Academic journal article Sport Marketing Quarterly

Room for Growth in Professional Sport: An Examination of the Factors Affecting African-American Attendance

Academic journal article Sport Marketing Quarterly

Room for Growth in Professional Sport: An Examination of the Factors Affecting African-American Attendance

Article excerpt


With an estimated size of $485 billion in 2014 and revenues across the "Big 4" professional sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL) at nearly $24 billion in 2013 (Plunkett Research, 2014), few would question the strength and financial solvency of the US sport industry or professional sports in general. However, attendance at live sporting events declined in a number of well-established markets between 2009 and 2012 (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2013), which contributed to a decrease in industry-wide spectator sport revenue of about 2% (or $600 million) in 2012 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013), creating cause for concern among sport managers.

While the economy has improved since the 2008 recession and gate revenues are expected to increase by about 2 to 3% a year through 2017 (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2013), it is imperative that teams and leagues reach out to new fans to meet these attendance projections. As the majority of fans across the major professional sports leagues in the US are White (accounting for about 80-90% of fans in the MLB, MLS, NASCAR, NBA, NFL, and NHL) (SportsBusiness Daily, 2010), appealing to a more diverse audience may present sport organizations with an opportunity to bolster attendance. This may be especially true considering the shifting demographic profile of the US. In fact, almost one-third of the US population is comprised of ethnic and racial minorities (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). Further, the rapid growth of minority groups is projected to lead to a minority to majority crossover in 2042 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).

In this study, we focus on the factors affecting African-American attendance at professional sporting events, as this group represents the largest racial minority in the US (accounting for about 13% of the population) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011)1 but the lowest average percentage of fans across the MLB, MLS, NASCAR, NBA, NFL, and NHL (SportsBusiness Daily, 2010).2 Therefore, given the financial implications and importance of attendance to professional sports, alongside the growing buying power of African-American consumers in the US (at almost $1 trillion in annual spending, Nielsen, 2011), African-Americans may present teams and leagues with the greatest opportunity for growth. However, there is still a major disconnect between interest in professional sports and attendance among African-Americans. As one of our participants noted,

I got tons of... Black friends who love the sport just as much, just as equally, including baseball. A ton of Black friends who love baseball, and I know that's stereotypically not the case. From the stereotype standpoint, people think Black people don't love baseball. They still love baseball. Still love baseball. But yeah, do they show it by coming down to the stadium? Not as much... and that's not even financial. Baseball is probably the easiest ticket to buy... [tickets] cost $6 or something like that, $10 at worst. (Interview 2)

Thus, the purpose of this study is to identify the factors affecting African-American attendance at professional sporting events. The attendance drivers and constraints identified in this study represent an important first step in enabling sport managers to reach out to a more diverse group of spectators to not only enhance diversity in attendance but subsequent revenue and profitability as well.

Factors Affecting Professional Sport Attendance

General Attendance Literature

Recent research in the general attendance literature examines the differential effectiveness of a variety of factors that affect professional team sport attendance (Beckman, Cai, Esrock, & Lemke, 2012; DeSarbo, Hwang, Stadler Blank, & Kappe, 2013; Kappe, Stadler Blank, & DeSarbo, 2014; Lemke, Leonard, & Tlhokwane, 2010). Schofield (1983) categorized these factors into four categories: economic, demographic, game attractiveness, and residual preference. Economic studies explore the relationship between attendance and price, substitute forms of entertainment (including other professional sports), and the availability of games on television (Baade & Tiehen, 1990; Hill, Madura, & Zuber, 1982; Siegfried & Eisenberg, 1980; Zhang & Smith, 1997). …

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