Authenticity Negotiation: How Elite Athletes (Re)Present Themselves as Personal Brands

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Nataliya Bredikhina School of Education and Human Sciences, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA

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Thilo Kunkel Fox School of Business, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Ravi Kudesia Fox School of Business, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Projecting authenticity is crucial for athletes engaged in personal branding. Prior scholarship has emphasized the “frontstage” of authenticity: what tactics athletes use to present themselves and how audiences perceive such tactics. But it has not yet examined the “backstage”: why athletes pursue authenticity and the strategic considerations involved in such ongoing self-presentations. Using a constructivist grounded theory that draws on interviews with 30 elite athletes engaged in personal branding, we unpack these backstage processes, which are not straightforward but entail an ongoing cycle of authenticity negotiation. Our model of authenticity negotiation identifies conflicting authenticity demands and constraints imposed by various actors, which athletes attempt to resolve over time using a range of authenticity management tactics. By modeling the backstage processes in authenticity negotiation, our research integrates, contextualizes, and suggests extensions to the existing frontstage work on authenticity. It offers guidance to athletes and practitioners on managing athlete brands and stakeholder collaborations.

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