How Event Sponsors Are Really Identified: A (Baseball) Field Analysis

Gita Venkataramani Johar
Columbia University

Michel Tuan Pham
Columbia University

Kirk L. Wakefield
Baylor University


Event sponsorship continues to attract ever-increasing levels of interest (and money) as a form of marketing and corporate communication. For instance, companies and brands such as Adidas, Fujifilm, and Toshiba recent spent tens of millions of dollars for the rights to be official sponsors of the 2006 FIFA World Soccer Cup in Germany. Accurate identification of sponsors of an event, team, venue, or cause is critical to the success of sponsorship communication. However, research continues to show that even frequent viewers and attendees confuse or forget the primary sponsors of major events. For example, half of the British fans who watched or attended, on average, 13 matches of the Euro 2000 soccer competition could not recall any sponsors. In aided recall, these fans in fact identified brands such as Nike and Carling who were not sponsors more frequently than actual sponsors MasterCard, JVC, and Fuji. Similarly, four years later, respondents asked to name the official sponsors of the Euro 2004 soccer cup were almost as likely to mistakenly identify Nike as they were to correctly identify Adidas, the real sponsor. Numerous field studies have uncovered similarly disappointing rates of sponsor identification with other events (e.g., Grohs, Wagner, and Vsetecka, 2004; Pham, 1992; Sandler and Shani, 1989). If much of the audience is unable to correctly identify the sponsor of an event or, worse, identify companies who did not pay the sponsorship fees (including competitors!), the value of the sponsorship becomes highly questionable. This affects not only the sponsors themselves but also the various properties that seek sponsorship fees. The purpose of this article is to provide a better understanding of the psychological processes underlying the correct or incorrect identification of property sponsors in the marketplace.