behavior of a High-Profile Sport League Matter?

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Does the Social Behavior of a High-Profile Sport League Matter?

Article excerpt


High-profile sport leagues have long engaged in philanthropic activities. For example, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has implemented several community service programs, such as the "NBA Cares", "NBA Green", and "NBA Fit", which are respectively aimed at helping disadvantaged people, promoting recycling and physical fitness of children (May, 2009). The National Hockey League (NHL) has (arguably) been amongst the most active leagues in promoting and fostering community engagement. Recent examples of their community activism show through their campaigns of such social service programs as the "Hockey Fights Cancer", "Hockey is for Everyone", "Teammates for Kids", and "NHL Green" (NHL Community, 2012). In addition to professional sports, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has initiated social service programs that encourage student athletes to help and positively interact with people in their communities (Feezell, 2005). The forgoing illustrates that increases in the size and scope of corporate social responsibility (CSR) have been witnessed. These increases have been paralleled by research showing that behaving responsibly can bolster both perceptual and behavioral outcomes for the organization (Walker, Heere, Parent, & Drane, 2010; Walker & Kent, 2012)

At the same time, however, each major professional sport league has been plagued by some irresponsible behaviors. Among the more recent examples are owner-imposed lockouts. In particular, the National Football League (NFL), the NHL, and the NBA have all had some form of work stoppage within the last two years. As a result, work stoppages have become a hot-button issue for league owners, players, and fans alike, which may actually discredit the organizations and negate the positive things they do in their respective communities. For example, the NBA owners have locked their players out four times, resulting in a shortened season three times, most recently in the 2011-2012 season (NBA Lockout, 2012). The NHL has also fallen victim to multiple lockouts with the cancellation of many of the games during the 1991-1992, 1994-1995, and 2004-2005 seasons (NHL Lockout, 2012). The most recent NHL lockout occurred during the 2012-2013 season, lasting well into the league calendar year and forcing a shortened season (NHL Lockout, 2012).

Anecdotally, we assume that league-imposed lockouts have a negative effect on both the perception of the league and patronage intentions of fans. However, a lack of empirical evidence exists to confirm whether or not this is actually the case. One recent example was published by Mason (2011) and showed that, after the 1998-1999 NBA lockout, decreases in fan attendance and television ratings for three consecutive years were seen (Mason, 2011). The media also play a vital role in portraying the leagues and their reasons for the lockout. For example, the media frequently criticize team owners as being greedy, and surmise that these constant lockouts will deteriorate both the popularity of the leagues and the sustainability of small market teams (NBA lockout, 2011).

Due to media coverage of lockouts, professional sport leagues seem to be the center of public attention. Despite increasing interest in the behaviors of the high-profile leagues, there is little empirical research showing how the conduct of the professional leagues influence sport fans behavior (Giuliano, Turner, Lundquist, & Knight, 2007). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine how pro-social behavior (e.g., a donation) of the NHL influences fans' perception on organization credibility and patronage intentions (i.e., word of mouth, media consumption, and merchandise consumption).

CSR Activities and Lockout in Professional Sport Leagues

Today, companies have increased their interests and investments in CSR (Groza, Pronschinske, & Walker, 2011). While Ullmann (1985) defined CSR as "...the extent to which an organization meets the needs, expectations, and demands of certain external constituencies beyond those directly linked to the company's products/markets" (p. …

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