Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Sponsorship of Intercollegiate Athletics: The Importance of Image Matching. (Research Paper)

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Sponsorship of Intercollegiate Athletics: The Importance of Image Matching. (Research Paper)

Article excerpt

Given the importance of image matching as a rationale for sponsorship investment, this paper examines the extent to which image matching occurs in U.S. intercollegiate athletics. Utilizing student-athlete education and athletic program ethics as image dimensions, while controlling for winning, the authors find that individual corporations tend to sponsor athletic programs that project very different images. The authors then prescribe an approach that prospective sponsors could use to determine appropriate image matches.

Keywords: image matching, sponsorship, college athletics, branding

Executive Summary

Corporations will spend approximately $8.7 billion on sponsorship of North American special events in the year 2000. Of this, $5.9 billion will be spent on sporting events. Given the substantial revenue and investment that it represents, sponsorship has attracted considerable attention from marketing researchers and practitioners. This paper focuses on one element of sponsorship - "image matching". Image matching concerns the extent to which a sponsored sport property and a sponsoring corporation project consistent images. Given that image enhancement is often a key motivation for sponsorship, it follows that in making sponsorship decisions, sponsors would determine the images that different sport properties project as well the types of images targeted consumers perceive as attractive. In line with these presuppositions, the importance of image matching and the extent to which it occurs in sport sponsorship is the focus in this paper. In addition, an approach for achieving image matching is proposed.

In order to develop and illustrate their arguments, the authors focus on sponsorship of intercollegiate athletics in the United States. The authors propose, however, that the theoretical bases upon which they build their arguments, as well as their suggestions related to practice, are generalizable to the sponsorship of sport in contexts beyond intercollegiate athletics. In developing their case, the authors discuss the importance of image matching and relate it to the multiple, potential benefits of sponsorship. The context of intercollegiate athletics (i.e. financial pressures, NCAA violations, public perceptions) as it relates to sponsorship is then reviewed as is recent research which addresses the determinants of perceptions of intercollegiate athletics programs.

After making their case for image matching, the authors assess the extent to which corporations appear to achieve it. Image matching is assessed by reviewing the sponsorship portfolios of major sponsors of intercollegiate athletics. Differentiating on two dimensions-student-athlete education and athletics program ethics-while controlling for winning, programs were classified as "saints" or "sinners". Based on this classification, it is found that individual corporations tend to sponsor athletic programs which project very different images. It appears, therefore, that corporations frequently do not achieve image matching.

Subsequent to presenting this illustrative empirical analysis, an approach which prospective sponsors could use to determine appropriate image matches is proposed. In sum, such an approach would involve:

(1) determining the niche, or type(s) of individual, a corporation wishes to influence via sponsorship;

(2) assessing the priorities concerning intercollegiate athletics of the individuals in the targeted niche; and

(3) developing sponsorship agreements with athletics programs that have outcomes consistent with the priorities established in step 2.

Pragmatic challenges which might be faced in implementing the above, and how the challenges can be addressed, are presented as is the generalizability of the paper's arguments to various sport settings.

The paper concludes with a discussion of a number of theoretical and related empirical questions. …

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