Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Sponsorship and CSR: Is There a Link? A Conceptual Framework

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Sponsorship and CSR: Is There a Link? A Conceptual Framework

Article excerpt

Executive summary

Sponsorship has been defined in the literature as an exchange between a sponsor and a sponsored entity (also called a 'property'), whereby the sponsor invests in cash and/or in kind in a property in order to secure the rights to exploit the commercial potential derived from its association with that property (Meenaghan, 1983). The commercial intent, therefore, is what differentiates sponsorship from corporate giving or philanthropy (Polonsky & Speed, 2001); whereas charitable giving entails no leverage of the association and little or no expectation of return (Javalgi et al, 1994; Speed & Thompson, 2000). Despite this key difference, the boundaries between sponsorship and philanthropy have become blurred in recent times as marketers discovered the merits of cause-related marketing and cause sponsorship. Cause-related marketing involves corporate giving that is tied to consumer purchases (Dean, 2003; Varadarajan & Menon, 1987), for example McDonald's contributing $1 of every Big Mac sold on a certain day towards the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Cause sponsorship, on the other hand, involves sponsoring a social or environmental cause deemed worthy by consumers, independent of sales (Coote & Cornwell, 2005). In essence, both of these strategies aim to create goodwill among stakeholders (Dean, 2002), to improve attitudes towards the sponsoring organisation and, ultimately, to increase sales and market share (Hoek et al, 2001; Polonsky & Speed, 2001; Varadarajan & Menon, 1987).

Despite growing engagement in social causes and philanthropic activities by organisations aiming to establish a community-focused corporate image, sport remains a primary focus of organisations, with 70% of all sponsorship spending currently allocated to sports, according to the International Events Group (Klayman, 2008). Sport provides unique opportunities by attracting mass audiences in local, regional and global arenas (McKelvey & Grady 2008) and by engaging with audiences and participants beyond the cognitive level, provoking emotional responses that have been shown as beneficial for sponsors (Christensen, 2006).

Given the uniqueness of sports sponsorship, the large investments it already attracts and the increasing desire by business organisations to be seen as socially responsible within their communities, the question arises whether sports sponsorship effectiveness should include its capacity to an improved CSR profile. While some scholars have called for a conceptualisation of the role sports sponsorship may play in establishing CSR (Amis & Cornwell, 2005), the literature is yet to acknowledge and test the effectiveness of sports sponsorship as a form of CSR initiative.

This paper contributes to our theoretical understanding of the phenomenon by developing a conceptual framework of sports sponsorship as a form of CSR communication, including relevant sponsor-, employee- and consumer-related influence factors. Moreover, it extends the current literature on sponsorship effectiveness by considering the internal effects of sponsorship on the sponsor organisation, an important question only touched upon in the literature (Amis & Cornwell, 2005). In this paper, based on a comprehensive literature review, we argue that sponsorship of sport can be used to establish and strengthen employee and customer perceptions of CSR, in turn leading to internal and external benefits for the sponsoring organisation.


The extant literature about sports sponsorship has provided valuable insights into its unique potential for organisations and suggested relevant success factors (for a comprehensive review, see Walliser 2003; Cornwell, Weeks & Roy, 2005). However, a number of areas have remained under-developed both theoretically and empirically. Of these, the potential contribution of sponsorship to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) outcomes is largely unexplored. …

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