Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Corporations Brought to You by NASCAR: Rhetorical Identification through Sponsorship

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Corporations Brought to You by NASCAR: Rhetorical Identification through Sponsorship

Article excerpt

Executive summary

Recently, in the academic community, there have been calls to examine the relational aspects of corporate sponsorship. Ukman (1998) lamented that sponsors need more opportunities to connect with consumers, not more signage, and the most valuable places to sponsor are those that "deliver loyal audiences and activation vehicles that allow sponsors to create brand preference". This recognises that the public has become, in some sense, saturated with corporate messages, and that the value of signs and simple exposure to corporate messages is decreasing. However, there also appears to be a chance to regain lost value and, in fact, to increase the value of a sponsorship by creating opportunities to connect with customers. In effect, the goal of effective sponsorship today, and in the future, may be to establish and build mutually beneficial relationships with consumers rather than making the donation of money in exchange for promotion or signage the heart of corporate sponsorship.

Mutually beneficial relationships are created when sponsors provide money so that a desired event/team/activity can exist and the patrons of that event/team/activity support the interests of the sponsor. It is also important today to conceptualise consumer support in terms other than just product purchase. Sponsors need to create a lasting relationship that can lead to continued economic or political support of the corporation. One potential avenue for building such a relationship is through consumer identification with a corporate sponsor, and this study examined corporate sponsorship messages from a rhetorical perspective to understand how they create identification with the consumers of a sponsored activity.

A rhetorical approach to corporate sponsorship messages recognises that they are meant to be persuasive in effect, but that their meaning is attributed to them by the audience they are reaching. This approach provides insight into how these messages shape and influence the relationships corporations have with the sponsored group/activity and with the ultimate consumers of the sponsored activity and the corporate message. It also provides tools to examine the structure, meaning and content of messages through rhetorical theory and rhetorical criticism. With this in mind, this study examined corporate sponsorship as organisational rhetoric that promotes identification. Specifically, it focused on the premier division of NASCAR, the Sprint Cup Series, with NASCAR deemed a suitable case study as it relies heavily on corporate sponsorship.

The sponsorship messages in NASCAR are found to use identification strategies to identify with both the NASCAR teams sponsored and the NASCAR fans. This dual-level identification plays a significant role in the way in which corporate sponsors are integrated into the look and feel of NASCAR--and treated as teammates rather than sponsors. It also greatly influences the generation of support for sponsors by NASCAR fans by creating the perception of joined interests.


Historically, corporations have used sponsorship to enhance their image, create goodwill with the public and promote the corporation (Cornwell & Maignan, 1998). Sponsorship is used to increase brand awareness and establish, enhance or change a brand image (Gwinner, 1997). Corporations spend billions of sponsorship dollars every year towards these goals.

One approach to achieving these goals has been to focus on the relational aspects of corporate sponsorship. One useful strategy, becoming more commonplace in modern American sport, is to embed rhetorical identification tactics within sponsorship messages.

Sport creates what Schiller (1989) called the "buying mood": a state in which people are uncritical of and highly receptive to commercial messages for products used in their everyday lives. By introducing commercial messages into sport, an industry that relies heavily on emotional connections, sponsors try to create a lasting identification that may lead to continued economic or political support of the corporation, not just single product purchases. …

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