Corporate Sponsorship and Organisational Strategy: Bridging the Gap

Article excerpt

Introduction

Despite the increasing role that sponsorship is taking in the financing of sport organisations and events in all parts of the world, very little systematic research has been undertaken to investigate the strategic nature of this type of activity. This is not to say that attempts have not been made to investigate the objectives which corporations hope to achieve from sponsorship. On the contrary, a large number of studies on the sponsorship of sport have been conducted in Europe (for example, Boulet, 1989; Meenaghan, 1991; Otker, 1988; Quinn, 1982; Simkins, 1986; Thwaites, 1993; 1994; 1995; Waite, 1979; Witcher, Craigen, Culligan, & Harvey, 1991), North America (for example, Copeland, Frisby, & McCarville, 1996; Kuzma, Shanklin, & McCally, 1993; Stotlar, 1992; Thwaites, Aguilar-Manjarrez, & Kidd, 1998; Wilber, 1988) and elsewhere (for example, Abratt, Clayton, & Pitt, 1987; Abratt & Grobler, 1989; Pope & Voges, 1994; Scott & Suchard, 1992; Shilbury & Berriman, 1996). Nevertheless, the focus of these studies has not been on the manner in which sponsorship objectives are formulated or their links with broader corporate strategies.

This is regrettable as, over the past 20 years or so, sponsorship practices have changed considerably. In the 1970s this type of activity was considered to be an aspect of philanthropic giving. In the early to mid 1980s, sponsorship was evaluated according to a more direct sales-oriented approach. In the late 1980s and 1990s, sponsorship is starting to be integrated with a corporation's overall strategic positioning, as marketing is becoming more integrated with other facets of corporate operations (Cornwell, 1995; Wilkinson, 1993). Nowadays, rather than being an undervalued element of marketing or promotion that is distinct from business-wide strategy, sponsorship has begun increasingly to be viewed as an activity that contributes to the attainment of corporate level strategic objectives (Meenaghan, 1999). As Mescon and Tilson (1987, p.50) point out, the "giving of precious business dollars is being tied ... more closely to corporate strategic plans, goals, and objectives".

Nevertheless, despite the importance now placed by corporations on sponsorship as a promotional and strategic tool, and rapid increases in expenditures on sponsorship, there is little empirical evidence or analysis of the influence of organisational strategy on sponsorship initiatives. Although sponsorship is perceived as a strategic investment, most of the existing research on the subject has simply provided what amounts to "check-lists" of desired outcomes. However, theories of strategy are considerably more involved than objective-setting. Consequently, the central objective of this paper is to analyse in more depth the integral relationships between corporate sponsorship activities and organisational strategies.

In order to situate this study in the context of previous efforts to identify the strategic rationales behind sponsorship activity, the next section provides a brief commentary on the existing literature on this aspect of corporate sponsorship. Following this, the theoretical underpinnings behind the assertion that sponsorship and broader strategic objectives should be linked are reviewed. This section of the paper is followed by an account of the method that was employed to collect and analyse the data used for this study. The findings and a discussion thereof are then outlined. This is followed by a brief concluding section that highlights the implications of these results for managers of both corporations and those organisations that are seeking sponsorship support.

Theoretical Background

Sport sponsorship has frequently been described as a strategic activity (Cornwell, 1995; Cousens & Slack, 1996; Gilbert, 1988; Otker, 1988). Sponsorship is strategic because it involves an allocation of resources to achieve corporate objectives and because it can align an organisation with its environment (Haley, 1991). …