An Experimental Examination of Activist Type and Effort on Brand Image and Purchase Intentions

By Schmidt, Samuel H.; Shreffler, Megan B. et al. | Sport Marketing Quarterly, March 2018 | Go to article overview

An Experimental Examination of Activist Type and Effort on Brand Image and Purchase Intentions


Schmidt, Samuel H., Shreffler, Megan B., Hambrick, Marion E., Gordon, Brian S., Sport Marketing Quarterly


On August 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the United States national anthem of a National Football League (NFL) preseason game (Clayton, 2016). After the game, Kaepernick spoke to the media proclaiming he refused to "stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color" (Clayton, 2016, para. 3). Despite rhetoric claiming Kaepernick was anti-patriotic, Kaepernick reiterated his desire to sit stemmed from the racial injustices in America. Since the preseason, no less than 13 NFL players joined Kaepernick in protesting Black oppression during the U.S. national anthem (Breech, 2016). Brandon Marshall, linebacker for the Denver Broncos, joined Kaepernick in his protests by kneeling during the national anthem of the first NFL regular season game (Villanueva, 2016).

Both Kaepernick and Marshall experienced negative and positive consequences for engaging in racially sensitive activism. Kaepernick received immense backlash from NFL players (Schilken, 2016), NFL executives (Robinson, 2016), Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump (Wilder, 2016), and San Francisco fans, who burned his jersey (Pleasance, 2016). Marshall also received backlash for kneeling, but in the form of a financial loss. Air Academy Federal Credit Union and CenturyLink, two organizations that sponsored Marshall, terminated their endorsement agreements with the linebacker (Garcia & Dotson, 2016). Despite the backlash, Kaepernick and Marshall received benefits due to their actions. On September 6, 2016, Kaepernick led the NFL in jersey sales (Heitner, 2016). Additionally, Marshall signed an endorsement deal with RushCard, owned by music mogul Russell Simmons (Crabtree, 2016). The aforementioned negative and positive consequences indicate inconsistent results for athletes engaging in racial activism.

The consequences for Kaepernick and Marshall's activism could stem from more than just the issue they are protesting. As noted, Kaepernick and Marshall received immense backlash for engaging in physical activism. Shortly before Kaepernick's activism, Carmelo Anthony posted to social media about the racial divide in America. He was celebrated for his activism as he called on prominent athletes to use their status for activism in support of Black lives (O'Donnell, 2016). The two demonstrations were about the same social issue, but the activism engagement differed. Kaepernick endured a tremendous amount of criticism by sitting during the national anthem, making many in the nation uncomfortable with his actions, while Anthony received praise for a social media post on the same issue. The aforementioned cases indicate the way in which the message is delivered may have an impact on the consequences of the activism for the player and accompanying organizations.

The stories from the athletes above highlight a need to examine athlete activism in more detail based on varying responses, whether positive or negative. The impact of athlete endorsement on sponsor brand image has been studied previously (Gwinner & Eaton, 1999; Seno & Lukas, 2007). However, while scholars have examined the impact of the individual athlete brand on sport brand image (Cunningham & Regan, 2012) and even looked at the role of athlete transgressions (Lohneiss & Hill, 2014), the impact of athlete activism on sponsor brand image has escaped empirical examination. Further, given what is known about the impact of an athlete endorser on a sponsor's brand, understanding the potential negative consequences of Kaepernick and Marshall's activism is important since it is unknown if this represents a unique event or a sign of events to come for athlete activists engaging in potentially risky forms of activism. Additionally, the effort an athlete gives towards his or her activism, whether kneeling during an anthem, posting to social media, or other actions, could be an important factor. …

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