Attitudinal Effects of Combined Sponsorship and Sponsor's Prominence on Basketball in Europe

Thierry Lardinoit
ESSEC, France
Pascale G. Quester
University of Adelaide,Australia

Sponsorship achieved unprecedented growth in the 1980s, with current worldwide sponsorships estimated to reach USD 22 billion (16th annual projection from IEG Inc., 2000). Moreover, recent professional reports (UDA, 1996) show that 75% of marketing practitioners favor further developments of this communication tool. At the same time, many also appear to question the actual effectiveness of sponsorship (Abel and Long, 1996) and more than 65% of sponsors consider sponsorship as increasingly expensive (Lardinoit, 1996).

Responding to the need for valid and reliable evidence concerning sponsorship, some researchers have examined the effectiveness of this communication approach. One major obstacle they have faced stems from the mixed activities sponsorship entails and the confusion apparent in the literature regarding its definition. While there is a consensus that 'commercial sponsorship involves an investment in cash or kind in an activity, person or idea for the purpose of exploiting the commercial potential associated with this activity' (Meenaghan, 1991) it is necessary to clarify the differences between on-site and broadcast sponsorship. Field or on-site sponsorship refers to the placement of logos or sports equipment and billboards at the scene of the event itself, whereas broadcast or television sponsorship refers to the practice favored by advertisers who seek to associate their name with a specific television program or its promotion - but excluding any direct or indirect commercial promotion of its product or services (EGTA, 1993). TV sponsorship stimuli are 'messages that are limited to the brand name or to a few words summarizing the brand's positioning platform'.  (Pham and Vanhuele, 1997). Typically, such announcements take the form of 'This program is proudly brought to you by Firm Z' and their background often reflects or even repeats the format of advertisements for the firm or its products that are included in the commercial breaks contained in the program itself. These short announcements (15s) all but replicate what reminder advertising spots aim to do when they are included in the same commercial break as a longer 30s advertisement: they reinforce the message the longer commercial contains. Broadcast announcements, in such contexts, could be perceived by consumers as short spot advertisements with a single message reminding them, namely, that 'Firm Z sponsors this program'.  In such instances the effectiveness of broadcast sponsorship could be measured in similar ways as that of short television advertising, in terms of awareness, recognition, and potential attitudinal change. Measure of communication effectiveness of sponsorship is, however, made difficult by the fact that sponsors have sought to leverage their sponsorship efforts with simultaneous investments in supporting communication activities. For example, sponsors of the Euro '96 Soccer championship invested, on average, three dollars in such supporting activities for each dollar directly invested in sponsoring the event. The literature reveals a shared belief that performance of a sponsorship program comes from its 'leverage' in other of communication including television broadcast, publicity, or sales promotions (Meenaghan, 1989; Abratt and Grobler, 1989; Quester and Thompson, 1999). Despite this, the majority of studies rave merely involved the examination of 'on-site' sponsorship and, more specifically, have examined the impact of sponsorship and logos on memory processes Pham, 1992; d'Ydewalle and Tamsin, 1993; Quester and Farrelly, 1998). The poor performance of sponsorship on consumers' memory process (Pham, 1992), coupled with changes in sponsors' communication strategies (Meenaghan, 1991) fostered the emergence of Corporate and/or Brand Image objectives in sponsors' plans in the '90s (Burton, Quester, and Parrelly, 1998). An examination of sponsorship performance, therefore, should entail the assessment of its effect on such variables, although few authors have taken this path (Giannelloni, 1990; Walliser, 1994). There has been, to our knowledge, no attempt at measuring experimentally the potential effects of combining on-site sponsorship and related leverage promotional efforts. While Quester and Thompson (1999) demonstrated experimentally - and conclusively - the direct link between the size of the leverage investment and the occurrence of attitudinal changes in audiences of arts events, their approach was limited to examining the ratio of total leverage investments over total direct sponsorship investment. Their results clearly identified synergetic effects between sponsorship and leverage activities, without providing any means to measure them. Recent studies reported in the literature have also suggested that sponsors' prominence, as indicated by market share and top-of-the-mind awareness, influences significantly sponsorship effectiveness in terms of memorization and recall. For instance, findings by Quester (1997) and Quester and Farrelly (1998) showed that market share and product category influenced the probability of being recalled as a sponsor of an event. A recent and comprehensive examination of sponsorship also demonstrated that 'prominence' and 'relatedness' both contributed to explain the degree of mental construction consumers engaged in when exposed to sponsors' messages and, thus, determined the extent of their accurate memorization of the sponsors (Johar and Pham, 1999). Thus, this present study seeks to address the question of whether interaction effects exist (1) on television audiences' attitudes toward sponsors and (2) when combining 'on-site' and 'broadcast sponsorship'. In addition, this study examines whether the prominence of the sponsor influences the effectiveness of its investment. Being the first empirical study of this kind, it proposes to do this in the specific context of basketball, a sport whose target audience is comprised mostly of young adults (St John, 1998). While this may preclude any broad generalization of the findings, this choice of a particular setting for the study affords greater internal validity and provides a potential methodological direction for future empirical work in this area. Furthermore, basketball is representative of a number of ball-based team sports where the audience attention is directed to a focal object (the ball) and/ or the players, as opposed to any peripheral cues (D'Ydewalle et al., 1988, 1993). Since our research examines the potential interaction of on-site and TV broadcasting sponsorship messages - an occurrence associated with all major international sporting events with the exception of the Olympic Games - it is our contention that our study may provide some grounds for generalization to other sporting contexts.