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Ole Miss marketing prof takes a look at why people do the dangerous things they do

Go ahead and jump

Who engages in risky sports? Thrill seekers? Young people? Extroverts?

It depends, said Dr. Greg Rose, a marketing professor at the University of Mississippi.

“Risky sports is an area that’s been steadily growing,” he said. “As our society gets safer, people tend to take more risks. As more importance is placed on making vehicles safer, people tend to choose sports that are more dangerous. There’s a certain level of stimulation that society seeks.”

Rose, who recently studied the marketing of risky sports, such as skydiving, said research found certain characteristics that accounted for most participation in risky sports.

“Individual characteristics, like sensation-seekers, are the same characteristics that are related to other risky activities, such as drug use, promiscuous sexual relations or other things,” he said. “Obviously, risky sports is a much more acceptable solution, depending on how you look at it and what your reference points are.”

Research determined that most participants were in their 20s, were more often single than married, non-parents rather than parents, he said.

“We also looked at values,” Rose said. “People place a value on excitement. On the other side, people that tend to value a sense of belonging seem to be more home-oriented and get a lot of meaning out of interpersonal relationships they deem important, mostly within the home context. If you have a high sense of belonging, you have a tendency not to engage in risky sports.”

Group motives were also influential factors, he said.

“A lot of people are attracted to risky sports because their friends are,” he said. “It’s not necessarily peer pressure. Their friends are going and they go along. Even a sport like skydiving, which you might think is an individual sport, is a group sport. Many times, a skydiver gets to know the people around them; they become part of that person’s social circle.”

Companies that market risky sports usually aim for young people, he said.

“People almost view risky sports as a symbol of virility or excitement,” he said.

What about people who try sports that have a small amount of risk?

“My guess is they may acquire a taste for it and later on, try something with more risk,” he said. “Really, really risky sports are the next step. An interesting finding was risk concentration. Over time, people are drawn to a higher and higher level of risk.”

The riskiest? BASE (bridge, antennae, span, earth) jumping, where divers jump off a platform, antenna, tower or bridge – with a parachute. Before the collapse of WLBT-TV Channel 3’s tower in Raymond, a BASE jumper who had trespassed on the property, was killed when his parachute failed to fully open after he jumped from the tower.

“In BASE jumping, you’re not jumping from high enough to pull a parachute out of a backpack,” he said. “Instead, you hold a drag ‘chute that is attached to a bigger ‘chute. When you toss it up the drag ‘chute, the bigger ‘chute deploys. If the parachute doesn’t open, there’s not enough time before you hit the ground to open a second one.”

Flying ultra light planes, fashioned from fabric and aluminum tubing, is another risky sport. Over time, the fabric may wear thin, stitches may pull out, the frame may collapse and oftentimes, it’s so light that if it catches a big enough gust of wind, the plane will flip over into an uncontrollable situation, he said.

“We looked into why people continue to practice these sports and one of the reasons was to be efficient at something,” he said. “As you get better at something, you want to push yourself a little more. Then there’s a class of people that always want more risk and they move to the next level. Also, there’s a perception people have of risky sports as a thrilling adventure. It gives them a perceived high social standing and becomes part of their identity. They think they’re cool.”

The romanticizing of rebels in society is another consideration, he said.

“People value being rebellious in our society and companies use risky sports to attract individual, rebellious people – almost like using risky sports as a banner,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.


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