Abstract: The purpose of this study was to examine the level of sponsorship awareness of season ticket holders and the change in the awareness over the duration of one American collegiate football season through a sponsorship recall survey. The results showed that there were increases in the recall rates for eight of the nine actual sponsor companies used in the study from the beginning to the end of the season; however, only three of these differences were statistically significant.
Keywords: sponsorship, recall methodology, collegiate football
Many researchers involved in measuring sports event sponsorship have suggested that measuring levels of spectator awareness of sponsor company identities should involve more analysis of the extended effects of sponsorship. However, the literature is overwhelmingly filled with studies of awareness levels at single (individual) events, while only a few studies are found that have measured awareness levels over a specific duration of time. In addition, stakeholder-based evaluation models have been suggested as a theoretical framework for this analysis in sponsorship. Therefore, it was the purpose of this study to examine the level of sponsorship awareness of season ticket holders and the change in the awareness over the duration of one American collegiate football season through a sponsorship recall survey. Specifically, the research questions that guided this study were: As high-interest stakeholders, do season ticket holder spectators know who are the corporate sponsors of their athletic program? Will lengthen ed exposure to corporate sponsors increase the spectator's knowledge of the corporate sponsors? And, are season ticket holder spectators more willing to support the sponsors?
A sponsorship recall instrument was developed based on instruments in previous literature (Pitts, 1998; Singh and Rothschild, 1983). The survey instrument featured three main stadium sponsor categories as well as six company categories that advertised in surrounding areas. Also, three "dummy" categories were included to assess potential confusion between official sponsors and ambush companies. Subjects were asked to assess whether or not they noticed sponsor signs in or around the stadium (yes or no), and, if yes, fill in the blank for each category they believed to have a sponsor. Also measured were various demographic items, and items related to history with the athletic program and involvement levels.
The findings of this study reveal some potential concerns for sponsors. These spectators did not have a high rate of awareness, awareness increased only slightly over the duration of the event (four months), and the majority were not willing to support the sponsors. The results showed that there were increases in the recall rates for eight of the nine actual sponsor companies used in the study from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. However, those recall rates for the nine sponsors ranged from zero to 81 per cent in the early season survey and zero to 88.6 per cent in the post-season survey. The results of the Z test for significant differences revealed that only three of nine Z tests were significant for the change between early-and post-season tests.
The results of this study raise questions about the typical purposes of sponsorship. It has been noted in previous sponsorship literature that too much sponsorship advertising is creating an over-exposure effect. That is, there is so much sponsorship advertising and it has been a part of the sports event and venue for so long that spectators do not even notice it any more. Moreover, there is a growing concern over "clutter" - there is so much sponsorship advertising at any given event that one's brain cannot discern between advertisers. In the current study, these factors could have had an effect. Indeed, in recent years, sponsoring companies are moving toward exclusive and title sponsorship contracts as a means of combating these effects.
The results of the current study have implications in relation to the current state of research involving sport sponsorship recognition and recall examination. It raises questions concerning theories and research into spectator involvement levels in relation to sport sponsorship. There has been only minimal research in sport sponsorship utilizing involvement theories. As a result of the findings of the current study, we believe that there is a need for attention to and increased research using these theories in sport sponsorship.
Sponsorships can take many forms. The level at which companies choose to sponsor events, such as sporting events, may range from simple and low involvement to an elaborate and expensive level of involvement. Signage at a single sporting event, tickets printed with a company logo, or logos on team athletic uniforms are but a few examples of the sponsorship opportunities available to corporations who wish to spread the message about their company or product. Print-based messages can include the use of a company name, logo, slogan, product name, or a combination of these on signage, t-shirts and promotional merchandise that may be displayed at events.
The number of sponsorship opportunities available today is increasing at a tremendous rate. More events, more teams, more endorsements by individual players all add up to a billion dollar industry. Coupled with that is the fact that sport management professionals at every level in all segments of the sport industry are facing serious financial dilemmas. Public funding has been cut, attendance at events may be down, and player and operation costs are rising. These force sport management professionals to seek additional sources of revenue just to stay in business. One such additional funding source has been sponsorship dollars from private corporations and businesses that want to increase their image and/or their market share with particular target markets. Sponsorship is seen as a relatively cost-effective and inexpensive way to advertise compared to other mediums (Marshall and Cook, 1992; McCook, Turco and Riley, 1997). In the United States, corporate expenditures on sport sponsorship increased from $3.7 bill ion dollars in 1994 (Pitts and Stotlar, 1996) to $5.09 billion dollars in 1999 (Sports Business Journal, 1999).
Because of this large investment in sport and the significant growth of this portion of the sport industry, companies have a need for some type of evaluation or study to determine if their money is "worth" it. Komoroski and Biemond (1996) argue that developing an evaluation system is needed to provide sponsoring companies with tangible proof of their investment that they can then use to justify and continue their sponsorship deals. Sponsoring companies are requiring more tangible benefits for their investments. Currently, many companies justify their sport and non-sport sponsorship spending only because they think that sponsorship deals will increase their product and brand awareness and consumer loyalty and may potentially affect their company's market share, but they may not truly know if those effects are really occurring (Pitts, 1998).
There are many methods for measuring sponsorship effectiveness, such as examining its possible effects on purchasing behavior, examining attitudes of spectators or attendees toward the sponsoring companies, effects of ambush marketing, and to examine if attendees desire to see more sponsorship at their events (Irwin and Asimakopoulos, 1992; Pitts, 1998). Other areas of research have included the connection between sports teams and their sponsors in the eyes of the consumer, benefits of hospitality areas at events, and whether any of that actually translates into more sales of the product or for the company (Spanberg, 1999). Determining the exact extent of achievement of sponsorship goals is difficult indeed. In the past, a simple return on investment figure was determined as the sole evidence of effectiveness (Spanberg, 1999). Yet, today, "many questions still remain about how sponsorship works and its overall contribution to revenue or profit" (Hoek, Gendall and Theed, 1999, p.329).
The rapid development of sport sponsorship deals has risen out of the continuing sophistication of systems for evaluating sport sponsorship proposals and deals by sponsoring companies. Many companies have now begun to specify certain objectives that they wish to obtain from their sponsorships and follow these when reviewing potential sponsorship deals. These objectives can include: increase public awareness of their company; alter public perception; identify the company with certain market segments; establish an image of goodwill or give "back" to the people; generate media benefits; achieve sales objectives or returns on financial investments; establish exclusivity over competition; product positioning; gain tie-ins with current advertising campaigns; raise employee morale; and gain hospitality opportunities (Brown, 2000; Copeland, 1991; Copeland, Frisby and McCarville, 1996; Ensor, 1987; Irwin and Asimakopoulos, 1992; Irwin and Sutton, 1994; Komoroski and Biemond, 1996; Kuzma, Shanklin and McCally, 1993; McCook, Turco and Riley, 1997; Stotlar and Kadlecek, 1993). Often, the overall goal is to encourage the consumer to get from Point A -- awareness of a product -- along the path to Point B -- product purchase. Researchers have indicated a shift to more business-oriented outcomes such as increasing sales and communication with target markets (Irwin and Sutton, 1994; Morris and Irwin, 1996). Increasing sales or product positioning in a target market are often the most popular sponsorship objectives (Meenaghan, 1983; Mullin, 1983). Knowing the objectives of the sponsoring company is essential to later successfully determining the sponsorship evaluation methods (McCarville and Copeland, 1994).
"The issue of evaluation represents perhaps the greatest single weakness in the …