The Soccer Club-Sponsor Relationship: Identifying the Critical Variables for Success

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study examines professional soccer sponsorship as a business-to-business relationship and explores key dimensions of sponsorship success in the context of the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga. The findings suggest that commitment, satisfaction and cooperation positively influence the success of sponsorships; trust and effective communication do not emerge as significant variables. The implications for soccer clubs and sponsors are discussed and avenues for further research are suggested.

Keywords

relationship marketing

sponsorship

relationship success

soccer

football

Executive summary

Professional soccer is an important and distinct business sector of many economies around the world. For example, the European football market was estimated to be worth around [euro]11 billion in 2004 (Deloitte, 2005). Sponsorship is not only a major component of this business but also an important income stream for professional soccer clubs and a serious marketing tool for sponsors. Sponsorship income accounts for between 14% and 31% of total turnover of professional soccer clubs in Europe's 'big five' leagues--England, Italy, Germany, Spain and France (Deloitte, 2005). As with any business-to-business (b2b) relationship, the soccer club-sponsor dyadic partnership is a complex web of interacting variables. However, the success of this relationship is critical in order that the objectives of both parties be realised. In spite of this, there is limited academic research exploring the relationship between a club and sponsor. This paper examines key relational constructs between sponsors and soccer clubs in two of the most business-like soccer leagues in the world, the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga. From a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods, findings suggest that commitment to the relationship, cooperation, and satisfaction in the relationship are key components for successful sponsorships. Surprisingly, however, trust and effective communication do not emerge as significant variables. Implications for both soccer clubs and sponsors are suggested. Finally, the paper addresses the limitations of the study and directions for further research.

Introduction

The commercial activities of the various professional soccer (football) leagues around the world, and especially in Europe, generate tens of billions of euros a year (Deloitte, 2005). A sizable portion of this revenue comes through sponsorship agreements. However, sponsorship in the context of professional soccer is many different things nowadays. It is a key market of the soccer business, an important income stream for professional clubs, a serious marketing tool for companies, and an inter-organisational relationship between sponsor and sponsee. Little research has been conducted into the relational aspects of sponsorship in the context of professional soccer. This study seeks to close this academic gap by identifying key dimensions of the relationship dyad which lead to successful sponsorships.

This paper starts with a description of sponsorship from the club perspective, the sponsor perspective and finally from a dyadic perspective. Literature on the critical components of successful relationship marketing is then reviewed, and this leads to the presentation of five hypotheses. These hypotheses are tested in the context of the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga, as described in the section on methodology. The paper then moves on to the results and a discussion of the research and practical implications for both sides of the sponsorship dyad. Finally, limitations, conclusions and further research in the area of professional soccer sponsorship are cited.

The subject matter of this study is professional soccer sponsorship, which we define as:

  A business-related partnership between a sponsor and a professional
  soccer club based on reciprocity and commercial motives. …