New Professor Excited to Bring Passions for Sports, Gaming, and Branding to Charger Nation
For Bo Yu, Ph.D., the power of sports and athletes to make an impact on fans’ lives is something he knows well – both through his research exploring online communities and how they enable athletes to connect with fans, as well as his own personal experience.
September 20, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Bo Yu, Ph.D., is passionate about sports, and he is particularly interested in sport marketing and branding. He is interested in how the careers and personalities of athletes can have a meaningful impact on fans – something he knows firsthand.
A tennis fan, Dr. Yu played the sport as a student at Beijing Jiaotong University. It was his favorite athlete, tennis star Li Na, who was even more impactful in his life, inspiring him to enter the arena of sport management.
When Li retired in 2014 after a career high Women’s Tennis Association ranking of No. 2 in the world, Dr. Yu was at a turning point in his own career. While interning as a sports editor, he wondered about his own future, and he says Li’s retirement inspired him to switch his career path and to move to the United States to pursue it.
“I was deeply inspired by her ‘rebel’ personality, tough performance, and her humor on the court,” explains Dr. Yu. “I chose to switch from being an English major to focusing on a sport management career, and I came to the other side of the earth to pursue my own sports dreams as well as explore a different culture. My personal story indicates that athletes like Li Na who are role models may have a positive influence on their fans. This power from athletes as role models is what fascinates me most in the sports industry and academics.”
After coming to the U.S., Dr. Yu went on to earn a master’s degree in physical education from the University of New Mexico. He also earned his doctorate in kinesiology from Texas A&M University, which enabled him to dive deeper into how athletes brand themselves and resonate with their fans. Earning his Ph.D. and the research he conducted as part of it connected with him in a variety of ways.
“A fun fact about my name ‘Bo’ is that it actually means the doctoral degree in Chinese,” he said. “So, I always joke with people and ask them to call me ‘Dr. Dr.’”
‘Athletes as influencers on Twitch’
As part of his dissertation, Dr. Yu conducted a series of studies as he explored how esports and new media can provide athletes with alternative personal-branding opportunities. Since the pandemic meant a timeout for professional sports, athletes sought new media and opportunities to virtually build their brands and to connect with fans – including Twitch. It wasn’t just esports athletes who used the platform – “traditional” athletes such as NBA star Devin Booker and professional football player JuJu Smith-Schuster – have embraced Twitch as a way to share their stories with fans.
Dr. Yu observed a dozen Twitch channels created by professional athletes, exploring online cultures and communities. He found that the platform’s features, such as its live streaming function, community engagement, and exclusive gaming content, had a major impact on the athletes’ behaviors and ability to develop positive personal brands.
“Twitch allowed athletes to construct their existing identities as sportspersons and celebrities, as well as build new identities such as gamers, streamers, and ‘Average Joes,’” explains Dr. Yu. “Twitch has even helped retired athletes cope with their career transitions, as it provides them a channel to connect with sports fans and gain new fans after stepping away from sports.”
Twitch, explains Dr. Yu, enabled athletes to embrace the role of “performer” as they gained greater control over how they presented themselves. The platform enabled them to customize their content and control how they told their personal stories, as well as how their fans would perceive them. He also used techniques such as data mining to explore fans’ perceptions of athletes on Twitch.
“The majority of comments on Twitch showed positive attitudes towards the athletes’ performances,” he said. “This again indicated that most Twitch fans, who are mostly Gen-Z consumers, hold more favorable attitudes toward the athletes in this study. My findings suggest that athletes as influencers on Twitch gained their source of credibility from their expertise in traditional sports.”
‘A strong team brand’
Transitioning his focus from sports such as tennis to esports was natural for Dr. Yu, a passionate gamer who enjoys playing League of Legends and Fortnite with friends. His preferred game is Dota 2, a multiplayer online battle arena game that plays to Dr. Yu’s skills, both at the controls and in real life.
“According to Bartle’s taxonomy of player types, I am a ‘socializer’ who values interaction and collaboration with other players,” he explains. “Dota 2 is a team game that requires very good communication among players and some teamwork. I also appreciate the aesthetic pleasure of watching this game because it has one of the largest international tournaments, which are run in similar business models to traditional sports.”
Dr. Yu’s primary research focuses on fan interaction with athlete brands, especially in the digital environment, such as esports and new media. As a new sport management lecturer at the University, Dr. Yu is excited to work with esports students and to share his passion with them.
“I look forward to working with our own esports team at the University, and to using my own branding expertise to help them identify the positive brand attributes of Chargers esports that contribute to a strong team brand,” he said. “I also would like to help individual players, from both collegiate esports and sports, build their own personal brands using digital media and find financial opportunities in the age of name, image, and likeness (NIL).”
‘The genuine joy of education’
After living in the southern U.S. for the past seven years, Dr. Yu is excited to embrace all that Connecticut, his new home state, has to offer. He is especially looking forward to experiencing cold weather and snow again. He is also charged up to connect with his students, to inspire them, and to help them succeed in their own careers.
“During my campus visit, I was very touched by the professionalism of the students I interacted with,” said Dr. Yu. “Many Chargers are determined and have specific plans to pursue their own careers. Therefore, I look forward to working with them and helping our students with their personal development. I value my own positive influence on students’ growth and success, which I consider the genuine joy of education.”