Academic journal article E - Journal of Social & Behavioural Research in Business

Sports Sponsorship ‘Success’: Moving beyond Evaluating Transactions to Understanding Relationships

Academic journal article E - Journal of Social & Behavioural Research in Business

Sports Sponsorship ‘Success’: Moving beyond Evaluating Transactions to Understanding Relationships

Article excerpt


Corporate sponsorship of professional sporting events is big business. Global sponsorship expenditure was forecast to reach US$53.3 billion in 2013 (Meenaghan, 2014) and is one of the fastest growing forms of marketing activity, having shown at least 10% growth for years, equivalent to over 8% of global media spent (Sponsorclick, 2014).

As a communication tool sponsorship offers high visibility, extensive media coverage, the ability to attract a broad cross-section of the community, pintpoint specific niches and capacity to break down cultural barriers (Burnett, Menon & Smart, 1993). But sports sponsorship contracts have also become so large and important that businesses have been forced to consider such decisions as more than just communication-related, instead associating themselves with key image-building events or sports seen as complementary to their own strategic and community positioning (Meenaghan, 1983; Hansen & Scott, 1995).

Despite all the attention and activity, there is little agreement on what constitutes "success" in sports sponsorship. This article examines the existing literature on sports sponsorship and collates various measures of success and failure (words not often used but obviously implied) and reconsiders the traditional frames used in such evaluation. Some definitional issues surrounding the terms 'sponsorship' are discussed and then critically examined in terms of their relationship (or lack thereof) to actual impacts on sponsor and sponsee. A framing of the act of sponsorship as a two-way relationship between giver and receiver will be posited with sponsorship seen as more of a mutual interaction between multiple groups rather than just a market transaction between buyer and seller. The paper will then offer a framework for considering and measuring success using this broader notion, concluding with implications and suggested next research steps.

Review of Literature

What is Sports Sponsorship

In any study of event sponsorship, there is an immediate issue of defining exactly what constitutes sponsorship. A general survey of sponsorship notes that there is no generally accepted definition except to say that it certainly involves "an exchange between sponsor and sponsored, and pursues marketing (communication) objectives by exploiting the association between the two" (Walliser, 2008).

Sponsorship as a means to reach customers has been growing rapidly over the past two decades. Until the 1970's modern corporate sponsorship was mainly about donations to sport or cultural activities with no particular expectations of gaining anything in return (Jiffer & Roos, 1999). However, since 1980 philanthropic sponsorships have been replaced by market driven type of sponsorships and have been accepted as business related behaviour (Cornwell & Maignan, 2000). Essentially, sponsorship has evolved from a small scale activity to a major industry worldwide (Lee et al., 1997; Meenaghan, 1998), both in terms of money spent and adoption levels by the companies. It has also since emerged as a communication technique which has attracted enormous budgets from companies around the world (Quester, 1997) outperforming other promotional tools in terms of growth (Tripodi, 2001). As such a demand for a more multifaceted approach to sponsorship from buyers, consultants, recipients and sellers has become paramount (Jiffer & Roos, 1999).

Abratt, Clayton and Pitt (1987) present five main methods by which a sport can be sponsored:

1. Sponsorship of sport in general;

2. Sponsorship of specific sport;

3. Sponsorship of a competition within a sport;

4. Sponsorship of a team within a competition;

5. Sponsorship of an individual.

This template suggests a continuum of complexity in what sports sponsorship actually entails and whether its function is primarily communicative or more than that. For example, sponsorship of an individual generally has very different dimensions and objectives from sponsorship of an entire sport. …

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