Pay and Performance: An Examination of Texas High School Football Coaches


Salaries paid to high school coaches and team managers have recently generated media and public debate over their justifiability. This research represents an earnings function estimation designed to identify salary determinants for high school football coaches. The theoretical model supporting the analysis builds on models presented in the sports economics literature. To conduct the empirical estimation, we used salary, human capital, performance, and institutional data for coaches of Class 4A and Class 5A 11-man high school football programs in Texas (N = 95). Our results indicate that the determination of overall coaching compensation is significantly affected by human capital investment, measured through experience; by job performance, captured in winning percentage; and by school characteristics, such as location and stadium size.

Pay and Performance: An Examination of Texas High School Football Coaches

Over the past decade, economic investigations of professional sports teams—particularly pay-for-performance studies—have become increasingly prevalent. This emerging research trend has evolved in part because of the broad applicability of economic principles to sporting contexts and also because of the increasing availability of performance and salary data for professional sports participants. Although it has not always been the case, reliable data for selected amateur sports, such as NCAA golf, are also starting to become available, allowing researchers to apply economic reasoning to these varied and important sports environments. (Examples are Callan and Thomas, 2004, 2006, which are investigations of the determinants of success in amateur golf that employed two different samples of NCAA golfers.)

From a theoretical perspective, economic research on sports salaries and performance builds on human capital theory, as first suggested by Becker (1964). Critical to this theory is the belief that education and experience play a significant role in the determination of a worker’s performance and earnings. Simply stated, investments in human capital, such as education, training, and work-related experience, are expected to positively influence compensation.

As for the empirical testing of these theoretical models, most salary investigations within the professional sports literature have focused on individual players as opposed to coaches or managers. It is also the case that most used an earnings function model similar to the one developed by Scully (1974), who studied salary determinants for Major League Baseball players. Consistent with Becker’s (1964) fundamental hypothesis, Scully’s model assumes that a professional baseball player’s development of human capital and skill are critical determinants of his earnings. Since Scully’s original work, numerous studies have adapted his model to other sports settings. For example, Jones and Walsh (1988) examined salary determination for players in the National Hockey League, and Hamilton (1997) did the same for players in the National Basketball Association.

Despite the accumulating research on players’ salaries in various sports, we know of only two papers that adapted Scully’s (1974) original model to an examination of the earnings of team managers or coaches. One is a study by Kahn (1993), and the other is an investigation conducted by Humphreys (2000). A brief overview of each follows.

Kahn (1993) used 1987 data for professional baseball teams to estimate an earnings function for team managers, which in turn was used to analyze managerial quality. Following human capital theory, Kahn’s model specifies earnings as the natural log of manager salary and includes the following as explanatory variables: years of managerial experience; lifetime winning percentage; and a binary variable to control for league (i.e., American or National). Kahn asserts that there are at least two reasons why experience is expected to have a positive effect on earnings. Specifically, more years of experience should reflect (a) greater skills, developed through on-the-job training, and (b) longevity, based on relatively high-quality management ability exhibited over time. Winning percentage captures team performance or success, which also should positively affect earnings, and the binary league variable controls for any league-specific differences in the demand for managerial quality. As expected, Kahn’s results showed that a manager’s experience level and career winning percentage have significant and positive effects on salary, although the league variable was not found to be statistically significant.

Humphreys (2000) used Division I NCAA basketball program data for the 1990–1991 academic year to test for possible gender-based differences in compensation among head basketball coaches. Similar to Kahn’s model, Humphreys’s earnings function defines the dependent variable as the log of annual base salary. Two groups of hypothesized salary determinants are specified: a set of coach characteristics and several control variables to represent the institution where each coach is employed. For the coach characteristics, Humphreys included a dummy variable for gender; experience, in years, to represent investment in human capital; and career winning percentage to measure job performance. In accordance with conventional human capital theory, both experience and winning percentage were assumed to have a positive effect on salary. The institution-specific control variables were intended to capture potential demand-side influences on a coach’s earnings. Included among these were total student enrollment, ticket revenues, and school location. The underlying hypothesis was that greater demand for basketball entertainment, which can be proxied by higher enrollment and larger revenues, should positively influence a coach’s salary.

Humphreys’s empirical estimation across several variations of his model found neither gender nor experience to be significant. However, the results did suggest that performance (measured through career winning percentage) positively affects earnings. Humphreys believed that a high correlation between performance and experience in his sample likely explained the lack of significance found for the experience parameter. Among the institutional control variables, Humphreys found that total enrollment, participation in Division IA games, and ticket revenues exhibited consistently positive effects on collegiate basketball coaches’ salaries.

Clearly, the studies by Kahn (1993) and Humphreys (2000) have helped to identify some of the factors responsible for manager or coach salaries at the professional and collegiate level, respectively. However, to our knowledge, no analogous earnings function estimations exist for noncollegiate amateur coaches, leaving many questions unanswered.

At least until recently, the primary reason for this lack of research on noncollegiate school sports was, apparently, limited or nonexistent data. However, reliable data on high school football in some regions of the United States have now become available. That such a turn of events is timely is evidenced in part by recent media attention to high school coaches’ salaries, particularly in comparison to teachers’ and other school administrators’ salaries. Some journalists report on the relatively high salaries earned by high school football coaches, particularly in the southern and western United States, where high school football is markedly more important to local communities than in other regions (Jacob, 2006; Associated Press, 2006). Others, such as Abramson (2006), counter with a different perspective about coaches’ earnings, referring to long hours worked, particularly in so-called football states like Texas, Florida, and Georgia.

A related issue raised by the media is the extraordinary level of monetary investments made in some high school football programs, an observation that some find particularly striking in the face of funding cuts for educational resources and programs. In a recent issue of a national newspaper, Wieberg (2004) reported on multimillion-dollar projects in Texas, Georgia, and Indiana to build state-of-the art high school football stadiums. This trend, he argued, arises from a competitive race involving high-end facilities and highly paid coaches that has trickled down from the college level. In some states, such competition arises from open enrollment policies, under which schools literally compete for students to preserve their state funding (which is linked to enrollment). Schools also compete for a strong fan base to generate revenues to help support the costs of football programs—including elevated salaries for coaches, some reportedly reaching six figures. Such activity, which is consistent with the demand-side effects on salary suggested by Humphreys (2000), identifies another motivation for exploring the issue empirically.

The present research addressed the critical issues by empirically examining salary determinants for a sample of high school football coaches in Texas. There were a number of reasons for using Texas as the context of the analysis. First, high school football is enormously popular in Texas, and schools there invest heavily in football programs. These observations translate to a favorable opportunity to study demand-side salary determinants for coaches along with the usual human capital factors. Second, and perhaps not unrelated to the first reason, the necessary sample data to conduct an empirical estimation of earnings have become available for the state. Third, because Texas high school football is nationally recognized, we anticipated that our findings concerning Texas coaches would both call attention to underlying issues and stimulate new research on salary determination for those who coach in other parts of the country and in other high school sports.



Reflecting both data availability and our motivation to capture possible demand-side factors in our model, the sample for this study was 95 head coaches at Class 4A and Class 5A Texas high schools during the 2005–2006 football season. Oversight of high school football in Texas is provided by the University Interscholastic League (UIL). The UIL is a nonprofit organization with a purpose to “organize and properly supervise contests that assist in preparing students for citizenship” (About the UIL, n.d., ¶3); extracurricular activities outside athletics also fall within UIL’s purview. The UIL organizes Texas high school football contests based on schools’ geographic locations and enrollments. It divides football programs into 6-man and 11-man classifications. Most small schools (i.e., those with fewer than 100 enrolled students) participate in 6-man football, but the majority of Texas high school football programs are 11-man programs. The sample for this study was drawn from 11-man programs only.

Giving greater context for our analysis, table 1 presents the breakdown by classification of the 1,033 11-man high school football programs in Texas. The UIL identifies 32 geographic districts within Texas. The average number of football teams within each district ranges from 5.13 in Class 1A, to 7.53 and 7.69, respectively, in the larger 4A and 5A classes. The data indicate that significant enrollment differences exist across these various conferences. Classes 4A and 5A comprise the largest schools, those with enrollments as high as 2,084 and 5,852, respectively.

Table 1

2008–2009 Season Data for Texas High School 11-Man Football Teams, by Class

Class Number of districts with football programs in the class Number of schools with football programs Average number of schools per district Minimum enrollment Mid-point enrollment Maximum enrollment
1A 32 164 5.13 69.00 134.00 199.00
2A 31 205 6.61 201.00 314.75 428.50
3A 32 177 5.53 222.00 599.00 976.00
4A 32 241 7.53 533.00 1,308.50 2,084.00
5A 32 246 7.69 1,515.00 3,684.00 5,852.00

Note. Conference 2A spans 32 districts, but no school in District 24 has an 11-man football program. From “Alignments (updated for 2008–2010),” n.d., retrieved June 14, 2008, from


For each coach in our sample, we collected earnings data for the 2005–2006 academic year from a Dallas Morning News article, creating our empirical model’s dependent variable, SALARY (Jacob, 2006). According to a recent article in the popular press, a Class 4A or Class 5A head coach typically works 70–100 hr per week and is under contract for a 226-day work year (Texas Twist, 2006). Some coaches also teach, and some hold administrative positions such as athletic coordinator or athletic director. Our empirical model defined the variable ADMIN as a binary variable equal to 1 for a coach having administrative responsibilities or to 0 otherwise. We expected that coaches with administrative positions in addition to coaching responsibilities would earn higher salaries than those with coaching responsibilities only. Hence, we anticipated that the estimated parameter associated with ADMIN would be positive.

To capture each coach’s investment in human capital, we defined two distinct measures, GAMES and ROOKIE. Because the number of contests each team plays annually is fairly consistent, the GAMES variable was allowed to serve as a proxy for each coach’s cumulative head coaching experience in years (the data we would have preferred as our measure of human capital investment, had they been available). The GAMES variable actually measured the cumulative number of games for which an individual had acted as a head coach. Increases in this human capital variable were expected to have a positive influence on coaches’ salaries. The binary variable ROOKIE equaled 1 for a coach who was a rookie head coach (i.e., had no more than one year’s experience) and 0 for more experienced coaches. We anticipated that the parameter on this variable would be negative, reflecting the market’s ability to pay a rookie coach a lower salary than a veteran coach.

The sports economics literature suggests that in addition to experience level, how able a coach is, reflected in job performance, is an important determinant of compensation. Both Kahn (1993) and Humphreys (2000) used a coach’s career winning percentage to capture job performance. Following their approach, we defined a variable, WP, to measure the overall career winning percentage for each coach in our sample. If a coach’s winning percentage increased, we hypothesized, his salary will be higher, holding all other factors constant.

We further theorized that a coach’s salary would be influenced by demand-side characteristics (Humphreys, 2000), which would be linked to attributes of the high school employing the coach. One such characteristic was student enrollment, which we measured in the ENROLL variable, obtaining data from, a website devoted to Texas high school football. (’s Class 4A data was found at and its Class 5A data at Schools with larger enrollments are expected to pay their coaches higher salaries, so we expected to find a positive relationship between ENROLL and SALARY.

Moreover, because Texas football has a following that extends beyond the student body, it was important to include some measure of community demand for the sport. Indeed, H. G. Bissinger (1990) suggests, in his best-selling book Friday Night Lights, that football in Texas is a community event. Therefore, we included the variable STADIUM in our empirical model to measure seating capacity at the facility where each coach’s school played its home games; the Texas High School Stadium Database ( provided the measures for each stadium. STADIUM was intended to capture a community’s market demand for high school football. Adapting Humphreys’s (2000) logic to our model, we expected that high school teams playing in larger stadiums would generate more revenue than those playing in smaller facilities, yielding more funds with which to compensate their head coaches, and hence we expected STADIUM to be positively related to SALARY. While we viewed stadium capacity as a reasonable proxy, we would have preferred including ticket revenues directly in our model, as Humphreys did, had such data been available for the individual Texas high schools. UIL does track football gate receipts for Texas high schools as a group. They totaled $1,102,798 for the 2005–2006 season, more than any other high school sport in Texas generated (West, Davis, and Company, 2008).

Lastly, following Humphreys (2000) we included a location-specific variable, DALLAS, in our model. The measure is a binary variable equal to 1 for a school located in the Dallas school district or to 0 otherwise. The variable controls any salary differences associated with location in the Dallas urban district. Earnings levels in urban districts may differ from those in other districts, due to differences in cost of living and/or population. However, since the relative magnitude of any such effect was not known a priori, the qualitative relationship between SALARY and DALLAS could not be predicted.


To estimate the earnings function for each head coach in the sample, we used multiple regression analysis to examine the relationship between earnings and the defined human capital investment measures, job performance, and demand-side characteristics. As the literature suggests is typical, we transformed the dependent variable, SALARY, by natural logs. This transformation meant that the effect of each explanatory variable on earnings could be interpreted as a percentage change.

Results and Discussion

Fundamental statistical analysis was used to describe the variables in our data set. Table 2 presents the basic descriptive statistics for the sample of 95 Class 4A and Class 5A head football coaches. Note that, on average, a coach in this sample earned slightly more than $82,000 per year, and that 9 out of 10 coaches performed some administrative duties. The average coach had participated in approximately 107 games and achieved an overall career winning percentage of 53.41. Because a typical season consists of approximately 10 games, the mean value of 106.8 for GAMES suggests that the average coach in our sample had over 10 years of head coaching experience. Only 7% of the coaches were rookies.

Regarding institution-specific characteristics, the mean value for school enrollment was 2,310 students, and the average high school stadium seated 10,963 fans. The difference between the two measures indicates that demand for Conference 4A and 5A football extends well beyond the student body to the larger community. We also observed that 20% of coaches in the sample were employed at schools in the Dallas school district.

Table 2

Basic Descriptive Statistics for Class 4A and Class 5A Head Coaches (N = 95)

VariableMeanStandard DeviationMinimumMaximum

SALARY 82,179.00 10,457.00 50,117.00 106,044.00
GAMES 106.80 89.67 10.00 401.00
ROOKIE 0.07 0.26 0.00 1.00
WP 53.41 17.30 5.00 84.00
ADMIN 0.91 0.29 0 1.00
STADIUM 10,963.00 3,795.00 3,500 21,193
ENROLL 2,310 849.12 1,076 5,652
DALLAS 0.20 0.40 0.00 1.00

Table 3 presents the multiple regression estimates for our hypothesized earnings function model. (Several model specifications were estimated; overall results for the alternative model specifications did not differ significantly from the results presented in table 3.) On the basis of the adjusted R-squared statistic, our regression model explains over 58% of the variability in the natural log of earnings. The overall fit of our model compares favorably with those presented by other researchers. Each regression model presented by Kahn (1993) and Humphreys (2000) explained less than 50% of the variability in, respectively, professional coaches’ salaries and collegiate coaches’ salaries.

Table 3

Regression Model Parameter Estimates (Dependent Variable = Natural Log of Salary)

Determinant Parameter estimate
    Intercept 11.11†
Human capital variables
    GAMES 3.96 E-04†
    ROOKIE -0.09**
Job Performance variable
    WP 8.88 E-04†
Institution-specific characteristics
    ENROLL 2.94 E-05**
    STADIUM 3.55 E-03†
    DALLAS -0.17†
Other factors
    ADMIN 0.04
F-statistic 19.81 (p value < 0.001)
R-squared 61.45
Adjusted R-squared 58.34

* p < 0.05, assuming a one-tailed test of hypothesis for ENROLL and two-tailed tests elsewhere. ** p < 0.01, assuming a one-tailed test of hypothesis for GAMES and two-tailed tests elsewhere. † p < 0.10, assuming a one-tailed test of hypothesis for WP and STADIUM.

Turning attention next to the model’s individual parameter estimates, we made a series of important observations, starting with the two measures of human capital investment. First, as anticipated, the algebraic sign on the ROOKIE parameter was negative, meaning that a coach with no more than 1 year of experience received less compensation than veteran coaches. On average, the difference was approximately 9%. Second, the estimated directional effect for a coach’s level of experience, measured through the GAMES variable, was consistent with expectations. Specifically, we found that GAMES had a statistically significant positive effect on a coach’s salary. Holding all other factors constant, each additional year of coaching experience increased salary by, on average, approximately 0.4 percentage points. (We assumed that 10 games represented about 1 year of play; the GAMES parameter estimate hence indicates that each additional game coached translated to a salary increase of about 0.04%, a year’s worth of games thus representing 10 times that salary increase, or 0.4%.) In contrast Kahn’s (1993) investigation of Major League Baseball managers showed that each additional year of experience in professional ball increased a manager’s salary by 2.35%. Humphreys’s (2000) investigation of NCAA basketball coaches did not find the analogous effect on salary to be statistically significant. He argued that a high correlation (0.60) between career winning percentage and years of experience most likely produced the insignificant result for the latter variable. The correlation coefficient between GAMES and WP in our model was markedly lower (0.46).

Holding constant a coach’s investment in human capital, we obtained further results indicating that a coach’s job performance, measured by WP, has a statistically significant positive effect on compensation (a one-tailed test was used). Qualitatively, this result is consistent with those presented by Kahn (1993) and Humphreys (2000). The specific estimated value suggested that an increase of 10 percentage points for WP increased a coach’s salary by approximately 0.9%. Clearly, this finding suggests that winning is important in high school football. However, the common sports adage “Winning is everything” seems an overstatement, at least in the context of how high school football coaches’ salaries are determined.

Quite predictably, our results also indicate that demand-side factors are relevant to the determination of coaches’ overall compensation. For two of the demand-side, institution-specific variables, STADIUM and ENROLL, each of the obtained parameters had the predicted positive sign. Using a one-tailed test, the parameter on STADIUM was statistically significant at the 10% level. This suggests that coaches at schools with larger stadiums, and hence greater demand for high school football, receive higher compensation than those at schools with smaller stadiums. The parameter on ENROLL was positive and statistically significant on the basis of a two-tailed test. As expected, then, larger schools tend to compensate coaches at higher rates than do schools with relatively fewer students. The specific estimated value implies that for every additional 100 students enrolled in a school, its football coach’s salary is about 0.29% higher. The underlying premise is that demand for football games is greater when the student body is larger.

The algebraic sign of the parameter on the urban location variable, DALLAS, was negative and statistically significant at the 1% level. This finding differs from Humphreys (2000), who in his study of NCAA basketball coaches did not find the urban location variable to be significant. It might be the case that the result in our model is specific to the Dallas, Texas, area and cannot be generalized to other urban areas. In any case, we can say that the subsample of Texas high school coaches employed by the Dallas school district earned about 17% less than their counterparts in other districts. This negative effect might reflect a larger population of available coaches in the area, which would mean greater competition for available positions and hence lower salaries. It might also be a function of the relatively low cost of living in Dallas, suggested by consumer price index levels for Dallas versus other areas (U.S. Department of Labor, 2008).

Finally, while the parameter on ADMIN had the expected sign, the finding was not statistically significant. This result may be due to the fact that over 90% of the head coaches in our sample held some type of administrative position in addition to their regular coaching duties. The resulting lack of variability in this measure may be responsible for its insignificance in our earnings function.


It is well documented in the sports economics literature that, holding ability constant, a player’s investment in human capital and his overall performance contribute significantly to the determination of overall compensation. Building on these findings, recent research in sports economics has applied earnings function analysis to an examination of salaries paid to professional and collegiate team managers and coaches. Although this segment of the sports literature is still in its infancy, thus far the empirical findings are generally consistent with those for players. That is, investments in human capital and job performance seem to be significant determinants of managers’ and coaches’ salaries, just as they are of players’ salaries.

In this research study, we extended the analysis of sports managers’ and coaches’ salaries to the noncollegiate amateur level, using a sample of Texas high school football head coaches employed during the 2005–2006 season. Following the approach used in investigations of professional sports, we modeled and estimated an earnings function, using conventional regression analysis. Our model specified a series of potential salary determinants, including human capital measures, a performance variable, and institution-specific demand-side factors.

Our statistical findings indicate that coaches’ salary determinants at the high school level are qualitatively consistent with those identified in the literature for professional and collegiate coaches. Specifically, a high school coach’s development of human capital was shown to be a statistically significant determinant of his salary. Moreover, a coach’s performance or ability to win games, as measured by career winning percentage, also affected his earnings. Lastly, consistent with findings presented by Humphreys (2000), we found that demand-side, institution-specific influences such as the size of the fan base can affect a coach’s compensation.

Taken together, the results of this research, we believe, make an important contribution to the literature examining compensation paid to sports participants, because they broaden its scope to include coaches at the high school level. The findings are timely, as well, given recent media attention to coaching salaries and the associated debate about rising investments in high school sports programs concurrent with funding cuts for education. We are hopeful that, as new data become available, other researchers will seek to validate our findings in other locations and for other high school sports throughout the country. This in turn could help stimulate important dialogue about the level of compensation for coaches relative to other educational professionals and whether that compensation appropriately rewards experience and performance.


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Callan, S. J., & Thomas, J. M. (2004). Determinants of success among amateur golfers: An examination of NCAA Division I male golfers. The Sport Journal, 7(3). Retrieved September 24, 2008, from

Callan, S. J., & Thomas, J. M. (2006). Gender, skill, and performance in amateur golf: An examination of NCAA Division I golfers.” The Sport Journal, 9(3). Retrieved September 24, 2008, from

Hamilton, B. H. (1997). Racial discrimination and professional basketball salaries in the 1990s. Applied Economics, 29, 287–296.

Humphreys, B. R. (2000). Equal pay on the hardwood: The earnings gap between male and female NCAA Division I basketball coaches. Journal of Sports Economics, 1(3), 299–307.

Jacob, M. (2006, January 9). High school football coaches cashing in. Dallas Morning News. Retrieved September 24, 2008, from dws/spt/highschools/topstories/stories/010806dnspocoachsalaries.2a4475f.html

Jones, J. C. H., & Walsh, W. D. (1988). Salary determination in the National Hockey League: The effects of skills, franchise characteristics, and discrimination. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 41(4), 592–604.

Kahn, L. M. (1993). Managerial quality, team success, and individual player performance in Major League Baseball. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 46(3), 531–547.

Scully, G. W. (1974). Pay and performance in Major League Baseball. American Economic Review, 64, 915–930.

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2016-10-12T14:56:39-05:00October 7th, 2008|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Coaching, Sports Facilities, Sports Management|Comments Off on Pay and Performance: An Examination of Texas High School Football Coaches

Big League Deals: A Descriptive Study of Sponsorship Levels in Grassroots U.S. Baseball and Softball Programs


Sport sponsorship lets businesses break through cluttered marketplaces, deliver messages effectively, and segment by demographics. Sponsorship also helps grassroots sports organizations enhance services as they strengthen bottom lines. Despite a decade’s marked growth in grassroots sport sponsorship, little data exists detailing it. Statistics describing sponsorship in grassroots baseball and softball offer a benchmark for organizations seeking new ventures or developing established sponsorships. Furthermore, understanding why some organizations rely on sponsorships and others do not can help managers choose wisely for their own programs. A convenience sample was surveyed; results showed sponsorships were used by 86.36% of respondents from organizations operating for 20 years and by 76.70% of all respondents. Another finding was that players’ costs were not lowered by sponsorships.


2016-10-20T11:27:17-05:00October 7th, 2008|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Facilities, Sports Management|Comments Off on Big League Deals: A Descriptive Study of Sponsorship Levels in Grassroots U.S. Baseball and Softball Programs

Energy Drinks’ Effects on Student-Athletes and Implications for Athletic Departments


Worldwide, the market for so-called energy drinks has grown exponentially in the last decade. The primary targets of the industry’s marketing campaigns are young adults, and college athletes are frequent consumers of the products. Campaigns promote consumption of energy drinks to enhance performance and suggest their addition to cocktails. Studies have shown college athletes to engage regularly in binge drinking; they are also, clearly, individuals eager to maximize performance. In this article, the ingredients of energy drinks are discussed and the dangers of combining those ingredients with alcohol are explored. In addition, recent research about energy drinks and athletic performance is reviewed. Specific implications for college athletic departments are discussed.

Energy Drinks’ Effects on Student-Athletes and Implications for Athletic Departments

The worldwide market for so-called energy drink has grown exponentially in the last decade. The primary targets of the industry’s marketing campaigns are young adults. As a result, university and college athletes are frequent consumers of the products. The effects of these beverages can be quite significant. Therefore, their use by student-athletes requires analysis, results of which administrators and coaches need to be aware of so that they can share this knowledge with student-athletes in need of direction. They should also track the current trends among student-athletes concerning energy drinks.

Caffeine is the main “energy” ingredient in energy drinks. Its ability to enhance performance, under certain conditions, has been well documented. Yet consuming too much caffeine often has negative effects on overall wellness. Elite athletes continually strive for enhanced performance, trying a variety of strategies to reach that goal. Incorporating energy drinks within a training regime may be one such strategy. Many of the marketing campaigns explicitly state that an energy drink improves functioning, implying that it can boost athletic performance.

Binge drinking, too, has a negative effect on wellness, and research findings indicate that student-athletes—to a greater extent than other students—display a propensity to engage in it. On college campuses today, students commonly use energy drinks as an ingredient in alcoholic cocktails. When they consume alcohol and large amounts of caffeine in combination, many students find themselves drinking more and becoming more intoxicated, which can lead to serious health and other consequences.

History of the Energy Drink

Energy drinks entered the North American beverage market with exotic names, catchy slogans, and expensive marketing campaigns and now occupy a significant portion of the industry. They have become available everywhere, offered alongside soft drinks in vending machines, convenience stores, and grocery stores. Their manufacturers say that, in addition to providing a boost in energy, the drinks promote wellness through medicinal properties (they usually contain vitamins and/or ingredients like ginseng, guarana, and taurine). In 2005 such claims prompted Health Canada (the department of Canada’s federal government responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health) to state, “Energy drinks are meant to supply mental and physical stimulation for a short period of time” (Safe Use of Energy Drinks, n.d., Background section, ¶ 2). Whatever their intended use and purported benefits, consumers today consume energy drinks for a variety of reasons: to boost energy, quench thirst, mix cocktails. Moreover, consumers are constantly pioneering new uses, such as flavoring smoothies with popular energy drinks.

The term energy drink suggests activity, and the uninformed consumer may assume that such a drink would support physical exercise. Locating energy drinks on store shelves adjacent to traditional sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade reinforces such an assumption of a positive relationship between their use and exercise. Caffeine, the main stimulant ingredient in most energy drinks, has been shown by research to offer questionable potential (at best) as a performance enhancer, in light of the broad variation in individuals’ tolerance of it and also in light of an accompanying range of possible adverse effects (Caffeine—Performance, n.d.).

Drinks providing high doses of caffeine are not a new concept. Jolt cola, a precursor to today’s energy drink phenomenon, was first distributed in the 1980s (Retelny, 2007). Jolt was not marketed as a medicinal health product as, to an extent, energy drinks are. But like energy drinks, it was and is laden with caffeine. The Red Bull energy drink, introduced in the United States in 1997, was the forerunner of the modern energy drink and remains the most recognizable brand in the industry (Retelny, 2007). However, it has considerable competition in today’s marketplace: 500 new varieties of energy drink were introduced to the worldwide market in 2006 (Fornicola, 2007). According to Cohen (2008), the marketing research firm A. C. Nielsen indicated that worldwide sales of the drinks rose from $3.5 billion in 2006 to $4.7 billion in 2007. This speaks volumes for the drinks’ profitability and potential new markets, chiefly within the young teen to young adult demographic. Many companies continue to introduce new drinks, hoping to capture a share of a growing consumer base. Responding to the influx of new products with which they must compete, manufacturers push the boundaries, producing drinks with increasingly complex combinations of medicinal ingredients, with ever higher levels of caffeine, served in larger sizes (Fornicola, 2007).

Ingredients of the Energy Drink

Content labeling has always been inconsistent across North America, and the steady stream of new products developed for the energy drink market further complicates the picture. Energy drinks’ proliferation and popularity clearly caught regulatory agencies such as Health Canada off guard; by all accounts, agencies were ill equipped to respond to initial claims made by the drinks’ various manufacturers. In Canada, most energy drinks have been approved since 2004 as “natural health products.” Approval was a controversial decision, resulting in the establishment of Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate (Raging Bull, 2005). Dr. Eric Marsden of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors considers Red Bull to be like “sin in a tin” (Raging Bull, 2005, p. 2, All In a Label section, ¶ 8), making a mockery of proper natural health products. On the other hand, energy drinks’ designation as natural health products means that, in Canada, they must be labeled with detailed information about amounts of medicinal and nonmedicinal ingredients and about recommended uses and doses, including cautionary statements.

In the United States, in contrast, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while it regulates caffeine content in soft drinks, does not regulate caffeine contained in energy drinks (Cohen, 2008, Anxiety Attacks section, ¶ 9). The FDA is authorized to move to regulate caffeine in energy drinks but tends not to do so unless a given product provides more caffeine than is found in the average cup of coffee (Cohen, 2008, Anxiety Attacks section, ¶ 10). In the United States, it is not required that manufacturers list the ingredients of energy drinks; therefore, it is difficult for consumers to appreciate how much caffeine they ingest with an energy drink. While the information often is available on the manufacturer’s website, it is unlikely typical consumers are concerned about product ingredients to the point of visiting a website. Most take it for granted that a product is safe simply because it is found on the shelves of food stores. And yet, studies have suggested that people with high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid energy drinks. The American Heart Association issued an alert in November 2007 concerning dangers energy drinks pose to those with known cardiovascular issues (Lofshult, 2008).

The variety of energy drinks available makes a complete review of their contents a daunting task. Sugar (whether in the form of glucose, sucrose, fructose, or other compound) is found in most, and sugar’s effects are well known. Sugar-free varieties of energy drinks are now being consumed in significant numbers, as well. In their study, Malinauskas, Aeby, Overton, Carpenter-Aeby, and Barber-Heidal (2007) found that 26% of college students who use energy drinks chose sugar-free versions; significantly more females than males opted for the low-calorie version. Sugar and sweeteners are household ingredients, but the various brands of energy drinks also contain many exotic components, as well. Four in particular seem central in the majority of the marketed products: caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone, and vitamins.


The primary exotic ingredient of energy drinks is the stimulant drug caffeine. According to the website of the Sports Medicine Council of Manitoba (Caffeine—Performance, n.d.), there is scientific evidence that caffeine raises both heart rate and blood pressure, which can increase alertness and enhance performance of some tasks if small doses only are consumed. Caffeine’s effects are such that it is included in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s monitoring program, although the agency removed caffeine from its list of restricted substances in 2004 (Desbrow & Leveritt, 2007). The decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency implies that the performance-enhancing capacity of caffeine is limited; most research confirms that. Although caffeine in limited quantities improves mood and cognitive performance (Scholey & Kennedy, 2004), consuming more than limited quantities can generate many negative effects. As a result, any beneficial effect on athletic performance proposed for caffeine is not universally accepted.

The Sports Medicine Council of Manitoba (Caffeine—Performance, n.d., p. 2) indicated that a 250-ml can of Red Bull contains 80 mg of caffeine, while in caffeinated soft drinks the concentration ranges from 29 mg to 55 mg per 355-ml serving. Coffee’s caffeine content varies, but it typically contains 100 mg per 250-ml serving (Fornicola, 2007). Popular energy drinks including Monster, Full Throttle, and Rockstar contain about the same amount of caffeine as Red Bull. Some manufacturers, however, in attempting to create a unique product, have added significantly more caffeine to certain niche energy drinks. An article in the McLatchy–Tribune Business News (Energy Drinks’ Buzz, 2008) identified three drinks with extremely high caffeine levels: Boo-Koo Energy, with 360 mg of caffeine in 24 oz; Wired X344, with 344 mg in 16 oz; and Fixx, with 500 mg in 20 oz (Energy Drinks section).

When used in moderation, caffeine rarely produces visible effects, despite the fact that many negative effects have been identified in research. The acceptance and use of caffeine in contemporary society is commonplace, most caffeine being consumed without ill effect in morning coffee, to improve alertness and mood. Since coffee is generally served hot, it is generally drunk slowly. But energy drinks’ good taste and chilled state mean they can be consumed quickly (Fornicola, 2007), allowing a high dose of caffeine to enter the body fairly quickly. Even moderate amounts of caffeine can lead to severe negative effects in people who are caffeine sensitive, as well as in children, with their relatively low body weight. High doses of caffeine can negatively affect concentration, attention, and behavior and can produce irregular heartbeat, nausea, restlessness, headache, and dehydration (Griffith, 2008). Even when dehydration is not a problem, choosing an energy drink over drinks like juice, milk, and water can deprive children of nutrients (and can deplete a parent’s budget). Their students’ increasing access to energy drinks is for good reason causing concern among school officials.


The most widely used medicinal ingredient in energy drinks after caffeine is also, perhaps, the least understood: the amino acid taurine. The human body on its own replenishes its supply of taurine (Lidz, 2003, With Taurine section, ¶ 3), which is involved in several metabolic processes and may also have antioxidant properties (Raging Bull, 2005, p. 4, Medicinal Ingredients chart, ¶ 1). A typical person’s intake of taurine is about 60 mg per day (Laquale, 2007), but a single serving of Red Bull (and of most other energy drinks) contains 1,000 mg of taurine. That amount is doubled in the 473-ml serving of Monster and nearly doubled (1,894 mg) in the same size container of Rock Star. Manufacturers imply that a special synergy exists among energy drink ingredients, and certainly taurine would be key to it. Laquale (2007) challenges the synergy notion, suggesting that taurine’s benefits were declared on the basis of testing on house cats in the 1970s.

The taurine in Red Bull has been promoted as the drink’s secret and controversial ingredient. Research on the effects of taurine is limited and inconclusive. But taurine is the reason Red Bull’s acceptance has been delayed in many countries; until recently it was actually illegal to sell Red Bull in Canada (Raging Bull, 2005). According to Lidz, Red Bull’s manufacturer “admits that taurine’s main function [in its product] is simply that of flavor enhancer” (2003, With Taurine section, ¶ 3). The German Institute for the Protection of Consumer Health suggests that claims of taurine’s value are “misleading” (Lidz, 2003, With Taurine section, ¶ 3). Alford et al.’s study (as cited in Laquale, 2007) indicated that Red Bull improved aerobic endurance and anaerobic performance, but whether that resulted from caffeine or taurine (or the combination of the two) was not determined. Griffiths’ research (also cited in Laquale, 2007) furthermore showed that consumers were being misled and that energy drinks’ effects depended on how much caffeine they contained. At this point, not enough research has been done to substantiate any positive effect of taurine, much less to investigate long-term effects of consuming taurine in the amounts present in energy drinks.


Glucuronolactone is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in the body and, like taurine, is suspected of helping “detoxify the body” (Raging Bull, 2005, p. 4, Medicinal Ingredients chart, ¶ 2). Red Bull includes glucuronolactone to increase energy and feelings of well-being (Laquale, 2007). Not surprisingly, the hundreds of energy drink brands joining the market following Red Bull’s introduction also contain glucuronolactone. Laquale notes that glucuronolactone has been made known by undocumented reports that it was given to American soldiers during the Vietnam War to increase energy but was eventually linked to deadly brain tumors and banned. Glucuronolactone research to date has focused on animals, making its effects in humans difficult to assess (Raging Bull, 2005, p. 4, Medicinal Ingredients chart, ¶ 2).


An assortment of B vitamins (B2, riboflavin; B3, niacin; B6; and B12) are the final ingredient common to the majority of energy drinks. While these vitamins’ importance to healthy living is undeniable, it may be more appropriate to ingest them in the form of a balanced diet than in the form of an energy drink supplement.

Although U.S. products may not be labeled as to their ingredients, they may include some type of warning label with recommendations for use of the product.


The long-term effects of energy drink consumption are unknown. Many studies have analyzed extended use of caffeine, generating mixed findings—although moderate use of caffeine is commonly accepted to pose little health risk. Fornicola (2007) found that on average, adults consumed 200 mg of caffeine per day, the amount in about two cups of coffee. While caffeine is undoubtedly the greatest contributor to the effect produced by energy drinks, the fact remains there is no research into possible problems associated with long-term ingestion of high concentrations of taurine and glucuronolactone.

Red Bull states that short-term positive effects of the drink—of its particular combination of ingredients—are proven by publicly available academic studies (FAQ, n.d., What proof is there that Red Bull energy drink does what it says it does? section). But the Red Bull website does not provide links or directions for accessing those studies. The majority of the extant research clearly disputes the claims, essentially attributing to caffeine the quantifiable short-term effect of increased energy (Malinauskas et al., 2007). Caffeine is also a diuretic, however, and the manufacturer of Red Bull recommends that users of its product drink ample amounts of water when they exercise (FAQ, n.d., Is Red Bull Energy Drink Suitable As Fluid Replacement? section).

There remains considerable concern regarding the negative effects of energy drinks. Emergency room visits arising from energy drink consumption are becoming commonplace. For example, Child Health Alert reported a 23-year-old was hospitalized with a dangerously high heart rate after consuming the energy drink GNC Speed Shot followed by a Mountain Dew soft drink, also containing caffeine (Caffeine: Watch Out, 2008). The report noted that the GNC Speed Shot website does warn against using the product together with others that contain caffeine. There are countries, France, Denmark, and Norway among them, that continue to ban the sale of Red Bull. Several highly publicized deaths linked to energy drinks have fueled ongoing suspicion. In one such tragedy, a healthy 18-year-old Irish basketball player experienced cardiac arrest after consuming four cans of Red Bull prior to a game (Laquale, 2007).

Consumption Patterns

Malinauskas et al. (2007) stated that energy drinks are intended for young adults but that little formal research is available accurately describing the multibillion-dollar energy drink industry’s actual clientele. Studying energy drink consumption by college students, Malinauskas et al. found that 51% used energy drinks, defined as consuming more than one energy drink monthly during the academic semester in which they were surveyed. In Canada, energy drinks labeled as natural health products must provide cautions complying with requirements of Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate. For example, the beverages are not recommended for nursing or pregnant women, caffeine-sensitive persons, or children. Product labeling also establishes a maximum daily dose and advises against mixing the beverages with alcohol. An analysis of the labels on three popular energy drinks found that all delivered the same messages except when offering a maximum daily dose. Red Bull and Rock Star advise consumers not to exceed 500 ml of the product per day, while Monster recommends no more than 1,000 ml per day.

It is not clear how many adults consume energy drinks, but it is certain that, despite manufacturers’ warnings, many children are regular consumers. The Florida Poison Control Center started to track cases of caffeine overexposure after 39 people ages 2 to 20 years developed symptoms between January 2007 and March 2008 (Cohen, 2008, Anxiety Attacks section, ¶ 3). A school nurse in California sent three students to hospital by ambulance in the past year because they had irregular heart rates brought on by consumption of energy drinks (Dorsey, 2008). Energy drinks are not recommended for children or adolescents nor are they marketed directly to them. But surprisingly, there is currently no restriction on children’s purchase of energy drinks, even though caffeine’s effects are more pronounced in children than adults, due to body size and tolerance. It is furthermore clear that children and adolescents contribute significantly to the total market. Some schools have banned energy drinks from school property, and many jurisdictions are considering attempting to restrict energy drink sales to children.


Energy drinks are marketed with colorful descriptions and provocative names that make them sound fun and exciting. Rockstar, Monster, Full Throttle, Throw Down, and Sobe No Fear are just a sampling of the inviting products that fill store shelves. Marketing slogans are developed to stimulate interest in a product and distinguish it from its competition: “Get spiked,” “Party like a rockstar,” and “Feel the freak” are slogans representing the marketing strategies of energy drink companies. The language and images of such advertising are not directed at mature adults. If anything, the marketing of energy drinks removes all ambiguity about whom these products are meant to appeal to: teens and young adults.

With 40% of the market share, Red Bull remains the leader in energy drink sales (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2008, Background section, ¶ 2). Not surprisingly, the “Red Bull gives you wiiings” slogan is widely recognized. Red Bull has developed its image over the past decade by sponsoring extreme sports and targeting college students (Lidz, 2003, Red Bull’s Effects Have Been Recognized by World-Class Athletes section, ¶ 3-4). More than other brand’s marketing, Red Bull’s marketing has created a connection between the product and sports and fitness, with the implication that greater performance in athletics is achieved by those who consume Red Bull. Currently, Red Bull containers feature the phrase “Vitalizes body and mind.” Lidz (2003) identified other slogans from Red Bull that have made a connection to sports: “increases concentration,” “improves reaction speed,” “stimulates metabolism,” and “Red Bull’s effects have been recognized by world-class athletes.” Miller (2008) suggested that other manufacturers have copied Red Bull’s strategy, since “energy drink advertising consistently emphasizes a physically active lifestyle featuring a range of extreme sports” (p. 481). Miller further suggested that, in their appeal to the young, energy drink marketing strategies are similar to those of the tobacco and alcohol industry (p. 488). Such an affinity between a “healthy natural product” and smoking and drinking is incongruous.

Consumption Among Student-Athletes

Malinauskas et al. (2007) found that 51% of college students consume energy drinks, so logic would dictate that student-athletes in colleges and universities consume the product at a similar or perhaps higher rate, given the marketing-constructed connection between energy drinks and sports. Promotional statements for Red Bull suggest consuming the product prior to a demanding athletic contest like a race or game (FAQ, n.d., When Should Red Bull Energy Drink Be Consumed? section). Also suggesting student-athletes’ susceptibility to energy drink marketing is Miller’s confirmation (2008) of the phenomenon called toxic jock identity. Miller defined toxic jock identity as the state of having “a sport-related identity predicated on risk taking and hyper masculinity” (p. 481). Toxic jock identity may increase risky behaviors, and consuming energy drinks may be a predictor of the phenomenon (Miller, 2008). The drive to improve athletic performance and exhibit one’s athletic identity could influence student-athletes to consume energy drinks at a relatively high level compared to that of the general student body.

Consumption to Boost Athletic Performance

Does ingestion of an energy drink really boost athletic performance? Caffeine is the only ingredient in energy drinks that has been studied in depth and that shows proven effects; short- and long-term effects of high doses of taurine and glucuronolactone require additional study. Athletes have long used caffeine prior to training sessions and competitions, but most nevertheless do not well understand how the drug works, for example that, as a diuretic, caffeine is capable of aggravating the dehydration athletes may experience during competition. The scientific literature itself provides mixed messages about caffeine’s performance-enhancing capability and its value prior to exercise. Fornicola (2007) stated that no real need exists to use energy drinks for performance advantage and that that quick caffeine fix is not a very intelligent strategy. In contrast, the website of the Sports Medicine Council of Manitoba reports that endurance athletes might gain some advantage by exploiting caffeine to derive energy from fat early in a competition, thereby leaving more muscle glycogen available to provide energy later on (Caffeine—Performance, n.d., p. 1). However, the website also advises athletes that “4% dehydration equals 20% of performance lost” (p. 1). Caffeine promotes dehydration, so the amount of it to be ingested for athletic advantage would have to be determined very precisely. Desbrow and Leveritt (2007) demonstrated that the majority of elite triathletes use caffeine to improve physical performance and concentration. However, these athletes’ knowledge of which products contain caffeine (and how much they contain) was limited (Desbrow & Leveritt, 2007). Umaña-Alvarado and Moncada-Jiménez (2005) studied the effects of energy drinks on male athletes’ aerobic activity, finding no performance improvement from energy drink consumption prior to testing. However, their results did demonstrate that those participants who consumed energy drinks reported lower levels of perceived exertion.

Consumption With Alcohol

Studies show student-athletes are more prone to binge drinking than other students. Grossman, Wechsler, Davenport, and Dowdall (1997) found college athletes engaged in binge drinking and used chewing tobacco at higher rates than nonathletes, although they were less likely to smoke cigarettes or marijuana. Other research indicates that team sports participants are especially likely to consume alcohol in a high-risk manner (Brenner & Swanik, 2007). Such findings, particularly when considered in light of something like toxic jock identity, suggest that the newly popular practice of mixing energy drinks into alcoholic cocktails may place student-athletes at an elevated risk. Consuming energy drinks along with alcohol lessens the subjective sense of intoxication (O’Brien, McCoy, Rhodes, Wagoner, & Wolfson, 2008). This means one can consume more alcohol than usual because one doesn’t feel intoxicated. In addition, the alcohol-induced fatigue that normally tends to limit further alcohol consumption may be masked by the caffeine in the energy drink (Dunlap, 2008).

Although energy drink companies may caution consumers against mixing the products with alcohol, young people, especially, do so. According to Miller (2008), the website contained 201 Red Bull–based alcoholic beverage recipes. And despite the Red Bull label’s warning about mixing the product with alcohol, the manufacturer’s website tells visitors that Red Bull can be used for more than nonstop partying (Benefits, n.d., Red Bull—More Than Just a Myth section, ¶ 3).

Combining a depressant (alcohol) with a stimulant (energy drink containing caffeine) clearly could exacerbate the typical risks of alcohol consumption. The practice, combined with the tendency of student-athletes to binge on alcohol, should raise concern. O’Brien et al. (2008) indicated that “students who reported consuming alcohol mixed with energy drinks had significantly higher prevalence of alcohol–related consequences, including being taken advantage of sexually, taking advantage of another sexually, riding with an intoxicated driver, being physically hurt or injured, and requiring medical treatment” (p. 453). Further, the U.S. Surgeon General has reported that in the United States, close to 5,000 people under age 21 die each year of alcohol-related injuries (Dunlap, 2008).

Consumption in Conjunction With Studying

Long before the introduction of energy drinks, students used caffeine to stay up late at night studying. Today student-athletes who do not like the taste of coffee can choose an energy drink instead. In moderation, use of energy drinks to sustain a study session would appear to be harmless. Nevertheless, coaches and athletic department staff should make sure student-athletes are familiar with caffeine’s potential negative effects (when it is consumed to excess), in order to help them make informed and responsible choices, whatever the circumstance.

Consumption Representing Casual Use

Casual consumption of energy drinks accounts most significantly for the rapid rise in their popularity. Now available everywhere, energy drinks strike many consumers as a choice akin to a soft drink or coffee. The market seems poised for continued expansion, supported by aggressive marketing. The consumption of energy drinks is likely to become even more common and socially acceptable. Student-athletes are likely to be part of the trend, increasing their consumption, especially if they lack complete information about energy drinks, their ingredients, and their actual effects on athletic performance and health.

Summary and Conclusions

Given the proliferation of energy drinks and their growing popularity despite possible negative effects, coaches and athletic department administrators should take the initiative in educating student-athletes about the products. Energy drinks are aggressively marketed to college students with messages touting the performance and other benefits of consuming the beverages. Students are urged be energy drink consumers, and for the uninformed student-athlete, the trend’s influence may produce negative consequences.

While the purported benefits of the taurine and glucuronolactone in energy drinks are unproven, potential positive and negative effects of another common ingredient, caffeine, are well documented. The choice to use caffeine prior to training or competition should belong to the individual, based on adequate knowledge of pros and cons and on past experiences with caffeine. Student-athletes who choose to use caffeine should be encouraged to do so in moderation. They should also be provided information about levels of caffeine contained in various foods and beverages, in order to monitor their intake. Most energy drinks in fact have not contained more caffeine than a cup of coffee, but there is a noticeable trend toward selling the beverages in larger containers—meaning larger servings and more caffeine. If consuming an energy drink before a competition improves mood and concentration, it would be difficult to suggest that it poses significant danger. Assuming a consumer is not caffeine-sensitive, caffeine’s negative effects are unlikely to become evident unless intake becomes excessive. Although deaths associated with energy drink consumption and sport have been reported, they seem to be isolated cases involving multiple servings with high levels of caffeine.

While it is important to provide student-athletes with accurate information on energy drinks and caffeine as these affect athletic performance, of greater concern to athletic departments should be the growing trend of combining energy drinks and alcohol. Take the not uncommon pattern of student-athletes, dehydrated by the effort of playing a game, gathering after that game to consume alcohol. If the alcohol is mixed with caffeinated energy drinks, the student-athletes are subjected to a double diuretic effect, since alcohol, like caffeine, has diuretic properties. Thus they further compromise hydration.

Moreover, energy drinks’ capacity to mask intoxicated feelings allows increased alcohol consumption, which in turn increases the likelihood that a young drinker will make the kind of choices that have negative, if not disastrous, results. Evidence suggests that energy drink consumption with and without alcohol remains on the increase, so educating student-athletes on all aspects of energy drink consumption needs to become an athletic department priority, to ensure both wellness and safety.


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2015-02-12T11:36:51-06:00October 7th, 2008|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Exercise Science, Sports Management, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on Energy Drinks’ Effects on Student-Athletes and Implications for Athletic Departments

The Professional Bull Riders Tour: Growth and Development of a Niche Sport


The Professional Bull Riders Tour (PBR) presents an opportunity to study a niche sport in transition. After its days as simply a part of the rodeo, the tour has seen tremendous growth as a separate, independent activity. This paper highlights the beginnings of the PBR and its eventual development into one of the highest earning and most watched non-prime-time spectator sports. It also focuses on the development of the marketing behind the PBR and includes an analysis of sponsors and ancillary marketing activities.

The Professional Bull Riders Tour: Growth and Development of a Niche Sport

The Professional Bull Riders Tour (PBR) was formed in 1992, when 20 professional bull riders—previously members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association—each invested $1,000 to form their own incorporated bull riding association. Membership in the PBR now stands at over 1,200 bull riders from four countries (the United States, Canada, Australia, and Brazil) and three continents (North America, South America, and Australia). Before the advent of the PBR, bull riding was one component of the traditional rodeo (the other events were bareback riding, steer wrestling, roping, and barrel racing). Bull riding had long been considered the premier rodeo event. Specifically because of bull riding’s fan appeal, the founders of the PBR bet their $1,000 that the sport could stand on its own as an independent entity outside the rodeo format.

Each year more than 104 million viewers tune in to the PBR on NBC, Versus, FOX, and a host of other networks across the globe (Wheatley, 2006). More than 1.5 million fans annually attend the PBR’s multitiered events, which include the marquee Built Ford Tough Series (presented by Wrangler), the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company Challenger Tour, the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Tour, and the Discovery Tour, which is designed specifically for entry-level competitors (Wheatley, 2006).

In 2006, the 13-year-old PBR conducted events in over 70 cities, offering successful riders a total purse of over $6.2 million. To collect a check, a 150-lb rider must stay on a bull weighing as much as 2,000 lb for a time of 8 seconds. The PBR today is a $46 million business, revenue having grown 150% over the past 5 years. From 2003 to 2005, the tour’s adult fan base soared 48%, to 18 million, far outpacing the growth of NASCAR or any other major sport, according to Scarborough Research (Gregory, 2006).

PBR Demographics and Sponsors

When the PBR’s leadership looks to the future, what they see in terms of growth and sponsorship is, clearly, NASCAR. “If you lay the NASCAR demos [demographics] over our demos, they’re almost identical,” said Randy Bernard, the tour’s CEO. “We look at everything they do. What NASCAR has done, most obviously, is to turn a sport perceived as having only regional appeal into the country’s second-biggest sport on television, now just behind the NFL” (Halpern, 2006). The Bud Light brand is one of the PBR’s sponsors. A typical Bud Light drinker is male, white, 25 to 34 years old, married, with a high school or college diploma, and earns $20,000–$70,000 annually in one of a wide variety of occupations. This demographic profile echoes that of the PBR fan. Official sponsors of the PBR in addition to Bud Light have included the following:

B&W Trailer Hitches
Big Texas Trailer
BowTech Archery
Branson Tractors
Bud Light
Cripple Creek
Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Express Personnel Svcs
Ford Trucks
Jack Daniels
Johnsonville Brats
Mandalay Bay
Mossy Oak
Oberto Beef Jerky
Pennington Seed
Rocky Outdoor Gear
City of Las Vegas
U.S. Army
U.S. Smokeless Tobacco
Wrangler Jeans


Well-paying sponsors are a necessity for many if not most rodeo competitors, but at least one competitor’s spouse has noted that “A cowboy’s wife needs to be a cowboy’s biggest sponsor” (Galayda, 2007).

Marketing the PBR

“A niche sport trying to go mainstream” is how Josh Peter described professional bull riding in his book Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies and Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour (2006). After splitting from the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, the Professional Bull Riders Tour set out to make bull riding the next must-watch sport. The PBR is not alone in trying to move from a niche to the larger sporting world. Organizations with similar aims include World Wrestling Entertainment, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, the Professional Bowlers Association, and the Pro Bass Fishing Tour, to name only a few. All have in common a desire to use the niche markets they occupy to develop and grow their brands. The PBR uses its core demographic—rodeo fans, specifically those interested in bull riding—to pursue this. Its marketing challenge resembles, according to Josh Peter, a political candidate’s task:

In effect, much of the PBR’s sophisticated marketing resembles a political campaign; it needs to make sure to energize its base while at the same time trying to attract new voters without alienating either group. It’s a careful balance. . . . In order to expand without losing its core fans, the PBR provides both the glitz of big market sports and a dedicated attention to heartland values. (Peter, 2006)

Numerous competitive outlets are available to the modern-day cowboy: There are saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping, and barrel racing along with bull riding. But the PBR is a true phenomenon, of which Richard H. Patterson, chairman of the PBR, has said, “This is media in the new age. It’s a large audience that’s very passionate about this content that they can receive in a whole variety of fashions. They can go to events, they can see it on television, online and in print, and that’s what we’re looking for” (Bortstein, 2007).

An hour or two of viewing a PBR event on television’s new Versus network, or perhaps in person, suggests how perfectly the PBR promotes its sponsors’ products to bull riding fans. The rodeo ring is surrounded by sponsor advertising; so are the pens from which the bulls emerge—fronts and backs of the pen gates as well as tops of railings, angles picked up clearly by various overhead cameras. The riders themselves are walking billboards, and in this they resemble tennis professionals of the 1970s. Björn Borg was called the “bouncing billboard” by tennis announcer Bud Collins, remarking on the variety of advertising messages Borg displayed on his clothing. (Eventually, the professional tennis tour would limit the number and size of endorsement patches players could wear on their clothing.) Today’s golfers are not much different, with sponsors’ names on their golf bags, shirts, and caps, and NASCAR racers cover their own and their cars’ bodies with sponsorship messages. Bull riders wear protective vests covered with sponsor names and logos. Their protective chaps and even their cowboy hats are similarly trimmed. The PBR well understands who constitutes its core market and has proven its ability to land sponsors suited to the PBR demographic.

The PBR Magazine, 8 Seconds!

Like many sports, bull riding has a dedicated magazine, published under license with the PBR each November, February, and June by FanCorp Publishing of Costa Mesa, California. Its title is 8 Seconds! reflecting how long the bull rider must ride the bull in order to receive points. The magazine presents a great deal of pictorial content, along with feature articles, PBR event schedules, standings and biographies of the top bull riders, information on top bulls, cowboy apparel guides, and automotive showcases. The magazine has a 3-month shelf life; 20,000 copies are supplied to PBR World Finals events, with an additional 13,000 copies sent to newsstand displays in the United States and Canada. It is distributed at all events of the PBR Built Ford Tough Series in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia. Reader surveys and newsstand polls have indicated that, on average, about 3 people read each copy of 8 Seconds! Thus there are some 99,000 total readers per issue. Moreover, issues of 8 Seconds! remain in a reader’s possession for an average of 3 years.

The magazine sells advertising to 28 official PBR sponsors, 14 of whom maintain full-page ads. Some represent national brands with broad consumer bases, for instance Ford Trucks, Wrangler, Bud Light, and the U.S. Army. Others suggest a fairly rural demographic: Mossy Oak, BowTech Archery, Cabela’s, Cripple Creek, B&W Trailer Hitches, Branson Tractors, Stetson, and Priefert. Sponsors who are not official PBR sponsors can participate in the PBR bonus programs, including the Bud Light Short Go Top Qualifier Award, Cabela’s World’s Foremost Ride, Dickies American Worker of the Year award, Enterprise Rent-A-Car “Ride With The Best” sweepstakes, Ford Super Duty Challenge, Ford Truck Moment of Truth, Mossy Oak Shoot Out, Salem NationaLease Invitational, and Built Ford Tough Battle for the Bull. Each of these programs provides advertisers with further opportunities to present brands to PBR fans.

FanCorp Publishing also delivers over 9,000 copies of the official program to the PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals, held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada. PBR fans use the program during the 5-day competition; an additional 1,000 programs are distributed through direct mail, television, and website sales during the October–November distribution period. Reader surveys indicate that, on average, 4 people read each copy of the program, for a total readership of 40,000.

PBR-Themed Games, Action Figures, and Fantasy League

Ancillary products like PBR-themed games and video games, action figures, and even a fantasy league are serving the PBR’s effort to build its brand. Among games licensed by the PBR are a board game called “8 Second Madness”; a game that is a takeoff on traditional bluffing games, named “Bull Spit”; two dice games, “Bull Craps” and “Bullies”; as well as bull-riding-themed dominoes and PBR checkers that feature 24 bull-shaped markers and 12 bull riders taking the place of the traditional king.

Video Games

What a niche sport needs as much as anything is a representative whom viewers identify with and who boosts the sport by sheer force of personality. The PBR found such a representative in Ty Murray, first in rodeo history to win the world all-around championship and over $1 million in prize money. Murray figures prominently in “Professional Bull Rider,” the PBR-licensed video game introduced by Sierra Sports in 1999, for example joining fellow bull riding great Tuff Hedeman to produce tutorial narration for the video game. The game features 44 top cowboys from around the world (and 20 ranked bulls) and allows each player to “become” a bull rider. Action sequences are startlingly realistic, capturing even the snorts of the bull in the pen. “Professional Bull Rider” includes commentary from the PBR’s television announcer Justin McKee, as well as advertising to target rodeo fans generally and PBR fans specifically. “Professional Bull Rider 2” was introduced in 2000, updating the original version.

Licensed Action Figures

The PBR has licensed a line of action figures that includes not only popular bull riders but the bulls they have ridden. The figures are produced by Sota Toys of Los Angeles. Among the first were Adriano Moraes and the bull called Hotel California; Justin McBride and Mudslinger; and PBR founder Michael Gaffney and Little Yellow Jacket, one of the most popular bulls in the United States today (Wheatley, 2004).

PBR Fantasy League

Fantasy football and baseball leagues and similar offerings have been extremely successful, and now fans of bull riding have joined the fun with PBR Participating “team owners” select favorite riders and even favorite bulls each week, competing in four different games that offer $25,000 in cash prizes.

International Expansion

As the PBR continues to grow, international expansion of the brand will become an essential component of its marketing mix. Today the PBR hosts events in Mexico as well as the United States, an approach to international growth similar to that taken by World Wrestling Entertainment (Shuart & Maresco, 2006). PBR’s television audiences outside the United States have swelled to over 320 million households, quite a change from its initial 1994 telecasts (on the old TNN) to some 80 million homes (Santos, 2000, p. 147). Today PBR fans in Brazil, China, Russia, Norway, Poland, Germany, and France can view PBR broadcasts; in the United States, fans who speak Spanish can watch televised PBR events on Telemundo, the Spanish-language network, as well as on FOX, NBC, and Versus.

The PBR’s international strategy also extends to including bull riders from around the world in PBR competition. To date, international riders of note include 1998 PBR world champion Troy Dunn, of Mackay in New South Wales, Australia, and Bud Light–sponsored Brendon Clark, also from New South Wales (hometown: Morpeth). Among the best known of the international contestants is Adriano Moraes, one of six Brazilian riders on the tour and twice a PBR world champion. The first PBR event in Mexico took place in August 2006 in Chihuahua, where the top 45 riders and bulls competed. (The event had been formally announced in a press conference during the 2005 PBR World Finals in Las Vegas.) Its success required that certain logistical problems be surmounted, not least of which was transporting the bulls across the border, working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Mexican counterpart.

The Chihuahua event marked the start of the PBR’s strategic expansion worldwide. The tour is planning future international events in the home countries of its riders from abroad. The past several months have seen the appointments of several directors of new PBR offices in a number of countries. For example, José Longoria will direct a PBR office in Chihuahua and lead expansion into Mexico, while Troy Dunn has been named the PBR’s director in Australia and Flavio Junquiera has been named the PBR’s director in Brazil. In Canada, former bull rider Austin Beasley has recently been appointed to direct PBR operations there.


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Trends in Collegiate Recreational Sports Facilities


This paper discusses trends in the construction and design of recreational sports facilities. Beginning in 1928, the Intramural Sports Building on the campus of the University of Michigan set the stage as a facility that was dedicated solely to recreational sports. While the number of gymnasia and physical education facilities grew following World War II and into the 1960s, social and cultural influences in the 1970s significantly shaped the landscape for recreational sports on college campuses. In the past 25 years, innovation and demand have driven the size and character of these facilities. Many new and renovated facilities have integrated important campus functions such as academics, health, wellness, and sport. These recreational sports facilities also contain unique features such as climbing walls, rooftop playing fields, food service, counseling centers, convenience stores, and campus police stations.

Trends in Collegiate Recreational Sports Facilities

Ever since Amherst College defeated Williams College in the first intercollegiate baseball game, in 1859, sports facilities on college campuses have been an integral part of the campus landscape (Greenberg, 2004). Ten years later, in 1869, the first intercollegiate football game was played between Rutgers and Princeton universities, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey (U. S. Census Bureau, 2006); 22 years later, in 1891, Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball, at the YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts (Cohn, 1991).

The earliest example of a facility dedicated to recreational sports is the construction of the Intramural Sports Building on the campus of the University of Michigan. The facility was completed in 1928 at a cost of $743,000, the brainchild of Elmer Mitchell, the “father of intramurals.” The original facility contained 13 squash courts and 14 handball courts. Arguably, Mitchell set the tone for the first trend in recreational sports facilities with such features as a moveable wall separating the swimming pool from the gymnastics area. It was Mitchell’s dream that the facility be one “where a thousand students can enter daily to congregate, and to mix their exercise with sociability” (Stevenson, Reznick, & Pitcher, 1978). Little did Mitchell know that his dream would come true, not only on the Michigan campus but on almost every other campus in the United States.

While the number of gymnasia and physical education facilities continued to grow following World War II and into the 1960s, social and cultural influences in the 1970s significantly impacted the landscape for recreational sports on college campuses. With the advent of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, commonly referred to as Title IX, many more women were participating in college recreation and using recreational sports facilities. On many college campuses, furthermore, physical education was no longer a required part of the curriculum. As a result, many physical education facilities were being used for recreation and intramural sports. As the demand grew for recreation, the trend on college campuses was to build centers that were primarily designated for recreation, with little space being given to intercollegiate athletics. The model for operation was similar to that of a business model, where full-time staff trained in recreation management were hired to direct facilities. Under this new model, memberships were sold not only to faculty and staff, but also to the outside community, according to the director of one university recreational sports division (W. Canning, personal communication, March 4, 2008).

Today, growth of recreational sports facilities continues. The average project expenditure to build such a facility is currently $19.4 million, an increase of $5.2 million from 2004. During the next 5 years, it is estimated that 400 indoor and over 300 outdoor recreational facilities will be built or renovated, representing an estimated $4.9 billion investment (Goldman, 2007a). Over the past decade, colleges across the country have spent billions of dollars constructing recreation facilities to maintain their competitiveness in the higher education marketplace. In fact, the 2002 Kerr Downs Research Report found that institutions that were members of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) had invested $11.69 billion from 1995 to 2000 and $7.12 billion since 2000 in new and renovated recreation facilities. This represents 91 million sq ft of indoor space (Turman et al., 2005).

Trend: Renovation of Older Facilities

The 1928 University of Michigan Intramural Sports Building has undergone a significant renovation, as have a number of older facilities on established campuses. In the original facility on the Michigan campus, there were two floors of lockers, each having 1,500 lockers. These days most of the school’s recreation participants change clothes in their residence halls and don’t use locker rooms: In recent times, the highest number of lockers actually rented was 300 men’s and 150 women’s (most locker usage was by runners). The University of Michigan decided to renovate both locker rooms and keep only 400 lockers for men and 200 lockers for women. Today the former locker area is a two-story fitness facility (W. Canning, personal communication, March 4, 2008).

The University of Pennsylvania encountered a dilemma when the institution decided to add new recreational facilities. It had to decide whether to renovate Gimble Gym (built in 1962 and containing three basketball courts, a weight room, a swimming pool, and locker rooms) or to demolish it and start over. The former option was chosen and the result was a $21 million, 102,000 sq ft project known as the David Pottruck Health and Fitness Center. The net result was 67,000 sq ft of new recreation and fitness space as well as a juice bar. An urban location prompted designers of the center to maximize vertical space, employing five levels. The facility’s exterior utilizes German-manufactured terra-cotta, a first in the United States, which has resulted in better insulation and lower maintenance costs (Suttell, 2003).

Recreation Hall at Pennsylvania State University served for decades as the home of many indoor varsity sports programs. Penn State was awarded the grand prize in the 2007 Education Design Showcase Awards for a renovation that transformed the hall into the Recreation Hall Wrestling and Student Fitness Center. The new facility covers 48,000 sq ft and was constructed at a cost of $17 million. It has been cited for its club-like atmosphere and at the same time is a high-caliber competitive wrestling facility (“2007 Education Design Showcase,” 2007, p. E1–E3).

Renovating sports facilities can be a political challenge. When Harvard University proposed renovating Hemenway Gymnasium into a state-of the-art fitness facility, the institution encountered unexpected opposition from the Cambridge Historical Commission. During the design phase the architect, Sasaki and Associates, rendered over 20 renovation schemes and there were four visits by the historical commission before approval was received. The major point of contention was the building’s windows. Sasaki was required to add three windows to the gymnasium’s facade but only after supplying details such as the number of glass panes per window and the size of the window’s mullions (Cohen, 2007a).

Similarly, the University of Texas planned to renovate Gregory Gym, a 1930s-era facility. The plan was to create an interior “street” between the original facility and an addition built in the 1960s. The project was eventually approved, but not until the Texas Historical Commission’s wish for larger entry areas and the replication of the original steel-casement crank windows was granted (Cohen, 2007a).

Trend: Innovations

It appears that eating establishments such as juice bars and cafés within collegiate recreational facilities are a trend that has emerged in recent years. A 1,700-sq-ft bistro and juice bar was incorporated in a $54 million recreation center opened in 2006 on the campus of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). Other features are a spa, two swimming pools, and a 5,000-sq-ft fitness area. The total square footage of the facility is 184,000 (Illia, 2006). Rider University, located in New Jersey, opened its Student Recreation Center in 2005. Similar to UNLV’s facility, the Student Recreation Center building includes a café, and it also features a formal lobby with seating and a flat-screen television wall. There are in addition a fitness center, an elevated running track, a game room, and three multiuse courts. The new facility, which is connected to an older alumni gymnasium, was constructed in two phases and provides 63,000 sq ft of new and updated space. The Student Recreation Center was named a Project of Distinction in the 2007 Education Showcase Awards and cost $10.8 million to build (“2007 Education Design Showcase,” 2007, p. E20).

Another new collegiate recreation facility that includes food service is Fairmont State University’s Student Activities Center. Located in West Virginia, this 145,000-sq-ft facility opened in December 2004 at a cost of $22 million. Food service comprises a student dining hall with a market-style food court that accommodates 600 students. In addition to serving as a recreation center, the facility is the institution’s student union. Included are a conference center, computer labs and classrooms, a convenience store, a photocopy and mail center, the campus bookstore, a student lounge, a coffee shop, and the campus police department. The Student Activities Center is attached to the university’s renovated main arena, which now houses the department of student life (“Architectural Showcase,” 2007, p. 96).

At the University of Connecticut, undergraduate enrollment has soared from 11,365 in 1995 to 16,347 today, consigning students in search of recreation to an overcrowded gymnasium built in 1951. Yet it appears that anticipated new recreational facilities for students are falling victim to other campus needs. For instance, while the $2.3 billion UConn 2000 construction program set aside $31 million for “intramural, recreational and intercollegiate facilities” (Goldman, 2007b, p. 18), the university spent that money toward the $48 million Burton Family Football Complex and the Shenkman Training Center. The university’s president said that, while he supported the proposed recreational facility, his priorities were academics and the hiring of nearly 200 more faculty members. If and when the recreation facility is built, plans call for it to include not only basketball courts and cardiovascular training facilities but a juice bar, bowling alley, and aquatic center with a kayak wave pool and water slides (Goldman, 2007).

Trend: Climbing Walls

Climbing walls are a popular trend in recreational sport facilities today. Increasingly at universities there are climbing clubs, competitive intercollegiate climbing leagues, and elective classes that incorporate the sport of rock climbing (“Universities: The Changing Look,” 2008). At the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) last year a $12 million, 52,280-sq-ft facility was opened, built with funds from student fees. In addition to the unique offering of a pottery studio, the UCSB facility includes a 15-ft climbing wall (Cohen, 2007b, p. 61). In Michigan, Alma College’s Stone Recreation Center has a 30-ft tall, 600-sq-ft climbing wall where, for an annual fee of $10, students and members of the facility may train and, once certified, may climb whenever the wall is open. The wall features 10 belay stations and lead climbing routes. The Alma College Climbing Club conducts children’s climbing classes as a way to raise money for the club (“Climbing Wall and Club,” n.d.). In 2006 Hamilton College, in New York, opened its climbing wall at the Charlene and Wayland Blood Fitness Center. Hamilton’s wall is 3,000 sq ft and offers top rope and lead climbing, as well as a bouldering area. The wall is open to students and community members; children 8 and older are allowed to climb (“Climbing Wall,” n.d.).

Oberlin College in Ohio dedicated a climbing wall and bouldering cave in 2003, housed in Phillips Physical Education Center. The wall—a pillar with four sides—is 25 ft tall and has seven anchors for top roping. On the steepest side are quick-draws for two or more lead climbing routes. The wall is described as having “over 1,000 holds of all shapes and sizes” with routes “set often to challenge both rookies and experienced climbers alike” (“Climbing Wall,” n.d., ¶4). Oberlin College students are not charged to use the wall; other climbers pay $10 per year, the funds used to purchase replacement ropes, climbing shoes, harnesses, holds, and other gear (“Climbing Wall,” n.d., ¶8).

The $25.5 million RecPlex at the University of Dayton was named a Project of Distinction in the 2007 Educational Showcase Awards (“2007 Education Design Showcase,” 2007, p. E25). The facility includes 130,000 sq ft and is being paid for through a student fee, approved in a fee referendum. The RecPlex replaced a 30-year-old recreational facility that comprised only 5,000 sq ft. It contains a suspended running track, climbing wall, lounge and juice bar, classrooms, and outdoor sand-volleyball area (“2007 Education Design Showcase,” 2007, p. E25).

Trend: Rooftop Facilities

Another trend in collegiate recreational facilities is the placement of playing fields on top of structures. In 1981, Brown University in Rhode Island built the first rooftop field found on a college campus. Named Warner Roof, the site was designed as a field hockey pitch atop Olney Athletic Center. More recently the University of California, Berkeley developed Underhill Field on top of a four-story, seismically safe parking garage at the center of the campus. Underhill Field has an infill turf system, and 25-ft nets and a chain link fence enclose the perimeter. Also included are spectator areas, restrooms, equipment storage rooms, and a sidewalk plaza (Cohen, 2007a). Rhode Island’s Providence College constructed a field that is partially on grade and partially below grade. The facility, which primarily houses the college’s lacrosse and field hockey programs, has won engineering awards for overcoming the drainage challenges that occurred in matching the two elevations. In Canada, the University of Alberta renovated a 20-year-old playing field placing 80% of the turf on the roof of a parking structure, the remaining 20% on grade. The old field had featured a glued-down carpet, which eventually wrinkled and presented problems as the building settled. The new surface is a sand-filled, loose-laid turf installed over a premanufactured pad (Cohen, 2007a).

Trend: Integrating Academics and Sport

There is also a trend to combine in single facilities both academics and sport; the combination has been both theoretical and pragmatic. At Haverford College in Pennsylvania, for example, President Thomas Tritton envisioned integrating athletics with the arts. The facility proposed to house the integrative program became one of the first recreational buildings to meet standards of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The multipurpose facility has space for the college’s programs in squash, basketball, martial arts, and dance. In addition, it includes displays of athletics-related paintings by students (Ezarik, 2006). Kenyon College in Ohio recently completed a $60 million facility covering 265,000 sq ft. Both varsity athletic teams and recreational participants use the facility. While the building is equipped with a 50-m swimming pool, weight room, field house, and racquet courts, a theater, film library, and study lounges were also part of its design (“Architectural Showcase,” 2007, p. 55).

The Ohio State University Recreation and Physical Activity Center, opened in 2007, consists of 568,380 sq ft and cost $117.6 million. The facility is funded by a combination of state funds and student fees. Because of the immensity of the project, it was designed to look like several smaller structures so that it would fit the scale of surrounding campus structures. The facility has numerous gymnasia, two swimming pools, racquet courts, and a fitness area. Serving the University’s student, faculty, and staff population of over 75,000, the facility contains some unique features such as a child care room, wellness center, juice bar, game room, and café (“Architectural Showcase,” 2007, p. 58).

Trend: Integrating Health and Wellness

Another trend—evidenced, for example, at the Joseph E. Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center on the campus of the University of California, Merced—is to combine sport and health care. The facility is located between the academic core of the campus and the residential area. On the second floor of the facility, the H. Rajender Reddy Student Health Center can be found. The health center’s philosophy is that “wellness encompasses an individual’s social, physical, emotional, career, intellectual, environmental, and spiritual health” (Student Health Services, 2008). Its serves as the physical “home” of wellness and works with other campus departments and faculty to offer a range of wellness activities, from peer health counseling for students, to nutrition programs, to massage therapy, to whitewater rafting excursions (Student Health Services, 2008). Butler University, in Indiana, also integrates sport with the concept of wellness. Its Health and Recreation Complex, which opened in September 2006, cost $14.5 million and contains 83,000 sq ft of space. In a unique fashion, both student health services and counseling services are housed in the facility. Another unique feature is a multipurpose room adjoining the swimming pool and having a synthetic floor, to allow for a wet classroom or a party room (“Architectural Showcase,” 2007, p. 70).

Long Island University in New York opened its Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center in February 2008. This facility uses rooftop space to provide two all-weather tennis courts and a running track. The 100,000-sq-ft facility, which cost $28 million, has a number of other unique features. Among them are a 15,000-sq-ft wellness center integrated with the university’s health science program. The wellness center includes rehabilitation areas for treatment of asthma, cardiorespiratory conditions, and sickle-cell anemia, along with a hydrotherapy pool. All of these play a role in the institution’s teaching practicum with a major New York City hospital (“Architectural Showcase,” 2007, p. 132). Cleveland State University’s Recreation Center, opened in August 2006, cost slightly more, at $29.8 million, than did the Long Island University facility. It consists of 130,000 sq ft of space. In the design of the facility, the institution sought to achieve LEED certification. As a result, a number of unique features were included, such as storm water management to reduce runoff, use of native plant materials, and waterless urinals and other water-saving devices. Specifications for construction of the facility also included locally manufactured materials with recycled content (“Architectural Showcase,” 2007, p. 79).


Many changes have influenced college recreational facilities over the past few decades. Changes in demographics, curriculum, and cultural attitudes towards fitness have significantly affected recreational sports facilities. For example, on college campuses today, almost 60% of students are female (Marklein, 2005). This factor has significantly impacted recreational programming, facility design, and facility renovation. No longer are there weight rooms; rather, there are fitness areas with an emphasis on cardio equipment and a limited amount of free weights. Also, there are fewer traditional gyms providing little except courts used primarily for basketball. Large spaces are now dedicated to wide-open social areas that are used for general fitness. For example, in the University of Texas recreation center, a three-story atrium was built with “spines” filled with cardio equipment geared for females (W. Canning, personal communication, March 4, 2008). Because the college population has become increasingly female, collegiate recreational facilities will increasingly cater to the programming needs of women.

As described earlier, Pennsylvania State University was recognized for establishing a club-like atmosphere. This is just one expectation of today’s students. Students also expect that technology will be a part of their fitness experience on the college campus, just like the fitness experience that they might enjoy at health clubs. For instance, many institutions make available (across their full line of cardio equipment) customized entertainment options, such as personal viewing screens for treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals (“Take Your School’s Fitness Center,” 2006).

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification is a trend that will continue, given the popularity of “green” building. Institutions are discovering the cost benefit of environmentally friendly features: how such features can be attractive, help the environment, and save money as well.

It appears that wellness is a strong trend, with a number of new facilities incorporating health services and counseling services, as well as rehabilitation services. The comprehensive offerings of traditional student unions, such as food service, post offices, and convenience stores, also have begun to be regular features of campus recreational facilities.

It is also evident that institutions are strongly considering renovation of existing facilities, especially in urban areas where property is at a premium. Efficiently using space by, for instance, placing playing areas on rooftops is a trend that this author expects will continue. In addition, funding of recreational facilities will continue to be supported by student fees. At private institutions, student fees have been an integral part of funding facilities for many years; today, even state institutions have begun to assess student fees for recreational and fitness facilities.


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