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Multilevel approach for CSR and sport organizations

This is an excerpt from Understanding Sport Organizations-3rd Edition by Trevor Slack.

By Christos Anagnostopoulos and Jonathan Robertson

In a recent review on CSR, Aguinis and Glavas (2012) argued that multilevel and multidisciplinary approaches to examining CSR would offer a more complete understanding of the concept. In the following sections, we draw on this in order to structure our CSR discussion in relation to sport organizations. By so doing, the reader can form connections to the previously discussed theoretical perspectives (especially at the institutional and organizational level). In addition, we draw on sport and CSR literature with the purpose of inviting more questions rather than offering concrete answers for any of the following levels discussed. The goal for such an approach is to provide prospective sport scholars and practitioners with access points to key debates in CSR and sport literature.

Institutional Level

Scholarly activity on professional teams' social involvement has offered valuable insights into the environmental pressures that prompt organizations to engage in CSR practices. These pressures are amalgamated within both the institutional and organizational analysis levels. The institutional level addresses at least one element of Scott's (1995) three pillars of institutions, which are regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive systems (Aguinis & Glavas, 2012; Godfrey, 2009). Hoffman (1997, cited in Scott, 2013, p. 59) described that “each pillar forms a continuum moving from the conscious and legally enforceable (for example, regulation), to the unconscious and taken for granted (for example, cultural-cognitive systems).” Guided by institutional and stakeholder perspectives, this section will focus separately on each pillar to elaborate on social responsibility systems at institutional level of analysis.

Changes in the regulative environment for sport organizations can come from a variety of sources, including governments, leagues, interest groups, unions or associations, and various other stakeholder groups. At the institutional level, changes in regulation can have significant impacts on the social responsibility of elite sport organizations. For example, in 2012 the NFL introduced new rules guiding how gridiron football teams must respond to player concussion. The change was initiated from player associations and medical groups that showed how players who had suffered severe concussions during their playing career had a higher chance of developing brain injury (chronic traumatic encephalopathy [CTE]) (Hanna & Kain, 2010). (For more information, see the Time Out “The NFL's Response to Concussion Injury.”) Another example of changes coming from government was the UK government's creation of the Football Foundation charity (Taylor, 2004). The change in the institutional environment led many English association football teams to create charitable foundations following the creation of the Football Foundation charity. The institutional environment in elite sport organizations is highly complex and subject to multiple regulatory regimes (e.g., laws of society, anti-doping, anti-corruption, governing body regulation specific to the sport). It is therefore imperative that organizations understand their external environment to avoid costly risks (noncompliance breaches) and capitalize on potential opportunities (changes in funding structures).

Normative systems occur simultaneously with regulative and cultural-cognitive elements at the institutional level. Scott (2013) described that normative systems are comprised of both values (desirable standards from which organizational behavior is assessed) and norms (the legitimate way society perceives things ought to be). Normative elements broadly conceptualize how society perceives certain obligations ought to be fulfilled. Often normative values are the precursor to society codifying laws and regulations and are therefore closely coupled with the above regulative systems (Carroll, 1979). Over the past century, several areas of institutional life have codified values and norms into laws and regulation in areas such as human rights, labor practices, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and more recently environmental issues (International Organization for Standardization [ISO] 26000, 2010). In sport organizations, a major shift has occurred in the area of environmental awareness. Trendafilova, Babiak, and Heinze (2013, p. 309) suggested that “scrutiny and regulation, and normative and associative pressures play a role in sport organizations' adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors. These forces seem to be working together and reinforcing one another, and often through the vehicle of the media, to create a broad trend around this [environmental] form of CSR.” As the chapter-opening scenario on the Philadelphia Eagles demonstrated, elite sport organizations are picking up on the environmental aspect of their social responsibility and even beginning to use opportunities strategically (Porter & Kramer, 2006, 2011). The changes in social norms regarding the environment have had widespread effect on sport organizations (Babiak & Trendafilova, 2011), college sport (Trendafilova, Pfahl, & Casper, 2013), major sporting events (Zhang, Jin, Kim, & Li, 2013), consumer perceptions of sport organizations (Walker & Mercado, 2013; Walker, 2013), and sport facilities (Mercado & Walker, 2012). Normative values have also begun to give way to regulative measures such as the 1995 Kyoto protocol that outlined mandatory targets for greenhouse gas emissions, millennium development goals to meet a broad range of social issues to improve the lives of the world's poorest populations, and increasing international regulation such as the ISO 14000 standard on environmental management that regulatesthe environmental behavior of organizations throughout the supply chain. For sport organizations, normative values around environmental practices are becoming critical to understanding broad social expectations at the institutional level.

Cultural-cognitive systems are unconscious assumptions of an area of social life and represent “shared conceptions that constitute the nature of social reality and create the frames through which meaning is made . . . where internal interpretive processes are shaped by external cultural frameworks” (Scott, 2013, p. 67). At the institutional level, such systems help explain what makes the social responsibility of sport different from other social institutions (e.g., commerce, religion, arts). Elite sport organizations represent an identifiable cultural-cognitive system that has unique features, including instability of sport performance, a unique competitive balance between organizations, increased media exposure, and the resultant public analysis of player performance (Smith & Stewart, 2010). Consequently, sport organizations demonstrate a cultural-cognitive system of social responsibility that is unique compared to other areas of institutional life (Babiak & Wolfe, 2009, 2013). While it is taken for granted that winning, high media exposure, and a lack of direct competition (in the sense of competitive strategy) are within the remit of sport organizations, it is precisely these features that differentiate the social responsibility of the team sport cultural-cognitive system from other social and cultural systems.

Institutional, normative, and cultural-cognitive systems individually and collectively can act as a framework to guide future research directions. Institutional environments shape the manifestation of, for example, a team's responsibility to society via explicit regulative mechanisms (laws, regulations, and standards) and from multiple regulative bodies (governments, leagues, and associations). Heightened media exposure focuses normative pressures on organizations to behave in a manner that society sees fit. However, cognitive-cultural systems, or unconscious assumptions, vary significantly within a multistakeholder society. For sport organizations, the institutional level produces an environment in which the organization is required to respond to multiple actions simultaneously in order to fulfill its social responsibility.

Time Out: The NFL's Response to Concussion Injury