Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Sport Loyalty Programs and Their Impact on Fan Relationships. (Research Paper)

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Sport Loyalty Programs and Their Impact on Fan Relationships. (Research Paper)

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper examines the effectiveness of a sport loyalty program in fostering fan relationships with a team and its sponsors. The study of 268 US baseball spectators revealed that, in the mind of the fan, loyalty programs generally consist of three underlying components. When these components perform well, they can fuel a member's sense of attachment to a team and their tendency to purchase sponsor products. Recommendations to improve loyalty program performance focus on tactics that build member relationships and identification with the team.

Keywords: Loyalty programs, professional sport, fan relationships

Executive Summary

Professional sport franchises continue to compete aggressively for spectator attendance. This is especially true in Major League Baseball, which may have gone from "America's pastime" to being "past its prime", with television ratings and attendance slipping from previous highs. Several factors may account for diminishing fan participation. For one, the proliferation and expansion of US professional sport leagues may have diluted baseball's share of the sport spectator market. However, another more recent concern has been the erosion of team attachment and identification that has occurred in fans. Team loyalty seems to be on the wane. In response to these challenges, many baseball franchises are working hard to reestablish a strong relationship with their fan base. The rise of loyalty programs across the league is evidence of this commitment. But the question remains as to whether these programs are able to positively effect fans and their relationship with teams.

Typically, loyalty programs are a structured marketing promotion that is geared to reward frequent attendance. Research in other industries has argued that such programs are largely ineffective and unable to build loyal relationships. This study looks at a sport loyalty program in Arizona and examines its effectiveness in building fan attachment to a team and its sponsors. Specifically, the study clarified what the principal elements of a loyalty program are, and then used this understanding in a path analytic model to test its effect on fan identification with the team and willingness to purchase sponsor products.

In the minds of the fans surveyed (n=268), the performance of a team's loyalty program essentially consisted of three factors: (1) Service Experience & Appearance, (2) Rewards & Prizes, and (3) Access & Convenience. This structure was found to be consistent and reliable in representing fan perceptions of program performance. Contrary to assertions of fans focusing simply on rewards, a member's service experience was found to play a dominant role. Following this specification, the next step was to look at how it affected fans. A proposed model was supported with several diagnostic tests. Results showed the loyalty program significantly affected the level of identification and attachment that fans had with the team. The program was also able to influence how fans responded to team sponsors. On the whole, those who approved of the program were much more likely to identify with the team and purchase sponsor products. In explaining both identification and sponsor purchase intent, fan attitude toward the loyalty pr ogram outperformed both game satisfaction and involvement with the single largest formative effect. Work remains to be done to improve the model's explanation of fan thinking. This includes taking a long-term, multi-season look at how programs influence attendance.

Overall, this study encourages marketers to view loyalty programs as a legitimate tool for strengthening fan relationships with a team. A series of practical recommendations are offered for each of the loyalty program's three components. These actions look at ways to strengthen the bond between fans and the team. We believe this relational focus is the foremost consideration in designing any program initiative, the modicum to this being that programs should seek first the relationship, so that all these things (e. …

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