Does Online Media Put Beauty Before Performance? The Impact of Physical Attractiveness on the Popularity of Female Tennis Players in Online Media

Stephanie Kiefer and Katrin Scharfenkamp

Discussions about the impact of physical attractiveness on the popularity of competitive athletes have received much attention from scholars and the worldwide media. We provide new insights into this debate, and draw managerial implications by estimating OLS and Tobit regressions to test whether and to what extent the physical attractiveness of professional female tennis players affects (changes in) their popularity in online media. Based on a sample of the top 100 Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) single ranking of one selected calendar week in 2011 and 2012, we find that physical attractiveness significantly increases the popularity on Facebook, SI.com, and Google, as well as the change in online popularity for Facebook and WTA news. Nevertheless, a tennis player’s performance has a larger effect on online popularity than physical attractiveness.

JEL Codes: C12, J71, L83, M31, O50, Z22, Z29

Open Access