Aim of the Research The purpose of this study is twofold: (1) to explore to what extent Belgian National football team players are perceived to be role models and credible ambassadors for a charitable organisation. And (2) to examine the effectiveness of the football stars’ charitable actions among different contexts and population segments. Theoretical Background and Literature Review Although the fanbase of football stars is generally vast, there is often scepticism regarding the behaviour of these highly-paid individuals both on and off the pitch. Generally, the public claims that, especially in the eyes of youth, athletes are seen as role models and therefore should behave accordingly (De Rycke & De Bosscher, 2019; Lyle, 2009). This is in line with academic consensus that individuals actively search for several appropriate role models, from whom they observe, adapt, or reject specific attributes or behaviours (Young et al., 2015). Interestingly, according to an international study representing elite athletes from 28 sports, it was found that most athletes do perceive themselves to be role models for today’s youth (De Rycke, De Bosscher, & Hallmann, 2018). Moreover, whether or not intrinsically motivated, sport stars regularly partake in altruistic activities, for instance by supporting charities. Surprisingly, there is scant insight in the extent to which the efforts of sport stars are perceived credible by the public, and also a lack of societal impact evaluations of their benevolent actions. In order for sport stars to have impact, a change in behaviour amongst the observer is needed (i.e., involvement with this charity). As such, the aim of this study is to examine whether sport stars’ stimuli are a sufficient band-aid to overcome the real-world obstacles certain population segments experience to initiate this behaviour change. Research Design, Methodology, and Data Analysis For the current study, a campaign was selected that instrumentalised players of the Belgian national football team. The objective of the campaign was to activate primary schools and its pupils to develop a local promotion campaign for the charitable organisation ‘Foster Care‘. Hence, examining the effectiveness this campaign among different contexts and population segments enabled us to answer the research questions. A concurrent mixed-methods design was used as qualitative data (11 focus groups with pupils, observations and informal interviews) and quantitative data (surveys with both participating and control-group pupils (n=511) and adults (n=2400)) were collected with the purpose of confirming, cross-validating, or corroborating the findings within this study. The data was collected pre-, during- and post-campaign. In order to structure this research, a logic model (an explanation of how the activities of the program are expected to contribute to particular results in the short-term and longerterm) was developed that integrates ideas of Theory of Planned Behaviour, Social Cognitive Theory, Transtheoretical Model and Self-determination theory (Locke & 713 Latham, 2002). In line with these theories, the assumption of this study is that the impact of the campaign is not a direct one, but that it may influence awareness, motivation before impacting on actual behaviour. Results/Findings and Discussion The mixed-method analysis revealed that Belgian National football team players are indeed perceived as being role models by most pupils and adults across population segments. Most respondents (85%) considered the football players efforts for the charitable organisation to be positive. The players were also perceived as credible ambassadors (73%). Interestingly, amongst a third of the adult sample there was nonetheless scepticism about the charitable actions being conducted ‘only to boost personal image’ (49%). Finally, across population segments, no significant increase in knowledge, awareness, motivation or change in favour of the charitable organisation was detected. The logic model provided a useful tool to investigate why the expected impact was not achieved. Conclusion, Contribution, and Implications Theory suggests that individuals search for role models from whom they can observe, adapt, or reject specific behaviours. Hence, several authorities build policies and programmes upon the notion that football stars can be leveraged to serve positive societal change. Surprisingly, this is without consideration of whether sport stars are perceived credible, nor actual assessments of programme impact. This paper thereby contributes to the literature on athletes as role models, both theoretically and empirically. The results confirm that football players are likely to be perceived as role models and credible ambassadors for charitable organisations. In contrast, no significant impact in favour of the charitable organisation was measured. A methodological contribution is the filling of research gaps by use of adequate data and sophisticated methods for role model impact evaluation, as requested by Lyle (2009). The mixed-method design and logic model helped to provide more robust evidence. Based on the study results, it could be argued that sport authorities could become more strategic in leveraging sport stars as role models and become more realistic of their actual impact.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe 27th European Sport Management Conference: Connecting Sport Practice and Science . In T. Breitbarth, G. Bodet, A.F. Luna, P. Naranjo & G. Bielons (Eds.), The 27th European Sport Management Conference: Connecting Sport Practice and Science, Book of Abstracts. (pp. 688-689). Seville: European Association for Sport Management.
PublisherEuropean Association for Sport Management
Number of pages3
ISBN (Electronic)978-84-09-14068-8
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sep 2019
EventThe 27th EASM Conference: Connecting Sport Practice and Science - Seville, Spain
Duration: 4 Sep 20196 Sep 2019


ConferenceThe 27th EASM Conference: Connecting Sport Practice and Science

ID: 49029290