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Professor of Marketing & Sports Marketing Program Coordinator

Professor White brings you his unique academic slant on the business side of the multi-billion dollar global sports industry.

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Managing Risk Is Essential in Sport



This post is by guest blogger Thomas S. Mueller, Ph.D., MBA, -- Assistant Professor & Senior Faculty in Residence Department of Communication, Appalachian State University

Jason Leffler

When I look across the full spectrum of opportunities in sport marketing, I find most business relationships in athletes, events, teams and facilities. When we consider the upside in these relationships, how often do we consider risk?

My recent contemplation regarding the issue of risk (sometimes poorly represented as "safety") came about through a motorsport incident on June 12 at Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, N.J. The open wheel winged sprint car event resulted in the tragic death of athlete Jason Leffler. Read More.

Earlier in my career, I was the executive director of professional competition at the American Motorcyclist Association. Our organization sanctioned road racing, motocross and dirt oval racing in the United States; of paramount importance was the competition environment we provided for our competitors. Part of the process in sanctioning events was risk assessment for facilities. This might include clear run off area in high speed corners,  implementation of air fence sections and potential impact points, or surface issues that affected high speed stability of motorcycles.

I had the opportunity to work with some of the top attorneys in motorsport, from NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) and at that time IMSA (International Motor Sports Association), among others. We discussed the fact that in professional sport, the realm of “safe” does not, and will never, exist.  I can remember one discussion where it was suggested that helmet use be suggested, not mandated (specific research indicated select racing deaths were caused because a helmet had been worn).  Event and sanctioning professionals have the ability reduce risk but can never ensure a 100% positive outcome.

Following Leffler’s death, more scrutiny will be directed at smaller auto sport racing facilities. Rules that govern race cars will also be under review, where frames, cages and restraining devices can affect survival rates in the event of a crash.

These issues are not unique to motorsport.  Boxing, football, baseball and other “stick and ball” sport must all stay aware of risk and how to alleviate it whenever possible.  All emerging sport marketers should understand risk management and view sport through the lens of lost equity in injured athletes, or in worst scenarios, death and potential liability.


Above Photo of Jason Leffler courtesy of Speed TV

About Dr. Thomas S. Mueller 

Tom Mueller has a built an extensive career in business development through event and affinity marketing.  He holds a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin, a MBA from Otterbein College, and a PhD in Communication from the University of Florida.  His research focus has been on the measurement of involvement among consumer groups related to media effect and social messaging.

Mueller’s international experience began in the early 1980’s as a writer/photographer, where he covered business and sporting events in Germany, Italy, Belgium, England, and other parts of Europe.  He formed his own PR agency and was a subcontractor to the Wrangler Brand in Greensboro, NC.  Mueller was responsible for Wrangler’s promotional work in NASCAR with Dale Earnhardt, prorodeo and stadium Supercross motorcycle racing.

He currently is Assistant Professor & Senior Faculty in Residence, Department of Communication, Appalachian State University. 



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