Working in professional sports: on being a sports fan and employee at the same time


The professional sports industry is a multi-billion pound global business sector employing thousands of employees across the world. Previous research on the management of sport has focused primarily on areas such as marketing, consumer behavior, finance, sports law, and large-scale sporting events. However, a new study by Steve Swanson in the Institute for Sport Business at Loughborough University in London turns the focus toward the fundamental component of managing people in the organisational environment. This study investigates the effects of being both an employee and a sports fan, and the relationship this has with key workplace attitudes. The concept of being a fan or supporter (i.e. identifying with a sports team) has been extensively researched from the perspective of marketing and consumer behavior. However, Swanson’s new study in press at the Journal of Sport Management proposes that fandom in the workplace also plays an important role for individuals working in sport, serving as a significant driver of valued outcomes like employee commitment and satisfaction.

The research project surveyed over a thousand business operations employees working in more than one hundred sport organisations in the top profession sports leagues in North America. These organisations were members of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS). The participants in this study worked in departments such as accounting, marketing, sales, human resources, public relations, and information technology. The results of the study found that employees were able to simultaneous identify with both their overall employing organisation as well as the actual team on the pitch, court, or ice. The findings also indicated that being a fan of the team has an independent positive effect on the levels of employee commitment, satisfaction, motivation, and cognitive involvement with one’s job.


This study provides empirical evidence that managing in sport has areas of distinction which should be considered by managers working in the professional sports industry. In addition, it represents the first research project measuring employee fandom levels and the relative effect this has on strategic organisational outcomes. The results also add to the field of sport management by introducing the concept of a sports team as an additional target of identification in the organisational life. In essence, these findings suggest that a form of dual identification exists in the context of professional sport, where employees simultaneously identify with both the overall organisation and its affiliated sports team. Finally, this study also provides initial evidence regarding the appropriateness of being a fan in the workplace. With previous conflicting views by top sports executives on whether employee fandom is indeed a benefit in this setting, the results of this study indicate that being a fan of the team does generally have a positive impact on highly sought after workplace attitudes.

Steve Swanson, PhD is a Lecturer at Loughborough University London’s new Institute for Sport Business. Find out more about Steve by clicking here


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