Messages about corporate social responsibility (CSR) are likely to evoke strong and often positive reactions among stakeholders. Research has even elucidated the potential business benefits the external communications of CSR efforts provide (Maignan et al., 1999). In a study of CSR in the sport industry, Walker and Kent (2008) found that NFL fans were largely unaware of the CSR activities of the teams. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to explore the extent to which professional sport teams communicate their CSR agenda to stakeholders.
A content analysis of 29 selected professional sport organizations' newsletters (in all 4 major leagues) were used to examine the amount and type of CSR communicated. A content analysis is a systematic, non-obtrusive, and replicable method for examining various types of communication (Berger, 2000). Through such analysis, it should be possible to describe and draw inferences about sport organizations communications to their stakeholders about their CSR activities.
The unit of analysis was the 29 selected sport organizations' newsletters collected during a 3 month period. Coders determined whether articles in the newsletters communicated the organizations' CSR activities as well as documenting the type of CSR disseminated. To reduce researcher bias, two independent coders were used. Holsti's (1969) formula was employed to determine the reliability of the coding using 10% of the sample. Any coding ambiguities were thoroughly discussed and resolved. Inter-coder reliability improved to 100% in determining whether the newsletters communicated CSR, and 97% for categorizing the type of CSR before coding began.
In total 818 newsletters were examined. From this sample, 184 (22%) contained articles reporting on past or future CSR activities. Many of these newsletters contained multiple articles, reports, and promotions in the same newsletter. Thus, the research team found 273 different articles, features, and reports that communicated the organizations' CSR through their newsletters.
Surprisingly, the teams investigated did not communicate their CSR efforts as widely as expected. Previous findings underscored the importance of minimal releases such as annual reports and websites as a preferred means of CSR communication to stakeholders (Morsing & Schultz, 2006). However, in order for this information to be well-received it needs to be included in communication strategies and dispersed to a far greater degree. We suggest these minimal releases would benefit from responding to, and even more extensively involving, stakeholders directly in a mutual construction of CSR communication. Additional implications and suggestions for practitioners and academicians will be forwarded.
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