The Freedom to Choose: Elite Female Athletes’ Preferred Representations Within Endorsement Opportunities

in Journal of Sport Management
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  • 1 University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  • | 2 University of Minnesota
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“I want to be respected for what I do instead of what I look like”

—Janie, a swimmer

“They can see the moves I make, the action I make [on the court]. But I also want them to see this is who I am off the court. I’m not just this basketball player. I can be somebody else”

—Melanie, a basketball player

Despite unprecedented gains in women’s sports 40 years after Title IX, female athletes are rarely used in endorsement campaigns and, when used, are presented in sexually provocative poses versus highlighting their athletic competence. This pattern of representation continues, though empirical evidence demonstrates consumers prefer portrayals focusing on sportswomen’s skill versus their sex appeal. Research also indicates females are keenly aware of gendered expectations which create tensions between being athletic and “appropriately feminine.” The current study addresses what we don’t know: how elite female athletes wish to be portrayed if promised the same amount of financial reward and commercial exposure. Thirty-six team and individual scholarship athletes were asked to choose between portrayals of femininity and athletic competence. Findings revealed that competence was the dominant overall choice though close to 30% picked both types of portrayals. Metheny’s gendered sport typology was used to analyze how sportswomen’s preferences challenge, or conform to, traditional ideologies and practices surrounding women’s sports. Implications for sport management scholars and practitioners are discussed.

Fink is with the Department of Sport Management, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst MA. Kane is with the School of Kinesiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. LaVoi is with the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN. Authors’ names are listed alphabetically, as all three contributed equally to the production of this article.

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