Featuring the Hometown Team in Cause-Related Sports Marketing: A Cautionary Tale for League-Wide Advertising Campaigns

By Nichols, Bridget Satinover; Cobbs, Joe et al. | Sport Marketing Quarterly, December 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Featuring the Hometown Team in Cause-Related Sports Marketing: A Cautionary Tale for League-Wide Advertising Campaigns


Nichols, Bridget Satinover, Cobbs, Joe, Raska, David, Sport Marketing Quarterly


Introduction

A survey conducted by Roy and Graeff (2003) found that 92% of consumers believe that National Football League (NFL) teams should be socially responsible. One way the NFL and other professional sports leagues are addressing social responsibility is through cause-related marketing (CRM). For example, the NFL is recognized for its "A Crucial Catch" campaign that promotes the American Cancer Society's breast health awareness. Among other promotions, the NFL sells licensed products in the color pink that support the cause but also generate league revenue. CRM campaigns such as this one are promotional partnerships between a business and charity for shared benefit (McGlone & Martin, 2006), and CRM has become increasingly popular between professional sports leagues and large charitable organizations (Genzale, 2006). Researchers suggest that the sport industry may have advantages over other industries when incorporating CRM because professional sports have developed a history of socially responsible activities (Babiak & Wolfe, 2006). However, social involvement research in the sport industry is still evolving, leaving much to be understood regarding the social activities of sport organizations.

Considering that North American cause sponsorship spending is expected to reach $2 billion by the end of 2016 (IEG Sponsorship Report, 2015), examining factors that impact the successes of such efforts is increasingly timely. While research demonstrates that CRM can positively affect purchase intentions and behavioral responses (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2003), the rise in CRM activities in professional sports and the breadth of philanthropic partners among leagues and individ- ual teams warrants a deeper understanding of how and when sports fans respond favorably, and perhaps more importantly, unfavorably, to such initiatives.

One relevant consideration is the extent to which consumers believe that the brand (or organization) and the cause are well matched. This matching, or fit, is an important credential in sponsorship practice as it encourages feelings of sincerity and genuine concern from consumers (Speed & Thompson, 2000). As a result, sport marketers are interested in how brandcause fit affects consumers' support of CRM campaigns under competing creative strategies. For example, consumer response to cause-related sport marketing (CRSM) can be confounded by team allegiances and focal aspects of a campaign's creative elements (Roy & Graeff, 2003). Specifically, the imagery used in CRSM advertising that is intended to serve as a communication tool to generate interest and a positive connection with sports fans could pose a threat if the advertisement is viewed as insincere or manipulative. Accordingly, consumers are frequently skeptical of companies' socially responsible activities (Raska & Shaw, 2012). Despite the preponderance of league-wide cause-related campaigns in practice-such as Major League Baseball's "Stand Up To Cancer" initiative-no research has combined league-wide CRSM with team specific advertising cues. Nevertheless, league-wide CRSM is often promoted utilizing individual team imagery (e.g., Reuters, 2015; Williams, 2014). Given that one of the most common ways to emotionally connect to sports fans is by demonstrating an authentic association with their favorite team (Gwinner & Swanson, 2003), this research on team effects in league-wide CSRM activation is both theoretically and practically relevant.

Based on these unknowns in CRSM, the main contributions of these studies are to examine the influence of fit and perceived sincerity in league-wide CRSM (study 1 ) and to test the interaction between team-specific ad imagery and fit on consumers' support of the cause (study 2). The final study addresses potential team confounds while enhancing generalizability of the previous results through confirmation with a non-student sample (study 3).

Literature Review

Cause-Related Sports Marketing

The purpose of cause-related marketing is to communicate to consumers through marketing campaigns typically focused on raising awareness of a social issue and generating funds for the cause, while also having beneficial outcomes for the marketing organization (Trimble & Rifon, 2006). …

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