Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Karen Danylchuk


The purpose of this dissertation was to explore the digital self-presentation of professional athletes. Central to this purpose was the application of Goffman’s (1959) self-presentation theory to the social media landscape in order to further our understanding of online athlete behavior through a theoretical lens.

Study 1 established how professional athletes are presenting themselves on Twitter through the identification of ten focused self-presentation strategies and explored differences in athlete strategy based upon gender. Content analyses compared male and female athlete tweets relayed by all professional tennis players with a verified Twitter account. The analysis suggested that while athlete image construction was largely similar between genders, male athletes spent more time in the role of sport fan while female athletes spent more time in the role of brand manager.

Study 2 built upon the framework for athlete self-presentation established in Study 1 by asking sport consumers to identify their level of interest in each self-presentation strategy. A self-administered online survey was created to measure audience interest and sent to a snowball sample of golf consumers (N = 377). The most salient strategy reported was the sport insider. The study suggested that fans may not be as interested in the personal details of an athlete’s life outside of sport as previously suggested. A disconnect between the self-presentation strategies being employed by athletes on Twitter and the strategies sport consumers reported being most interested in was also identified.

Study 3 investigated how professional athletes present themselves in their Twitter profile picture and included an interpretation of this photographic self-presentation by a Generation Y audience (N = 141). Participants assessed a sample of profile photos of the most followed male and female athletes on Twitter by providing their first impressions of each athlete’s image and then evaluating photo favorability and effectiveness. This research provided evidence to suggest that individuals invest meaning in the social cues provided in athlete profile pictures. Athletes who highlighted a sport context were consistently ranked most favorably and effectively and were associated with positive word associations. The findings underscore the importance of a strategic alignment between social media profile content, profile photos, and the brand established by athletes.