Relationship Marketing in Australian Professional Sport: An Extension of the Shani Framework

Article excerpt

Abstract

The value and benefits of relationship marketing to sport practitioners have been observed in the literature for more than a decade. In spite of this, little empirical research has been reported to examine the uptake of this approach or the means by which it is implemented. This paper reports the findings of qualitative, case study research into the uptake and application of relationship marketing principles by sport organizations. The findings are couched in terms of the Shani model, which is extended into an Australian context. Results indicate that while practitioners are cognizant of the workings of relationship marketing, there is some reluctance to embrace and apply these principles.

Relationship Marketing in Australian Professional Sport: An Extension of the Shani Framework

Introduction

Relationship marketing is an established and important part of modern marketing practice (Egan, 2004; Veloutsou, Saren, & Tzokas, 2002). It has been suggested that it represents a paradigm shift in marketing (Gronroos, 1994, 1996; Gummesson, 1993; Morgan & Hunt, 1994; Veloutsou et al., 2002) and continues to evolve, particularly with the advancement of technology (O'Malley & Mitussis, 2002; Sheth, 2002).

Relationship marketing adopts a customer focus and its main benefits include greater customer retention, increased loyalty, reduced marketing costs, and greater profits (Berry, 1995; Berry & Parasuraman, 1991; Christopher, Payne, & Ballantyne, 2002; Gronroos, 1996). Most of these benefits have been established within the broader marketing context. Given relationship marketing's benefits and its status within modern marketing thought, the continued development, understanding, and application across various industries (in this instance sport) provides strong justification for this research.

Relationship Marketing in Sport

The recognition that sport can benefit from a relationship marketing approach is well accepted, as is the notion of referring to and considering sport fans as customers (Cohen, 1996). Common reasons cited for the embracing of relationship marketing within sport are technological innovation, the maturing of sport marketing research, and increased entertainment and leisure options leading to greater competitive challenges (McDonald & Milne, 1997).

Despite an acknowledgement that the change of focus to replace transactional marketing approaches has filtered into sport (Brenner, 1997; Kelley, Hoffman, & Carter, 1999; McDonald & Milne, 1997), insufficient literature exists to seriously evaluate the extent of relationship marketing in sport or to attempt to provide some framework for understanding the strategic approaches and value relationship marketing may bring to sport. This was reiterated by Bee and Kahle (2006), who noted that despite the significant study of relationship marketing in many contexts, little research and theory development has occurred in sport.

Further, where it has occurred it has only partly explored relationship marketing, been focused on one area (e.g., Tower, Jago, & Deery, 2006, who considered not-for-profit sport relationships), or been largely confined to the North American context. For example, Kelley et al. (1999) used Berry and Parasuraman's (1991) three-level process of relationships in examining the impact of a new ice hockey franchise attempting to establish consumer adoption. Lapio and Speter (2000) used NASCAR as an example of successful relationship marketing implementation and integration; Cousens, Babiak, and Slack (2001) considered the adoption of a relationship marketing paradigm by the National Basketball Association (NBA) when discussing the broader concept of organizational change and Lachowetz, McDonald, Sutton, and Clark (2001) applied the work of McDonald and Milne (1997) on customer lifetime value and noted that the NBA utilized relationship marketing strategies to stop the erosion of its consumer base. …