Sports Sponsorship Evaluation: A Behavioural Analysis

Article excerpt

Keywords: Sponsorship, Behavioural Measures, Evaluation, Behaviour Modification

Executive Summary

Investment in sponsorship has increased dramatically over the past decade, a growth that shows every sign of continuing in the foreseeable future. Researchers are generally in agreement that sponsorship can increase consumers' awareness of a brand or an institution, and can improve knowledge of the relationship between a brand and a sponsored event. Yet although managers are arguably more interested in the behavioural consequences of sponsorship, comparatively few researchers have examined this question. Instead, managers have assumed awareness and image measures bear a strong and direct relationship with behaviour, although the evidence in support of this view is arguably tenuous.

This paper outlines an alternative to the cognitive paradigm that has dominated advertising and sponsorship practice and research: the Behaviour Modification Perspective. Based on the twin notions of respondent and operant conditioning, the Behaviour Modification Perspective provides a framework for viewing sponsorship in two ways. First, respondent conditioning pairs an event or a team with a brand, facilitating transferral of the former's characteristics to the latter. Second, operant conditioning views sponsorship as a reinforcer, or reward, of existing purchase behaviour; serving to maintain patterns of behaviour in an established market.

This more general theory of Consumer Behaviour is related specifically to promotion in Ehrenberg's Awareness-Trial-Reinforcement model, which represents a possible framework for managing or evaluating sponsorship. This model was thus used as the basis of a pilot study designed to examine how well the framework could explain the effect of sponsorship on consumers' behaviour.

A sample of respondents drawn from a pool of contestants to a sponsorship-related competition was compared to a sample who had not been exposed to the event. As predicted, the results suggested that awareness of the sponsor was higher among users of the sponsor's product. When respondents were asked to indicate whether they would buy the sponsored brand or competing brands if they were making a purchase in this product category, their responses did not vary significantly across exposure to the sponsoring event or recall of the sponsor These findings suggest the sponsorship did not move respondents along the continuum to purchase behaviour, but rather reinforced the sponsored brand's place in the overall market structure.

The consistency between these results and the ATR model suggests managers could make greater use of behavioural goals (rather than of the intermediaries assumed to lead to these). Furthermore, our findings suggest that specific calls to action such as those used in direct marketing or cause-related marketing could also be incorporated to enable more specific evaluations, and to ensure that managers can, finally, begin to appreciate the behavioural consequences of their sponsorship investments.


The growth in sponsorship expenditure, both in real terms and as a proportion of promotion budgets, has been well-documented (see Meenaghan, 1988; Meenaghan & Shipley, 1999, for example). Otker (1988) and Meenaghan (1991) suggested that two factors promoted this growth: first, the increasing number of opportunities associated with sponsorship as event owners recognised the commercial potential of their events; and second, a growing disillusionment with mass media advertising and the clutter which arguably diminished the effectiveness of traditional media vehicles (see also Crowley, 1991; Thwaites, Aguilar-Manjarrez & Kidd, 1998). Meenaghan (1998) subsequently suggested that new technological developments and sponsorship's ability to reach consumers at leisure were on-going advantages that would continue to fuel its growth.

Although managers may sponsor almost any event they choose, the vast majority of sponsorship contracts relate to a sporting event or team. …