'Sponsorship in the Trenches': Case Study Evidence of Its Legitimate Place in the Promotional Mix

Article excerpt

Abstract

An important theme in sponsorship literature involves its definition and its place in marketing theory. With regards to the latter, differing opinion exists as to whether sponsorship is a subset of advertising or whether it is a distinct member of the promotional mix. This research adopts a case study approach to argue that sponsorship should be viewed--both in marketing theory and in business practice--as a distinct and legitimate member of the promotional mix. The subject of the case is KMAC, a sports marketing agency specializing in sponsorship. Results support sponsorship's inclusion in the promotional mix and outline future research.

Introduction

Sponsorship is a promotional practice that has evolved from its roots as a tool for corporate donations (Wilkinson, 1993) to a highly-developed course of action by which both the sponsor (investor) and the sponsee (property) benefit in a marketing relationship (Polonsky & Speed, 2001). Its rapid adoption into practice by organizations is reflected by the huge growth of worldwide sponsorship investments, which went from US $500,000 in 1984 to what was expected to reach US $28 billion in 2004 (IEG, 2003). This impressive growth in practice, however, has not been matched by theory development. Although a difficult concept to define, the majority of the definitions in related literature are relatively similar (Olkkonen, 2001) but sponsorship's role in relation to other resource and promotional generating strategies (i.e. philanthropy, advertising, cause-related marketing) remains unclear (e.g. Polansky & Speed, 2001). In particular, sponsorship's position in marketing's traditional promotional mix ranges from no inclusion at all (e.g. the vast majority of marketing and marketing communications texts) to recognition that it is an integral part of the communications mix--alongside publicity, public relations, sales promotions, personal selling, and advertising (Crimmins & Horn, 1996; Meenaghan, 2001; Tripodi, 2001; Crompton, 2004). This is supported by a number of studies suggesting that sponsorship plays an important role in supporting an organization's attainment of its communications objectives (e.g. awareness, reach target markets).

The purpose of this research is to provide evidence to previous academic work (e.g. Meenaghan, 1991; Tripodi, 2001) arguing for sponsorship's inclusion as a legitimate member of the promotional mix by presenting the case of a successful Canadian sport marketing firm.

Sponsorship and the Promotional Mix

Sponsorship growth is credited, in part, to the increased amount of clutter found in traditional media towards the end of 1970's (Otker, 1988; Meenaghan, 1991; Sandler & Shani, 1993; Wilkinson, 1993). The increase in the number of television and radio networks available created added clutter in the marketplace and the competition between advertisers to attract consumers' attention was fierce. As a result, the effectiveness of the ability of advertising to reach consumers was questioned (Howard & Crompton, 1993). For many, sponsorship became an effective and less costly alternative to break through the clutter in order to reach specific targets (Mullin, Hardy & Sutton, 2000). In this regard, a number of studies supporting sponsorship's distinction from advertising have emerged in the literature emphasizing that it (i) functions differently, (ii) is perceived by audiences differently, and (iii) includes the 'association' element that advertising does not (see Javalgi, Traylor, Gross, & Lampman, 1994; Hoek, Gendall, Jeffcoat & Orsman, 1997; Bloxom, 1998).

Nevertheless, as companies' investments in sport sponsorship increased, so did the need to justify its "Return-On-Investment" (ROI). Thus, the establishment of clear and measurable objectives was identified as important to sponsorship programmes. Irwin and Asimakopoulos (1992) suggest that corporations attempt to achieve objectives that are corporate in nature or specific product/brand related. …