Triangle relationships in mass sport provision: analysing similarities, differences and interorganisational relationships across civic, public and market sectors

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 4 Research NOT TU/e / Graduation NOT TU/e)


This doctoral thesis aimed to present empirical evidence for the similarities and differences between mass sport providers at the local level in Flanders, i.e. non-profit sport clubs as a prototype of the voluntary or civic sector, fitness and health clubs as a prototype of the for-profit or market sector, and local sport authorities as a prototype of the public or state sector. We have particularly focussed on human resources. These resources are one of the most important assets of a sport organisation. Moreover, there is a growing debate, among both scholars and policy makers, on the professionalisation of sport organisations and the remuneration of sport volunteers. The second aim of this thesis was to provide a contribution to the further development of scientific knowledge on organisational theory regarding sport providers across the civic, public, and for-profit sectors. Boundaries between these sectors have blurred because of features such policy imperative, the significant growth of the number of for-profit sport providers in the last decades, the commercialisation and professionalisation of the sport sector, etc. As a consequence, interorganisational relationships arise in terms of co-operation, competition, and/or co-operation. Because the primary focus of this doctoral project is at the local level, and the selected sport providers are open systems embedded in a local sport environment, two organisation theoretical frameworks were applied: (i) resource dependence theory (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978), and (ii) institutional theory (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983).The empirical work in this thesis was based both on quantitative and qualitative data, and quantitiative, qualitative, as well as mixed methods. This thesis consists of nine empirical papers, spread over three sections. With regard to the first objective of this thesis, the results shown that mass sport providers at the local level in Flanders do not only vary in history, objectives, and financial resources, but also show interesting and remarkable differences with regard to their human resources. A gender bias was detected in the workforce of non-profit sport clubs, for-profit fitness and health clubs, and the local sport authorities. In all three the types of sport providers women are likely to hold supportive positions, but for women in leadership positions it is rather lonely at the top. Hence, at present women still face a glass ceiling in sport organisations across the civic, public, and for-profit sectors. This inequality was most salient in leadership positions in non-profit sport clubs.Non-profit sport providers display a strong dependency on volunteer workers. Because of the growing debate on the professionalisation and the remuneration on volunteers, a shadow price of volunteer work was calculated. It was shown that non-profit sport clubs are less cost efficient compared to for-profit fitness and health clubs. However, it was argued that the economic rules of for-profit organisations cannot be transferred blindly to voluntary sport clubs,because positive externalities of volunteer work are neglected. Obviously volunteering fulfils other functions for individuals and society than producing services efficiently and effectively. The results of a study on the remuneration of volunteers, revealed that legal reimbursement schemes for volunteers were found to be used in an improper way. Hence, a respectable number of sport volunteers were found to be undeclared workers, especially people holding sport technical functions. Level of taxes, VAT, social security contributions, and so on, resulting in lower payments in professional work were considered as causes of undeclared volunteer work in non-profit sport clubs. The research objective regarding the interorganisational relationships was analysed in six empirical papers. Public sport providers (i.e., local sport authorities) appeared to be the most co-operative sport provider in Flanders. It was found that local sport authorities are more likely to co-operate with non-profit sport clubs and other public providers, compared to for-profit sport providers. Moreover, they were also more positive regarding their relationships with non-profit sport providers, compared to for-profit providers. Co-operation, however, can be considered as one of the core tasks of local sport authorities. Nevertheless, the results also show ambiguity in the goals of local sport authorities. In recent years their regulatory rol in the local sport landscape was emphasised, although they also tend to act as provider of mass sport.Co-operation between private sport providers, both non-profit and for-profit, merely rest on a voluntary base. Non-profit sport clubs were found to be more likely to have cross-sector co-operation with local sport authorities, but prefered co-operation with other non-profit sport clubs above co-operation with for-profit fitness and health clubs. Apparently, many non-profit and public organisations still experience relationships with the for-profit sector as counter-cultural. However, for-profit organisations were more likely to co-operate with organisations whose main objective is not the maximisation of profit, suggesting complementarity. The results of the papers showed that direct economic incentives from the state (cf., subsidies) were found to have only limited coercive power on sport clubs. Apparently, voluntary sport clubs are likely to meet the demands and expectations of policy makers, despite the limited impact of direct subsidising in the total budgets of the clubs. Nevertheless subsidies are still considered as a policy instrument. Regarding the drivers of interorganisational relationships, problems with regard to infrastructure were found to be an important incentive for the co-operation of non-profit sport clubs, whereas no effect was found for financial resource problems.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
  • Scheerder, Jeroen, Promotor, External person
Award date16 Feb 2012
Place of PublicationLeuven
Print ISBNs978-90-382-1907-3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes

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