Sponsorship in Professional Sport: Is It Effective?

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A trip to Selhurst Park to see Crystal Palace FC in the English football top-flight is an experience you will not quickly forget if you are fortunate enough to have a coveted ticket in your hand mid-season.

The stadium will no doubt be packed to the rafters with the clubs famously loud and passionate fans, willing their beloved Eagles on at all costs. A glance around will see thousands of red and blue shirts, emblazoned with the logo of the club official main sponsor Mansion. The Mansion Group, the online casino games company, supports both Crystal Palace and AFC Bournemouth of the English Premiership through their sponsorships. Companies such as Mansion invest broadly in professional sport sponsorship across the globe which begs the question, is professional sports sponsorship effective and worthwhile?

At the present time, the sponsorship of professional sport worldwide accounts for an estimated 50 billion US dollars per year. Companies incorporate sport sponsorship of clubs and competitions as part of multi-faceted marketing and promotion campaigns in an ever-changing consumer environment. The traditional media market has become increasingly fragmented as alternative content channels, particularly niche providers and online platforms, have been opened, lowering live television ratings and print readership. The social media landscape, with its instant content at consumer’s disposal, has developed a trend of consumer inattentiveness as users move swiftly to the next item that interests them directly at the touch of a screen. These trends have impacted on both the reach and effectiveness of traditional advertising campaigns.

This has led to sports sponsorship initiatives whose effectiveness relies upon multi-dimensional, well thought through campaigns that ‘fit’ the sporting organisations that they are partnered with. With the roaring Crystal Palace fans at Selhurst Park in mind, effective professional sports sponsorship gives companies an opportunity to connect at an emotional level with consumers and develop brand loyalty through association with their loved sporting entity.

By associating the brand of a company with the professional sports club through ‘front-of-mind’ awareness campaigns, companies position themselves positively in the minds of the fans. Brand association is powerful as consumers perceive the sponsoring organization as an active part of the club through its support. The sponsor is positioned in a benevolent way in the mind of the fan as its support helps drive the sporting body the fan feels passionately about forward in terms of success or survival. Sponsoring a loved sporting entity reaches consumers in a context that they voluntarily want to be in with research suggesting heightened recall and recognition of sport sponsors by supporters of the entities sponsored.

With the potential for strong commercial gains through brand awareness, sport sponsorship effectiveness is contingent on well-developed implementation strategies. A company needs to ‘fit’ with the sports entity or competition it sponsors to ensure best return through the right associative link between customer and brand. To illustrate, a company that prides itself on speed, power and innovation may find potential in sponsorships in the automotive racing industry and the customer emotional associations to be formed there. Research suggests also that sponsorship reinforces past buying behavior making it a particularly powerful tool for large, well-known brands. This is observed worldwide through the sports sponsorship presence of giants such as McDonalds, Samsung, Nike, Adidas, Mastercard and Coca-Cola to name just a few.

Once brand awareness gains through sport sponsorship have been acquired, it is vital for strong return on investment for companies to provide activation opportunities for their brand. It has been reported that top-quartile sponsorships exhibit a ten-fold increase in return on investment over bottom-quartile sponsorships. Providing interactive opportunities through social media or product placement is vital in leveraging this financial return.

It can be seen that there is potential for brands to grow through their associations with professional sport through sponsorship. As it has been estimated that brand strength as an influencing factor on consumer behavior accounts for 60 to 80 percent of sales, companies such as Mansion and its investment in English football clubs should take on sport sponsorship opportunities. Through effective implementation these brands will develop heightened awareness and receive strong return on investment through the passionate fans that support their clubs and competitions loyally.

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