Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to determine the effects of Sponsorship of Premier League football clubs on the Sponsors brand image and whether their association with valuable football teams improves image.
Design – A case study is proposed in order to measure the relation between the sponsors involvement and how they are perceived by the consumer. Questionnaires and in-depth interviews will be administered in order to gather information concerning the consumers’ attitude.
Expected Findings – Relating to past research, it is expected that the sponsorship of Premier League football teams has a positive influence on the brand image of the sponsor due to image transfer.
Opportunities – This research offers the opportunity for the consumers’ attitude on brand image, a construct that has had little previous research undertaken on it, to be assessed and gain a deeper understanding into this area.
Prior to the recent global recession, the practice of corporations taking part in sports sponsorship was one of the fastest-growing methods of marketing communication in use, with the objective of reaching a well-defined target audience. Studies by Meenaghan, 1998 show that within the UK, the most popular event related type of sponsorship is that of sports, which receives 61% of the sponsorship expenditure. Cornwell and Roy, 2004, state that “the rate of growth in sponsorship expenditures is greater than for traditional media advertising and sales promotion” as according to Erdogan & Kitchen, 1998 and Meenaghan, 1998, sponsorship bypasses the media clutter that acts as an obstacle to advertising and sales promotion by attempting to identify and successfully target audiences of particular demographs and lifestyles. However, due to the economic downturn and the slashing of marketing budgets, sponsorship growth slowed to an estimation of just 3.9% in 2009, following a 15% increase in 2008 (Appendix 1), yet the fact sponsorship spending has remained positive in such an economic climate is encouraging.
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Surprisingly, only in recent years has research concerning sponsorship been primarily focused on issues concerning the relationship between event sponsorship and brand image (Eaton, 1999; Musante et al, 1999). It is apparent that corporations have introduced sports sponsorships as a communications tool that attempts to build the brand image of an organisation (Javalgi et al, 1994; McDonald, 1991; Quester, 1997; Turco, 1995; Witcher et al, 1991). The objective of the research that is being undertaken is to see to what extent the brand image possessed by a consumer is affected by sponsorship. In order to test this, the research question that has been defined is:
How does the sponsorship of English Premier League football clubs affect the brand image of the sponsors?
The English Premier League draws in the most viewers of any sporting league making it the most watched in the world, whilst also being the most lucrative football league in the world with combined club revenues valued at almost £2 billion pounds according to financial data for the 2007/08 season (BBC News), despite the economic crisis. Additionally, the Deloitte Football Money League 2010 listed seven clubs from the English Premier League in the top twenty of the highest earning clubs in the world, “the largest representation of any single country” (Deloitte.com). Considering that this is the most adored football league in the world it is obvious that organisations would take advantage and permeate into the market in order to try and improve and spread the brand image of their company. Organisations such as Audi, Samsung, Emirates, Nike, Adidas and Turkish Airlines amongst a handful of others pay multi-million pound figures to sponsor teams competing in the Premier League. This is generally done so in order to attempt to transfer the image of the sponsored organisation to the image of the sponsor.
Sponsorship can be defined as an investment (in cash or kind) by the sponsor (i.e. an organisation or brand) in an activity that the sponsored organisation is involved with, in order to gain access to the commercial potential that accompanies the activity (Cornwell et al, 2005; King, 1995; Meenaghan, 1991) whilst McCarville & Copeland (1994, p. 103) state it as being “an exchange of resources with an independent partner in hopes of gaining a corresponding return for the sponsor”.
Research carried out by Quester & Thompson, 2001; Speed & Thompson, 2000, Verity, 2002 and Whannel, 1992 has shown that amongst various other factors, the continual increase in the number of sports events broadcast on television has led to the annual worldwide figure of sponsorship spending to stand at a reported £33 + billion (Akaoui, 2007). This of course supports the figures provided by Meenaghan, 1998 stated previously showing that in the UK, 61% of sponsorship expenditure is channelled towards sports, as well as supporting research undertaken by Crompton, 2004 and Verity, 2002, stating that approximately the same figure is spent globally to target sporting leagues, teams etc. McDonald, 1991, also states that at the time, organisations were increasingly diverting funds that would usually be spent on other marketing communication tools, towards that of sponsorship and that this would increase as the years went on, a statement that has born truth.
During the early 1990s when the practice of modern sponsorship was only just emerging, instead of thinking strategically and highlighting the financial and corporate gains that are associated with sponsoring, senior managers generally chose to sponsor a particular team, sport or event out of their own personal interests (Crompton 2004). This type of practice can result in a failure because the sponsorship has not been strategically planned and so the effects can not be understood or measured effectively. As noted by Cornwell et al., 2005; Meenaghan, 2001; Quester & Thompson, 2001; Thjømøe et al., 2002 little research has been undertaken to measure and understand the effects of sponsorship on the consumer. Despite the fact that senior managers generally take control of sponsorship projects as they have high-level objectives that are required to be met, such as image transfer, improvement of attitude and brand equity (Cornwell et al 2001a; Gwinner & Eaton 1999; Miyazaki & Morgan 2001; Polonsky & Speed 2001), it is somewhat inexplicable that recent surveys carried out by Thjømøe et al, 2002 and Crompton, 2004, concerning major sponsors discovered that a high percentage spend a minimalistic amount of money to measure the effects of their sponsorship and/or use measures that are irrelevant for their particular communication goals. However, Elizabeth Nelson believes that research into the effects of sponsorship is not usually measured simply because the cost to undertake the research will generally be quite high in relation to the figure that is invested in the sponsorship, compared to how much it would cost to undertake media advertising research. In spite of this, if the effects of sponsorship aren’t measured, then how can they be seen to be successful?
Crompton, 2004; Javalgi et al, 1994; McDonald, 1991; Pelsmacker et al, 2007 and Quester, 1997 all agree that there are numerous advantages associated with event-related sponsorship and that they are financially rewarding due to the cost-effectiveness of this particular type of marketing communication tool, on the basis that the number of people exposed to the sponsorship is of such a high figure and it is cheaper to target these people via sponsorships than through traditional advertising methods.
McDonald, 1991 noted that if sponsorship was well-managed and coordinated effectively then the program can be of great potential and can positively influence the perception that consumers hold of that organisation, likewise however, a sponsorship program that has been ill-advised may have no effect, or may in fact have a negative one.
Brand image is important as it portrays the strengths of the sponsor in their respective markets and through using sponsorship organisations’ attempt to close the gap that exists between the brand image and the brand identity.
Keller 1993 (1993, p.3) defines brand image as “perceptions about a brand as reflected by the associations held in memory”. This definition views brand image as being linked to the memory structure that the consumer possesses concerning the brand as this forms a set of beliefs that are adopted by the consumer. Keller believes that the image that a brand has can be influenced by linking it to a sporting event through undertaking a sponsorship deal. In this instance, it is suggested that the pre-existing image that a consumer possesses of the sporting event, team etc is linked to the sponsor in their memory. As such, the image of the event or team that is being sponsored is transferred to the sponsor which should therefore improve the organisations brand image. An example noted in the work of Dolphin, 2003 is one conceived by Ho, 1995 whose research showed that those organisations that sponsor the Olympics are viewed by consumers as being the leading company in that particular industry, thus showing that sponsorship has an effect on the reputation of a sponsor. The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, therefore organisations that are linked with it are considered market leaders.
Attitudes, along with attributes and benefits, is one of the three dimensions proposed by Keller, 1993 that affect brand association. Keller (1993, p. 4) defines brand attitudes as “consumers’ overall evaluation about the brand” and he stressed the importance of this construct due to its ability to aid a better understanding and interpretation of the choices made by consumers. Attributes concern the features designated to each product/service and these are separated into product and non-product related categories (Tsiotsou & Alexandris, 2009). The benefits dimension concerns the value of the product to the consumer and how they perceive this value. Meenaghan, 2001 suggests that consumers adopt a positive attitude towards a sponsor if they believe that the sponsorship existing between the sponsor and the team they support produces an overall benefit for their team.
According to Tsiotsou & Alexandris, 2009, undertaking research into the benefits and attributes constructs would be beyond the field of this current research as it would require the collection of detailed information relating to the products offered by individual sponsors and the benefits expected of them.
Considering that one of the main objectives of sponsorship for the sponsor is to create a favourable attitudinal change as to how the consumer perceives the brand image it is comprehendible that this is often deemed to be the most important effect of sponsorship that can be measured (Irwin et al, 2003; Martensen et al, 2007; Speed & Thompson, 2000; Verity, 2002).
As Fishbein’s Expectancy-Value model (Appendix 2) shows, how a consumer perceives the brand image of an organisation highly influences their attitude towards that organisation. Previous work undertaken by St Elmo Lewis, 1900; Sheldon, 1911; Kitson, 1921; Colley, 1961; Lavidge & Steiner, 1961; Rogers, 1962 and Robertson, 1971 consider attitudes to consist of three components: cognitive; affective and behavioural. Marketers generally concentrate on one of these components when attempting to change attitudes (Pelsmacker et al, 2007). For example, through sponsoring Manchester United, it appears that Audi are concentrating on the cognitive component by sponsoring the most valuable football club in the world (Forbes), one of the reasons behind this sponsorship deal is no doubt to portray Audi in the same kind of limelight and transfer the success of the Manchester United image, as this follows the heuristic evaluation process. This links with the results gathered by Musante et al, 1999 showing that when the objective of sponsorship is to alter the perception of the brand image, the organisation should associate itself with a team, event etc that possesses the image they desire.
The work of McDonald, 1991 notes that the RSL Sponsorship Tracking Study, which measures the effects of sponsorship on brand image, claims to have found numerous scenarios where research shows that the level of a consumer’s favourability towards a brand increases in relation to their level of awareness of the brand. Additionally, it is expected and commonly found that consumers who have an interest in a particular team, sport etc, or use the products/services of sponsoring organisations are already familiar with particular sponsors and have a favourable attitude towards them.
Taking the previous research into consideration it is proposed that:
H1. Sponsorship is positively related to Brand Image.
H2 Consumers who regularly watch Premier League football will possess a more positive view of the sponsor’s brand image than those who do not.
Proposed Research Strategy
Proposed Design Strategy
Initially, secondary research will be undertaken through the use of books, academic journals and the internet. This will allow for the research question to be further developed and enable a greater understanding of the area.
Primary research will be undertaken in the form of a case study that will focus on Manchester United Football Club and the brand image of their sponsors. Saunders et al, 2009 use the definition of Yin (2003, p.13) to define a case study as “an empirical test that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context”. Using a case study will allow for a sound and complete understanding of the research context and the associated processes involved (Morris & Wood, 1991) whilst also enabling the researcher to answer questions related to ‘why?’, ‘what?’ and ‘how?’ things happen (Saunders et al, 2009). The same authors also noted that despite the “‘unscientific’ feel” (Saunders et al, 2009, p.147) that case studies have, they are useful in their ability to explore, interpret and question existing theory. Although the generalisation of case studies is weak, this can be strengthened if one than one case is used as this increases the external validity (Tharenou et al, 2007).
Proposed Philosophical Position
Saunders et al, 2009 stress the importance of understanding your philosophical position by suggesting that only by understanding the assumptions of how the world around us functions can we actually examine and interpret these assumptions. For this piece of research the ontological stance being adopted is that of the subjectivist due to the fact that “the social phenomena (brand image) is created from the perception and consequent actions of those social actors (sponsorship) concerned with their existence” (Saunders et al, 2009, p.110). In other words how the sponsor is perceived and the benefits associated with their sponsorship affects the brand image that the consumer holds of that organisation. A deductive rather than inductive research approach will be implemented as there is already a vast amount of literature relevant to sponsorship and brand image that can be consulted to deduce a theoretical framework. This is usually a strategy involving little risk when compared to inductive research, except for the possibility of a lack of questionnaire respondents.
Proposed Data Collection Methods
To ensure that the data is being interpreted as it should be the method of triangulation will be adopted and both qualitative and quantitative date will be collected using in-depth interviews and questionnaires. The questionnaires will be anonymous and will include questions relating to how consumers perceived the sponsors brand image before their awareness of the sponsorship, how their perception differed after becoming aware, attitudes etc. A relatively small, representative sample of approximately 50 people will be conducted and it is hoped that these people return their completed questionnaires in order to provide the required quantitative data.
The in-depth interviews will produce a high-volume of rich, qualitative data and a rigid structure will be adhered to due to the requirement to statistically generalise, and to get results of a valid and reliable nature. These interviews will take place with consumers in order to gain a better understanding of how their perceptions of brand image are affected. Interviews will be recorded using a Dictaphone to allow the information to be analysed effectively at a later date. The interviews will consist mainly of open ended questions as this will allow for more information to be gathered.
Proposed Methods of Analysis
The qualitative data that is gathered through conducting interviews will be analysed using content analysis. According to Tharenou et al (2007, p. 252) based on the work of Sommer & Sommer, 1991, content analysis can be “defined as a technique for systematically describing the form and content of written or spoken material”. The data will be reviewed against previous theory and hypotheses in order to establish a causal link. This will then be coded and analysed by a computer using the NVivo software program.
The quantitative data produced by the questionnaires will be ranked using a Likert Scale of 1-5 in order to measure the attitude of the consumer towards brand image. These results will be coded and graphed in order to interpret the information and they will be analysed first using initial analyses, and then a bivariate analysis to study for correlation coefficients between the two variables.
Ethical and Access Considerations
According to Saunders et al, 2009, researchers should be aware to the fact that ethical implications are bound to arise when concerning the access granted to the organisation and individual, and as noted by Tharenou et al, 2007 it is imperative that before the research is conducted, the researchers design is assessed to ensure that follows the strict ethical procedures. In this case, it is the requirement that a consent document is created stating that all information disclosed by the consumer is anonymous and confidential. Additionally, it is important with regards to the credibility of the research and the researcher that that deception and discrimination of the consumer is avoided at all costs, and that the consumers involvement is both voluntary and informed, Sieber, 1992 defines voluntary as the ability to participate freely. It has also been acknowledged that there is a strict requirement that the researcher remain neutral at all times so as to not cause any bias effects on the research.
See Appendix 3 – Gantt Chart
The resources required for this research are:
The majority of journals can be accessed via the internet whilst necessary books can be purchased or loaned from Bangor University Library and Manchester Library. A Dictaphone can easily be acquired and the NVivo software can be accessed via the Bangor University Intranet when logged onto the University network. Given that the resources listed above are already of access, the costs associated with undertaking the research should be small.
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