The Rivalry Course

In the classroom

The Rivalry Course, formally titled ‘Rivalry & Ritual in International Sports,’ was developed in 2013 and first offered to undergraduates at Northern Kentucky University in the fall of 2014. The course uses the socially prominent context of sports across the globe to examine cultural development, identity, influence and conflict within and across persons and geographic boundaries.

Why is sports rivalry a university course?

The social dynamics of intergroup relations are foundational to many disciplines, including political science, anthropology, sociology, business, and history. Why is our society so politically polarized? Why does discrimination persist despite historical and contemporary mitigation efforts? Why are consumers in certain product categories so brand loyal? Why are certain sports competitions so intense?

By studying the social psychology of rivalry, we can better understand and address these questions with actionable insights aimed at facilitating outcomes for the common good. Sports as a context provides an engaging international platform to learn about intergroup dynamics and their influence on consumers’ identity and associated purchase behaviors, biases, and social relationships.

What is the course content?

In the Rivalry Course, we take a virtual journey around the world to study how famous—and sometimes infamous—rivalries initiated in various regions and across diverse sports, such as…

  • The Ashes rivalry in international test cricket and the effects of colonialism in the exportation of sport (and popular culture) globally.
  • The influences of world wars shape our understanding of sporting rivalries in the Far East between China, Japan, and Korea, and in Western Europe between Germany and the Netherlands.
  • Domestic politics shapes our interpretations of El Clasico, the Springboks, and Montreal versus Toronto in multiple sports.
  • Various rivalries from the United States, such as Red Sox versus Yankees, Celtics versus Lakers, and Michigan versus Ohio State, provide a basis for contrast and comparison.

To conclude the course, students engage in a rivalries comparison project that challenges them to compare two rivalries from different global regions in a short video production. Here is a playlist of some of their products: YouTube playlist

What do the students say about the Rivalry Course?

In 2016, NKU Magazine named the course as “Coolest Class,” featuring it in their fall edition. In 2018, the course was certified within the university’s Foundation of Knowledge, which acts as the General Education platform for Northern Kentucky University. The popularity of the class is evident by the high demand—multiple section offerings frequently fill within 24-hours of registration availability—but the students’ comments provide the best illustrations of course experiences:


Can I participate in the Rivalry Course?

If you are a student at NKU and you are quick to register when courses become available, you have the best opportunity to experience full emersion in the Rivalry Course. However, you can still experience components of the course through guest discussions that Drs. Cobbs and Tyler frequently deliver to universities and other organizations. A sampling of their visits includes:

  • University of Massachusetts
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Windsor (Canada)
  • Technische Universität Dortmund (Germany)
  • Deakin University (Australia)
  • Global Institute of Sports Business (India)
  • FC Cincinnati (MLS)
  • Notre Dame Intercollegiate Athletics

On-site or virtually, our co-founders lead discussion of the foundations of the Rivalry Course and their applications to context relevant to the host audiences. Please visit our Let’s Talk section to make an inquiry of this possibility for your organization.