What explains why some people are attract to and follow a particular sport, but not another? This is the million dollar question for sport marketers and sport business owners. A new study Woojun Lee and I just had published offers part of the answer: the prejudice people express toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals predicts their sport fandom.
We drew from various perspectives to suggest that people who express sexual prejudice--that is, people who express prejudice against LGB individuals--are also likely to endorse sports that are rough, physical, and with high levels of contact. Examples might include football or rugby. The other side of the coin also exists, as people who express sexual prejudice don't favor sports lacking those characteristics, such as swimming or figure skating.
We were also interested in trying to understand what predicts people's sexual prejudice. We though that men and people who hold sexist attitudes (which are mutually exclusive) were more likely to express prejudice than their peers.
To examine these possibilities, we collected data from 150 college students. The students filled out a questionnaire that requested them to provide their demographic information and then respond to items that measured how closely they identified with different sports (e.g., "First and foremost, I consider myself a men’s figure skating fan [football fan]"; their prejudice expressed toward LGB individuals ("Homosexual behavior between two men is just plain wrong"); and their sexist beliefs (e.g., "When both parents are employed and their child gets sick at school, the school should call the mother rather than the father”). We then ran different analyses to examine the relationships.
An illustrative summary of the findings is presented below.
As we expected, men and people who express sexist attitudes are more likely to express prejudice toward LGB individuals. People who express sexual prejudice are likely to close identify with US football and are unlikely to identify with figure skating. We explained 26 percent of the variance in identification with US football, or about a quarter of the pie.
Given these findings, we wondered whether US football officials would have any incentive to combat sexual prejudice, as it might hurt people's identification with the sport. But, past research suggests this is simply not the case. We wrote:
"Instead, potential consumers show increased attraction to sport organizations that signal LGBT inclusiveness, and publicly traded organizations enjoy their stocks increase when they are recognized for their LGBT-inclusive policies. Furthermore, LGBT consumers are keenly aware of pro-sexual minority messages and practices and will demonstrate consumer loyalty to companies engaging in such inclusive practices. What’s more, organizations that couple LGBT diversity with an inclusive work environment outperform their counterparts in terms of creativity in the workplace and objective measures of performance. Thus, empirical work only points to the benefits of efforts to reduce sexual prejudice and heterosexism within sport and elsewhere, and there is no reason to believe a different pattern would emerge in the context of U.S. football."
This evidence suggests that US football can and should take efforts to decrease sexual prejudice among its fans. Looking at the efforts of various other entities, such as You Can Play, Athlete Ally, and Play by the Rules, is a good place to start.
Lee, W., & Cunningham, G. B. (in press). Gender, sexism, sexual prejudice, and identification with US football and men's figure skating. Sex Roles. doi: 10.1007/s11199-016-0598-x