What is Sport Entrepreneurship?

Sam Bern, Ph.D. candidate, New York University, USA

Contact: sab986@nyu.edu


Entrepreneurship has received increased interested among researchers over the recent years. Often entrepreneurship is studied from different perspectives and alongside various disciplines. Entrepreneurship exists in all sectors of the economy and so does in sport industry. However, sport entrepreneurship research does not receive as much attentions as other industries and is still niche field for scholars. Therefore, this blog entry attempts to summaries what is sport entrepreneurship.

Sport entrepreneurship, being an emerging field, requires extensive research to fully understand its complexity. It is the convergence of entrepreneurship and sport, where entrepreneurial theory can be applied within a sport context. Sport entrepreneurship is important for sport managers, yet it is overlooked by sport management studies. The current literature is still limited and lacks taxonomy and topic organization (Pellegrini et al., 2020). There is just a handful of researchers who specialize in this field.

Sport entrepreneurship can be studied from various perspectives including social, institutional, economic, technological, athletic, lifestyle, educational (Pellegrini et al., 2020; González-Serrano et al., 2020b). Bjärsholm (2017) reviewed the literature on social entrepreneurship in sport, identifying three main areas – social entrepreneurship within organizations, corporate social responsibility and the development of social networks and social capital. Tjønndal (2017) performed a review of sport innovation and identified five main types of sport innovation including social, technological, commercial, community-based and organizational (Tjønndal, 2017). Sport entrepreneurship from an institutional economics perspective research is somewhat limited. There is a research gap in regard to the intersection of social entrepreneurship and institutional eco-nomics. The literature lacks the exploration of policy in the social entrepreneurship context, with a need for studies examining the relationship between legislative and regulative factors and social entrepreneurship (Bjärsholm, 2017).

Ratten (2010; 2011; 2018) has conceptualized sport entrepreneurship and suggests future research directions which researchers should further explore. As, sport entrepreneurship is a relatively new field of research, there are many research opportunities and research gaps for further investigation. Many researchers have tried to define sport entrepreneurship, however, there still is lack of consensus on the definition of sport entrepreneurship. Most definition are specific to a subject within entrepreneurship, however, there should a unified and holistic definition that incorporates all aspects of sport entrepreneurship (Low & MacMillan 1988). Entrepreneurship is defined as the opportunity to create goods and services (Bruyat & Julien, 2001), which can be expanded to the creation of value and wealth, also including risk taking as an element necessary in the definition of entrepreneurship (Shane & Venkataraman 2000). Researchers come across a similar issue when trying to define sport entrepreneurship as sport entrepreneurship is a complex field and defining it may be rather difficult.

In simplistic terms sport entrepreneurship can be defined as any entrepreneurial activity in the sport industry (Ratten, 2011; Pahnani, 2016). Each researcher builds upon this definition, narrowing it down to their research interests and different aspects of sport entrepreneurship. Pahnani (2016) defines sport entrepreneurship as the creation of value through innovation. Risk-taking is also considered as a crucial factor in sport entrepreneurship, which is also a process of innovation. An entrepreneur is an individual who seeks and identifies opportunities, takes risks by pursuing these opportunities creating new products and services. Ratten (2011) suggests entrepreneurship as a process of creating, identifying and exploiting new opportunities. A pattern emerges here, were most researchers agree that entrepreneurship is an opportunity recognition, opportunity creation and exploiting new opportunities. Risk taking is an intrinsic part the process of pursuing new opportunities. Ergo, has to be included in the definition, which also requires to mention the process of creating and developing new ventures. Innovations also need to be incorporated in the definition of sport entrepreneurship, as innovation is an integral part of sport. Combining these definitions, sport entrepreneurship could be defined as identifying new opportunities, taking risks to create new ventures through innovation processes in sport.

Ratten (2012) demonstrated how dynamic capabilities are used in sport entrepreneurship, yet dynamic capabilities are rarely researched in the context of sport organizations and sport entrepreneurship. Chacar et al. (2018) and Washington & Patterson (2011) examined sport entrepreneurship from an institutional dynamic’s perspective. There is more research required on how dynamic capabilities shape sport organizations. Some research focuses on competitive advantage, since it is a factor of dynamic capabilities. Hemme et al. (2017) investigated competitive advantage in the fitness industry, whereas, in sport entrepreneurship, Clarkson et al. (2020) suggests a future research study relating to competitive advantage and women’s professional sport. There is more research require to fully understand the forces of dynamic capabilities within sport organizations at institutional and organizational levels.

Furthermore, women in sport entrepreneurship is a relatively unexplored research area. Most articles relating to women examine the economics of professional women leagues (Micelotta et al., 2018). Surprisingly, there has been some research in women sport from an institutional perspective. However, there is a research gap when comparing women and men in sport entrepreneurship (Hong & Mangan, 2004). There is a need for more gender comparative studies, exploring the gender effects in sport. Additionally, there is lack of research exploring the barriers different women stakeholders face, i.e. women in leadership, female athletes and entrepreneurs (Ratten, 2012; Wylleman et al., 2004; Steinbrink et al. 2019; Dobson & McLuksie 2020). Most research about athlete career transition examines the psychological and coping aspects of the transition. There is less research focusing on athlete career transition from a sport entrepreneurship perspective.

The broad category of sport entrepreneurship articles can be further divided into general sport entrepreneurship, professional sport, sport policy, and sport mega-events. Professional sport entrepreneurship include articles about entrepreneurship within sport leagues, organizations and clubs/teams. The most articles cover professional sport and general sport entrepreneurship. Sport policy and social sport entrepreneurship are the next popular topic. Sport for Development and Peace and Corporate Social Responsibility are the most popular topic among social innovation in sport. Whereas institutional theory, athletes, education and gender are lagging in research. Sport mega evens and the Olympics are extensively covered through an economics perspective, however, an entrepreneurial or institutional perspectives are lacking. In terms of novelty, COVID-19 is the newest hot topic to the sport entrepreneurship literature, where between 2020-2022 has been a significant increase in published papers covering the impact of the pandemic on sport. Another new hot topic is eSports (electronic Sport). which has only a handful of articles for now, with first article published in 2017.

Social innovation in sport is a broad category and has the most subtopics. It has been further categorized and dived into related topics such as sport sociology, cultural intelligence (Panahi & Yektayar, 2016), education (Hall, 2006), sport development for peace (Svensson 2017), and community building (Miragaia et al., 2015), corporate social responsibility (Heinze et al., 2014; González-Serrano et al., 2020) and social capital (Nunez-Pomar et al., 2020; Spaaij & Westerbeek, 2010). However, there are still unexplored topics within social innovation in sport entrepreneurship. Social sport entrepreneurship requires more conceptual research and analysis of social entrepreneurship within sport organizations (Bjärsholm, 2017). Additionally, there is some emerging literature on the convergence of entrepreneurship and eSport.

Despite the fact that sport entrepreneurship continues to grow, there is still only a handful of researchers in this field. Ratten is the most cited author in sport entrepreneurship with the most contributing publications to the literature of sport entrepreneurship. Ratten has written three papers on the theory and conceptualization of sport entrepreneurship (Ratten, 2010; 2011; 2012). More recently, they published two articles on the challenges and future trends of sport entrepreneurship (Ratten, 2019; Ratten & Jones, 2020). Ratten has also written a few books on sport entrepreneurship, including on topics such as sport technology and innovation, sport entrepreneurship and public policy (Ratten 2019) and sport culture. However, Ratten’s research is very theoretical. Author with the most qualitative studies is Gonzalez-Serrano, focusing solely on sport entrepreneurship. Additionally, González-Serrano examines entrepreneurial education in sport science students.

Some authors specialize in specific topics within the sport entrepreneurship literature. Svensson investigates Sport for Development and Peace SDP (Svensson, 2017) Knights focuses in athlete career transition from an entrepreneurial perspective (Knights et al., 2016). Sport entrepreneurship uses mostly qualitative methods approach. Most articles use a qualitative design compared to quantitative methods, and a handful use a mixed-methods approach. Case studies are the most common, then exploratory followed by inductive and descriptive designs. Regarding, quantitative analysis technique, regressions and correlations are most common. There is limited number of studies using SEM, ANOVA, probit and OSL.

Sport entrepreneurship is a complex multidisciplinary research field. There are numerous literature reviews of sport entrepreneurship literature. Some authors only focus on general sport entrepreneurship, investigating different relationships and entrepreneurial ecosystems within the sport organizations. Ratten & Thompson (2020) provide an overview of the digital sport entrepreneurship ecosystems. Tasaddoghi et al (2020) designed an entrepreneurial model for the sport business on the cases of sport fans. Masdeu et al. (2019) presented a Universal Transformational Management Framework, as an entrepreneurial tool for strategic planning and management tool for sport organizations. Ashouri & Boroumand (2014) examined the relationship between knowledge management and entrepreneurial process in sport organizations Dobson & McLuskie (2020) studied performative entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial identity in athletes of adventure sport. Ponomarev et al. (2020) has investigated the issues with typology in sport, where in some cases researchers or the society at large make a distinction between professional sport, Olympic-level sport and mass or amateur sport.

Professional Sport

Sport policy also investigates aspects of professional and amateur sport affecting all stakeholders such as sport leagues, clubs and teams, and organizations, associations and federations. There are different levels of involvement of sport stakeholders. The hierarchy in sport, starting at the top with sport organizations, federations and associations, which govern sport, followed by sport leagues which comprise of various teams and clubs, with individual athletes at the bottom of the hierarchy.

There are articles investigating specific sport clubs, leagues or major sporting events. Escamilla- Fajardo et al. (2021), Hammerschmidt et al. (2019) investigate sport clubs on the examples of soccer, basketball and general sport. Whereas, Radaelli et al. (2018) and Chacar & Hesterly (2004) analyze the sport league, the Italian soccer league and the US Major League Baseball, respectively. Panahi & Yektayar (2016) and Shahin et al. (2014) investigate entrepreneurial activity within sport organizations, both at the top board level and at the employee levels.

Sport Policy

Some authors investigate sport policy from an entrepreneurial perspective. Andersen & Ronglan (2015) examines sport policy change using institutional entrepreneurship as the theoretical framework. Ahonen (2019) focuses on policy changes in Finnish sport policy in relation to entrepreneurship growth among sport teams viewed as small-medium-enterprises (SEMs). In turn, Strittmatter & Skille (2017) analyzed favorable policy changes for Norwegian youth sport policy taking lessons from the Winter Youth Olympic games. Pounder (2019) investigated the relationship between entrepreneurship and innovation in sport policy and how entrepreneurship can be used to lead to favorable social and cultural change in policy. Finally, Ratten (2019) suggests future directions for public policy from the perspective of sport entrepreneurship and how governance and politics are involved in sport policy.

Institutional Economics in Sport

Organizational and institutional entrepreneurship within sport entrepreneurship research is also an overlooked area. Escamilla-Fajardo et al. (2019) explored organizational innovation in sport clubs and the relationship between organizational climate and level of sport competition. Panahi & Yektayar (2016) investigated the relationship between organizational structure and entrepreneurship. Washington & Patterson (2011) researched institutional change in sport management. Borgers et al. (2018) examined participation in sport using institutional change as a theoretical framework. Similarly, Fahlén & Stenling (2019) conceptualized management within sport organizations from an institutional perspective. Chacar et al. (2018) examined institutional change as a form of entrepreneurship in professional baseball using the example of Major League Baseball in the United States.

There are different institutional climates conductive to sport entrepreneurship. Calvin et al. (2019) examined how the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), a US collegiate sport organization, established institutional dominance immune to litigation by creating institutional boundaries and cognitions, and adapting to the changing environment over the years of its existence. Andersen & Ronglan (2015) studied Scandinavian elite sport systems and sport organizations from an institutional perspective. Chacar & Hesterly (2004) described how the Major League Baseball drives innovation to create institutional change. Both studies examine institutional entrepreneurship in professional sport. Faghih & Javanmardi (2014) researched entrepreneurship within the English Premier League and identified factors driving business growth. Creation of sport league is a form of sport entrepreneurship not widely investigated. Calvin et al. (2019) studied the formation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the USA and institutional obstacles encountered along the way. Additionally, Mansfield & Killick (2012) investigated the franchising of professional women’s netball league in Britain as a form of sport entrepreneurship.

Social Innovation in Sport

The use of sport for building and developing communities is most common research topic within social sport entrepreneurship. Svensson (2017) conceptualized sport for development and peace using institutional theory, examined sport for development and peace entrepreneurs and organizational structure of sport for peace organizations. Aditionlly, they quantified organizational capacity among sport organizations with a social mission using sport for development and peace. Hayduk & Walker (2018) mapped the strategic factor market in sport entrepreneurship, where the economics of entrepreneurship link with social missions as a motivator for entrepreneurship. Undlien (2017) examined the use of Youth Olympic Games as platform for social entrepreneurship to create social value, capital and promote cultural programs among youth.

Núñez-Pomar (2020) investigated entrepreneurial orientation and what social role sport clubs play in Spain. Ratten (2019b) did a case study in surfing, examining social innovation. Additionally, Pounder (2019) studied the role of social entrepreneurship in sport business and how sport management uses social entrepreneurial activity. Panahi & Yektayar (2016) examined entrepreneurial orientation among sport organizations’ management from a cultural intelligence perspective. Spaaij & Westerbeek (2010) studied social capital in sport business and how sport is used to create social capital. Tonts (2015) also studied social capital and the link with competitive sport, with a particular case study in rural Australia.

Corporate social responsibility is a type of social entrepreneurship particularly used by organizations using sport development as tool. Bjärsholm (2019) investigated networking as a process of social entrepreneurship. Heinze et al. (2014) explored corporate social responsibility as part of social entrepreneurship in professional sport, using a case study on National Football League in American football. Miragaia et al. (2015) also researched corporate social responsibility but on a community level, through sport programs which are designed to create social capital.


Another prevalent research topic within sport entrepreneurship is educational entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship studies within higher education. Gonzalez-Serrano is the most published researcher with the focus on sport entrepreneurship education (González-Serrano et al., 2020). In the 2016 study González-Serrano et al., mention higher education alongside entrepreneurship and sport management studies, with the lowest number of entrepreneurial classes compared to hospitality, leisure and tourism. The González-Serrano et al., 2018 study, examined entrepreneurial orientation among sport science students in Spain, and found that students attending entrepreneurship -focused courses increase their entrepreneurial intentions, skills and behavior.


González-Serrano et al., (2020) explored lifestyle entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility in adventure sport. Wallis et al. (2020) investigate lifestyle entrepreneurship within the sport industry and who are sport lifestyle entrepreneurs using a case study about surfers. Adams & Burd examined the case of a young athlete-turned-entrepreneur, from collecting soccer shoes to a soccer shoe business. Atwater (2020) examined the case of Bill Veeck, although not an athlete himself, he transformed the sport of baseball and in turn the American sport industry, making the sport more accessible, entertaining and well marketed. Similarly, Wong (2018) studied cultural entrepreneurship on the case of Canadian brothers who started the Pacific Coast Hockey Association which lead to the birth of the Canadian Hockey empire as we know it. In turn, Hough-Snee (2020) an unsuccessful sport entrepreneurial efforts and poor management on the example of Bob McKnight the co-founder of Quicksilver, the surfers’ brand empire. Likewise, Miloch (2012) showed the quintessence of downhill sport entrepreneurship studying the fall of UnderArmour sport brand, once a prominent sport brand, today a struggling to maintain its relevance in the sport apparel industry.


Athletes are seen as a separate entity from the entrepreneurial perspective, acting as entrepreneurs themselves, compared to sport organizations which engage in entrepreneurship as a precipitation of change or innovation. Athletes engage in entrepreneurial activities while or after transitioning from their sport careers, where athletes’ entrepreneurship is seen as career transition process. Ratten (2019) examined athletes as entrepreneurs and their role of creating social capital. Kenny (2015) studied athletes career transition as an entrepreneurial activity. Steinbrink et al. (2019) explored athletes psychological characteristics and how they relate to entrepreneurial orientations and future athletes’ entrepreneurial ventures. Parris et al. (2014) did a case study on female athletes as entrepreneurs among professional wakeboarders.

Women in Sport Entrepreneurship

Gender studies and women are often overlooked in sport entrepreneurship, despite being a topic of interest within general entrepreneurship. Mincelotta et al. (2018) showed the effect of gender differences in the creation of new ventures, and how that translates into professional women sport leagues. Valenti et al. (2020) studied women’s football and the determinants to international success. Li et al. (2020) examined institutional entrepreneurship within women intercollegiate sport. Mansfield & Killick (2012) performed a case study on franchising in British professional women’s netball league. Although some of these studies are not purely entrepreneurial, they do investigate entrepreneurial activity and factors within sport, and therefore were included in this review.

There is a convergence between gender studies and sport entrepreneurship from a social innovation perspective. Hayhurst (2014) investigated sport entrepreneurship and promotion of gender equality through social innovation, where in Uganda non-governmental organizations encourage young girls to become entrepreneurs in sport such as martial arts instructors. Li et al. (2019) addressed gender norms and institutional change in women’s professional hockey league in China in conjunction with the 2022 Winter Olympics preparation. The study found that the Chinese government in partnership with the private sector implementing strategies to reduce the gender gap by providing resource, creating equal opportunities, increasing women’s pay and investing in women’s and girls’ teams.

Gender comparison in entrepreneurial education among sport science students (González-Serrano et al., 2018). They showed that there is a gender difference in entrepreneurship education among Spanish sport science students. Once, women gain access or attained an entrepreneurial course their perception of entrepreneurship skills improve, which suggest that the gender difference may be minimized once access to resources is provided for women. They demonstrated a gender effect in entrepreneurial intentions among sport science students, where perceived behavior control and attitude towards entrepreneurship differ by gender and are predicated by entrepreneurship intentions and norms. Likewise, Puyana et al. 2019 also investigated gender effects on entrepreneurship intentions in higher education.


Emerging topic in sport entrepreneurship is the impact of the current global health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic (Ratten, 2020). Since, it is a novel phenomenon there is a necessity to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on sport, sport entrepreneurship, institutional economics of sport and its social entrepreneurship in sport. Some researchers have provided commentary and theorization of COVID-19 and its consequence on the sport industry (Smith & Casper, 2020; Ratten, 2020; Clarkson et al., 2020; Buldú et al., 2020). Only Ratten (2020) has provided a qualitative review how sport stakeholders use entrepreneurial skills to adapt to the new situation caused by the pandemic. Mastromartino et al. (2020) provided future research ideas relating sport and COVID-19 from a crisis management perspective. The UN DESA (United Nations, Department of Economics and Social Affairs) and the EOC EU Office (European Olympic Committee European Union Office) have released reports on the impact of COVID-19 on sport, physical activity and social development (UN DESA 2020; EOC EU 2020). Mohr et al. (2020) provided an analysis of how COVID-19 will influence sport from a sport physiology and exercise science perspective. Whereas, Smith & Casper (2020) explore the importance of CSR in response to COVID-19 among US Sport leagues. There is no literature at the moment exploring the effects of COVID-19 on sport from an institutional, organizational and social perspectives, including the lack of articles relating to COVID-19 sport development for peace and athlete career transition.

eSport Entrepreneurship

eSport are electronic sport, i.e. the professional video gaming industry. Currently the Web of Science database provides 3 articles exploring the convergence of eSport and entrepreneurship. The industry of eSport has been growing exponentially the past few years. Pack et al., (2020), Scholz & Stein (2017), Hayduk (2020) investigated how entrepreneurship occurs in eSport and Pack et al. (2020) investigated why eSport have been included in the Olympic Games as a form of institutional entrepreneurship within sport. There is a debate whether eSport are as a matter of fact sport and could be investigated as such. The current literature on eSport focuses on the media industry as Hayduk (2020) showed. Although eSport athletes are retreat as traditional sport athletes, also have sponsors, and support teams including coaches. In the society there is some stigma connected to eSport seen as part of the gaming underworld. However, eSport in the US, India and China, the three dominant eSport markets are as much recognized as traditional sport, where even traditional sport teams engage and create eSport teams. For example, the two major baseball team in New York City own eSport teams. Moreover, there are stadiums being built only to accommodate eSport events and tournaments. With such a booming industry, eSport has received little interest from the academia and especially from the sport entrepreneurial perspective.


In conclusion the sport entrepreneurship literature has been emerging over the past decade. There is lack of consensus and different researchers define sport entrepreneurship towards their specific subject of interest. Future research might potentially concur on a definition of sport entrepreneurship. The current literature is somewhat fragmented in this aspect, and future research should focus on developing a theory framework as there is a need for a better conceptualization of sport entrepreneurship. Further, a broader analysis of a multidisciplinary interaction between sport and entrepreneurship is needed. There is an evident lack of study of women in sport entrepreneurship, which is an area suggested for future direction. Esport is a new emerging field of sport entrepreneurship and is still in its infancy as the esport industry itself. Calabuig-Moreno et al., (2020) suggest technology as the future research direction for sport entrepreneurship. Technological innovation in sport entrepreneurship is a topic worth investigating, with a limited number of available studies. Also, the future research could explore the use of technology in sport and its effectiveness. As this field continues to grow there are still unexplored areas of research at the intersection of sport and entrepreneurship.


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