Journal of Social Marketing, Volume 7, Issue 1, January 2017.
Purpose This paper extends the literature on wicked problems in consumer research by exploring athlete and consumer vulnerability in sport and the potential role that social marketing can play in addressing this problem. Design/methodology/approach This paper conceptualises the wicked problem of athlete and consumer vulnerability in sport, proposing a multi-theoretical approach to social marketing, incorporating insights from stakeholder theory, systems theory and cocreation to tackle this complex problem. Findings Sport provides a rich context for exploring a social marketing approach to a wicked problem as it operates in a complex ecosystem with multiple stakeholders with differing, and sometimes conflicting, objectives. It is proposed that consumers, particularly those that are highly identified fans, are key stakeholders that have both facilitated the problematic nature of the sport system and been rendered vulnerable as a result. Further, a form of consumer vulnerability also extends to athletes as the evolution of the sport system has led them to engage in harmful consumption behaviours. Social marketing, with its strategic and multi-faceted focus on facilitating social good, is an apt approach to tackle behavioural change at multiple levels within the sport system. Practical implications Sport managers, public health practitioners and policymakers are given insight into the key drivers of a growing wicked problem as well as the potential for social marketing to mitigate harm. Originality/value This paper is the first to identify and explicate a wicked problem in sport. More generally it extends insight into wicked problems in consumer research by examining a case whereby the consumer is both complicit in, and made vulnerable by, the creation of a wicked problem. This paper is the first to explore the use of social marketing in managing wicked problems in sport.


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