AMD Special Research Forum: A Whole Different Ball Game—Exploring the Modern Organizational Context Through the Lens of Sports

Sports represent a microcosm of society that both embodies and reflects the broader societal context in which they operate. For example, the ubiquity of sports, sports figures, and the sports calendar have drawn attention to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, employee COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and other social and political issues.

AMD Editor-in-Chief: Kevin W. Rockmann, George Mason University

Guest Editors:

Thomas P. Moliterno, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Paolo Aversa, City, University of London

Dmitry Sharapov, Imperial College London

Matthew S. Bothner, ESMT Berlin

Celia Moore, Imperial College London

Rory Eckardt, Binghamton University


The Emerging Phenomena of Modern Organizations

While professions, businesses, institutions, and economies have always been shaped and changed by the societal context of their times, today’s organizations are experiencing radical discontinuities. The virtualization of society, social media, centrality of issues surrounding gender and inclusion, technology-enabled work and consumer interfaces, social issue advocacy, micro-measurement of performance and activities, disruptions to global supply chains, employee health screening, and demands for environmental sustainability are just a few of the countless social and organizational phenomena that have redefined the boundaries of the private/public spheres and put to test central aspects of how we understand our social, organizational, and economic lives. As a field dedicated to understanding organizational realities, management research can and should play a critical role in making sense of this unexplored phenomenological complexity, and in so doing derive insights that advance our theoretical understanding and inform management practice.

Our scholarly community faces challenges in making significant contributions in this regard: a hallmark of high-impact management research is the ability to capture and explain complex and often “black-box” organizational phenomena. However, collecting and organizing the data needed to realize the full potential of our scholarship is a challenging and time-consuming task, limiting our ability to provide timely and compelling insights to the problems employees, managers, and policy-makers face. As a result, management scholarship often reflects researchers’ tendency to focus on incremental progress in understanding a limited number of phenomena and industries. This runs the risk of creating a “streetlight effect,” where “new ways of seeing” important and timely managerial phenomena and the “radical theorizing” that might follow (Nadkarni et al., 2018) continue to lie beyond the edge of our empirical record. To counteract these challenges and enable research that can help make sense of the contextual realities in which today’s organizations operate, it is important to identify empirical settings that allow us to observe the broad range of phenomena manifest in modern economies, while offering rapid access to extensive, granular, and heterogeneous data.

Sports as a Setting to Explore and Build Theory around Emergent Phenomena

Sports settings offer just such empirical opportunities. Sports represent a microcosm of society that both embodies and reflects the broader societal context in which they operate (Day et al., 2012). For example, the ubiquity of sports, sports figures, and the sports calendar have drawn attention to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, employee COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and other social and political issues. Athletes, owners, commissioners, and other actors central to sports are often seen as leaders in such movements as they embrace—or not—calls for inclusion and acceptance. Similarly, the increasing professionalization of sports has witnessed a pervasive use of digital technologies to monitor and enhance athletes’ performance and safety, radically changing the way sports organizations train, deploy, and reward athletes. Such advanced technologies have also found their way into commercial markets, creating a vast ecosystem of digital apps, websites, and devices for amateur and recreational use. This, in turn, has reshaped the way individuals engage with everyday fitness and well-being, as was well-documented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, the world of sports comprises a diverse global industry and a multifaceted institution that stands as a powerful analogue of, and metaphor for, social and competitive dynamics in public and professional life. In this way, sports contexts hold exceptional opportunities not only for managerial scholarship, but also for the diffusion of evidence-based organizational insights into the world of business and society (Rynes, Bartunek, & Daft, 2001). 

Sports settings are also well-positioned to overcome the challenges that constrain organizational research on emergent phenomena. Leveraging the granularity of sports data, management scholars have increasingly realized opportunities to produce a diverse body of research that explores hard-to-study organizational phenomena across various levels of analysis (c.f., Day et al. 2012; Ertug & Maoret, 2020; Fonti, Ross, & Aversa, 2021; Wolfe et al. 2005). Building on this canon of high-impact management scholarship, new and unique opportunities exist that will push and explore the boundaries of what is possible using sports data. A considerable amount of new (big) data are now available to researchers: GPS localizations; spatial tracking of athletes/teams in real and virtual (i.e., e-sports) competitions; athletes’ biophysics; fans’ reactions and interactions on social media; data from equipment, technologies, tools, and aids; and data on individual fitness and well-being; etc. While quantitative data of this sort are often available in public repositories, sports settings can also provide unique opportunities for researchers to collect in-depth qualitative data on the participants and organizations engaged in this global context. Taken together, empirical data from sports allow researchers to ask new questions and derive new theoretical insights, particularly regarding organizational phenomena where the empirical record is scarce.

Aim of this AMD Special Research Forum (SRF)

This SRF aims to showcase outstanding empirical contributions that explore and illuminate recent and relevant modern organizational phenomena through the empirical examination of sports settings. For this SRF, we take a very broad definition of “sports settings” to include professional and amateur teams and leagues; leisure, fitness, and well-being activities, such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness; physical and virtual competitions (e.g., e-sports, online sports betting, sports entertainment); and settings combining multiple dimensions (e.g., online interaction during live sports events). We welcome qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method contributions, as well as contributions across individual, team, organizational, institutional, and societal levels of analysis. Researchers working in the full range of scholarly paradigms (i.e., economic, critical, and behavioural, etc.) are encouraged to submit their high-quality scholarship. 

The goal of this SRF is not to explain sports-related phenomena per se, but rather to provide novel and compelling contributions to management theory by leveraging sports settings as an observable microcosm of important and timely phenomena occurring in modern organizational contexts. Two potential approaches to crafting contributions in this regard include (1) identifying a modern organizational phenomenon, making a compelling case for its manifestation in sports, and exploring it empirically in that context; or (2) finding an interesting new phenomenon in a sports context, exploring it in that setting, and then making a compelling translation of the empirical findings to a more general organizational context.  

The following is a non-exhaustive list of modern organizational phenomena that might be examined in sports settings. The scope of this SRF is necessarily and intentionally wide: questions about the suitability of a particular context should be directed to a member of the editorial team. 

Human-Human Interactions

  • Gender, race, diversity, and inclusion 
  • Inter-generational conflict
  • Inter- and intra-individual, dyad, and team dynamics 
  • Status, rivalry, and conflict 
  • Multilevel emergence of human capital
  • Spirituality and mindfulness
  • The “sharing economy”

Human-Organization Interactions

  • Work, employability, mobility, and career progression
  • Micro-level performance tracking
  • Work automation and employment (i.e., the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”)
  • “Gig” work
  • Employment contracts
  • Governance

Human-Technology Interactions

  • Causes and effects of digitalization and virtualization
  • Technologies for new forms of consumption
  • The impact of technology on work and free time
  • Technology-enabled consumer interfaces

Organization-Society Interactions

  • Global supply chains
  • Social issue advocacy
  • Global warming and environmental preservation
  • Emergence and dynamics of new industries/product categories

Initial Submission Window: 1 December 2022 to 1 January 2023


About AMD

AMD is a premier journal for the empirical exploration of data describing or investigating compelling phenomena. AMD is not a journal for deductive theorizing or hypothesis testing. Authors are encouraged to present findings without the need to “reverse engineer” any theoretical framework or hypotheses (HARKing). AMD publishes discoveries resulting from the data mining of both quantitative and qualitative data sources. AMD articles are phenomenon-forward rather than theory-forward. This means that AMD papers look quite different than articles sent to other empirical journals. The goal at the front end of an AMD paper should primarily be to demonstrate the novelty/interestingness of the phenomenon and why current theory fails to explain the phenomenon. It is in the discussion of an AMD paper where a plausible theoretical explanation—the theoretical contribution—is provided. The goal of every AMD paper is that the discoveries derived from the empirical exploration will open new lines of research inquiry. For further information about the goals of AMD and for recent publications, visit the AMD website.

Submission Guidelines

Standard guidelines apply to papers sent in for this SRF. Manuscripts may be submitted as traditional papers or as Discoveries-through-Prose. Discoveries-through-Prose are crafted in more creative and engaging ways than traditional papers. When composing such manuscripts, we encourage authors to relax their use of traditional headings and traditional “academic writing” in order to create a compelling narrative from start to finish. More information about Discoveries-through-Prose can be found on the AMD website and in Dane & Rockmann (2021).


Dane, E., & Rockmann, K. W. (2021). Listen Up! Revitalizing Our Writing to Stir Our Readers and Supercharge our Thinking. Academy of Management Discoveries, 7(2): 159-165.

Day, D.V., Gordon, S., & Fink, C. (2012). The Sporting Life: Exploring Organizations through the Lens of Sport. Academy of Management Annals, 6(1): 397-433.

Ertug, G., & Maoret, M. (2020). Do Coaches in the National Basketball Association Actually Display Racial Bias? A Replication and Extension. Academy of Management Discoveries, 6(2): 206-234.

Fonti, F., Ross, J-M., & Aversa, P. (2021). Using Sports Data to Advance Strategy and Macro-Organizational Research: A Review. Working Paper, under review at Journal of Management, proposal accepted for annual review issue.

Nadkarni, S., Gruber, M., DeCelles, K., Connelly, B., & Baer, M. (2018). From the Editors—New Ways of Seeing: Radical Theorizing. Academy of Management Journal, 61(2): 371-377.

Rynes, S.L., Bartunek, J.M., & Daft, R.L. (2001). Across the Great Divide: Knowledge Creation and Transfer between Practitioners and Academics. Academy of Management Journal, 44(2): 340-355.

Wolfe, R.A., Weick, K.E., Usher, J.M., Terborg, J.R., Poppo, L., Murrell, A.J., Dukerich, J.M., Core, D.C., Dickson, K.E., & Jourdan, J.S. (2005). Sport and Organizational Studies: Exploring Synergy. Journal of Management Inquiry, 14(2): 182–210.