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Business or cause? Gendered Institutional Logic in Women’s Professional Soccer

Despite women’s increased participation in sport, women’s team sport leagues have yet to find a lasting toehold at the professional level. Using ethnographic data collected with U.S. women’s professional soccer in 2011-2012, I situate the work of selling women’s soccer in the complex institutional environment of contemporary women’s sports organizations. League owners and employees were dually influenced by the hypercommercialized model of success presented by men’s professional sports and an institutionalized, depoliticized feminist model of sport promoting empowerment and role modeling for girls and women. As a result, “business” and “cause” institutional logics presented different organizational goals. These logics contained divergent assumptions about the extent of gender (in)equality facing women’s professional sports. They were also understood somewhat differently along gender lines, with men perceiving empowerment and profit to be compatible goals more often than women. Implications for the viability of women’s professional sports leagues are discussed.