Decision-making in English football
: the case of corporate social responsibility

  • Christos Anagnostopoulos

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has an ever-increasing role in the way commercial businesses operate. Team sport organisations are not immune to this trend. CSR is a strategic issue for sport organisations, with professional teams across a range of sports and national contexts now modifying their organisational structure by establishing charitable foundations tasked with delivering their
    CSR content. These structural changes inevitably bring in new organisational actors who, in varying degrees, inϐluence the actual implementation of CSR in the professional sports team context. Organisational complexity is therefore increasing regarding CSR, as is the need to capture its elements at both cross-organisational
    and individual levels. This is especially important given that, unlike mainstream (corporate) foundations that deal directly with a ‘parent’ company, professional sport leagues often mandate the implementation of CSR through central funding mechanisms. This in turn emphasises the intricacy of the process and the dynamics
    amongst organisational actors at various levels. To date, no studies have attempted to address this complexity. The present thesis aims to help ϐill the gap by examining the managerial decision-making process in the organisational context of charitable foundations established by English professional football clubs.

    The current study employs a grounded theory methodology as it aims to develop a substantive theory of how managers responsible for the formulation and implementation of CSR-related programmes in English football make professional decisions. The research utilises the Straussian variant of grounded theory, which
    accepts that humans shape their institutions as much as institutions shape people. The study also seeks cognitive similarity, a concept that implies some form of similar attribution of meaning, understanding or interpretation amongst individuals in multiple organisations. Although its purpose was to develop an individual-based substantive theory grounded in the way managers make decisions regarding CSR, throughout the focus has been on decision-making itself rather than on the individuals who facilitate this process.

    The study is populated with the top two divisions of English football and employs two data collection techniques: organisational documents and semi-structured interviews. The fieldwork took place in three different phases, with the ϐirst consisting of two sub-phases. Phase 1a emphasised the analysis of organisational documents (a total of 25 documents from 16 football organisations), while the following phases of the fieldwork were based on constant comparative data analysis from 32 interviews.

    The theoretical framework that emerged from this study is one of assessable transcendence; in a conceptually abstract fashion, ‘assessable transcendence’ concerns a process that, fortiϐied by passion, contingent on trust, sustained by communication and substantiated by factual performance, enables the formulation
    and implementation of CSR-related programmes in this context. The social process that emerged from this study, therefore, consists of an intrinsic (that is, passion) and an extrinsic (that is, trust) stimulus, both of which are central components
    of the micro-social process transcending. These two stimuli, however, require the support of both internal and external communication (abstractly expressed through the micro-social process manoeuvring), and thus all three together form a ‘coalition’
    which can enhance both business and social performance (largely expressed by the first two micro-social processes, namely safeguarding and harmonising). Accordingly, two interrelated aspects of the decision-making process constitute a common
    thread in this research: (a) the recognition that social consciousness stimulates the process of assessable transcendence in an indispensable and limitless way, and (b) an understanding that transcendence cannot occur without either continuous
    achievement or the dissemination of concrete ‘CSR impact’ in social and business forms alike (hence assessable).

    The significance of this doctoral thesis for the sport management literature is four-fold. First, it focuses on the individual level of analysis, thereby offering a framework that explains the decision-making of those individuals responsible for the application of CSR in professional team sport organisations. By doing so, it bridges the micro/macro divide by integrating the micro-domain’s focus on individuals (i.e., foundation managers) with those of the meso- and macro-domains. Second, it moves away from mono-theoretical approaches that have been mainly used for the examination of CSR in the sporting context. By doing so, it illustrates that different,
    and often opposing, theoretical approaches may be needed in order to fully capture and theoretically explain the way in which the CSR practice occurs. Third, it shifts the focus of scholarly activity away from CSR content-based research towards more process-oriented approaches. CSR content research does little to explain how professional teams achieve and maintain such positioning through both deliberate and trial-and-error CSR actions initiated by the individuals therein. Fourth, and in relation to the previous point, it employs a process-oriented methodology (namely, grounded theory) whose utilisation in sport management research has been either non-existent or a ‘pick and mix’ practice. By doing so, the current thesis responds to calls for internal consistency and methodological coherence, thereby adding to the limited number of studies that have utilised this methodology in a rounded manner

    The theoretical framework presented in this dissertation has emerged from exploratory study. As such, the four micro-social processes, their associative meanings and, more importantly, the four principal concepts that hold assessable transcendence are regarded as tentative and require substantiation through further
    research. To this end, a number of research propositions are offered that can serve as a starting point towards a continued exploration of those moderating and mediating factors on the formulation and implementation of CSR in team sport organisations.

    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorTerri Byers (Supervisor), Benoit Senaux (Supervisor) & Simon Chadwick (Supervisor)

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