Tries and Conversions: Are Sports Sponsors Pursuing the Right Objectives?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Sports sponsorship is perceived as important in developing relationships with key clients. However, few companies set relationship marketing objectives when sponsoring sports. This paper aims to examine whether sports sponsors are pursuing the right objectives. It concludes that a deeper understanding of the sponsor's relationship marketing objectives could heighten the sponsor's success, thereby reinforcing and sustaining their own relationship with the sponsoring organisation.

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Executive summary

Since Rugby Union Football in the UK was professionalised in 1995, clubs have increasingly turned to sponsorship as a means of generating revenue. Yet sustaining this source of revenue is only likely to be achieved if clubs can continue to provide a vehicle that enables the sponsoring organisation to meet its objectives. Undoubtedly, sponsoring can bring benefits to a sponsor, yet these benefits may be in areas unstated by the sponsor as a key objective. With better understanding of what the sponsoring organisation actually wanted to achieve and what benefits were actually accrued, clubs might be able to offer better evidence of cost-effective returns for the sponsor and thus aid the sustainability of sponsorship revenues. For many organisations, sports sponsorship is a key element of an integrated marketing communications strategy. In theory, if not always in practice, the achievement of an organisation's marketing communications objectives should help an organisation to achieve its corporate objectives. However, the decision to sponsor a sporting event, and therefore to set and evaluate the objectives that such an undertaking should achieve, is not always within the functional domain of marketing.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that while stating broad corporate aims of "enhancing corporate image", in practice many organisations use sports sponsorship to entertain key clients. Although corporate entertainment is often stated as meeting a corporate objective, it could also be seen as meeting a marketing objective, built into a strategy for developing meaningful relationships with corporate clients. Since sports sponsorship is perceived as so important in developing client relationships, yet few companies set relationship marketing objectives when sponsoring sports, the aim of this paper is to examine whether sports sponsors are pursuing the right objectives.

A review of the evidence gathered from a range of prior studies was undertaken. This was enhanced with an empirical investigation into the stated objectives of sponsors of a Welsh Rugby Football Club (RFC). A Mintel report (2000) into sports sponsorship found that Welsh respondents had the greatest interest in rugby (34.5%) and it is the nation's most popular sport. The club chosen for this study is one of the biggest players in the Welsh rugby sponsorship market; it also has the largest capacity for corporate hospitality. The sponsors who participated in the study ranged across Welsh SMEs in manufacturing and service industries, UK retailers, an international sports clothing manufacturer and an American IT company. These sponsors are involved in sponsorship activities that span local clubs and local events, UK sports stadia, UK Premiership football clubs and international sporting events. Respondents were asked to rank, in order of importance, their reasons for sponsoring the RFC. The study found that while sports sponsorship is perceived as playing a key role in developing client relationships, few sponsors had set relationship marketing objectives for their sponsoring activities.

The results of this research have implications for the sports sponsorship industry and Rugby Union alike. There is a need for RFCs to develop a deeper understanding of their sponsors' real objectives. RFCs should clearly demonstrate how their sponsorship opportunities can assist sponsors in building meaningful and sustainable relationships with their own customers. …