Nature and Consequences of Social Media-Based Anti-brand Activism Against Sponsors and Investors of Sport Teams: An Abstract
Social networks such as Facebook have become a fundamental venue for positive sport-related interaction. However, social media provide also a perfect platform for negative communication and anti-brand communities which are forming around common aversions toward a specific brand (Hollenbeck and Zinkhan 2006). Emerging research suggests negative consequences of anti-brand communities opposing a sport team, both for the team itself and for its sponsors (Hickman and Lawrence 2010). While most anti-brand communities in sport build around a disliked team, some oppose a sponsor or investor of the team. Research on image transfers (Meenaghan 2001) and balance theory (Dalakas and Levin 2005) provides a suitable theoretical framework for a rationale of interrelationships between the anti-brand community and the team.
Given the lack of research on anti-sponsor-brand activism, our research aims to identify the nature and the consequences of anti-sponsor-brand communities for both the sponsor and the team brand. We conducted netnographic research on three Facebook-based anti-brand communities opposing sponsorships of teams from the professional German football league (Bundesliga). One community originates from the rejection of Wiesenhof as jersey sponsor of Werder Bremen. The other two oppose Red Bull as main sponsor of RB Leipzig and the club RB Leipzig. In addition, we studied a related non-Facebook-based anti-RB online community.
Netnography on the anti-Red Bull communities discloses that most users join the community to fight against Red Bull which is considered as incarnation of the ultimate commercialization of football. Members disparage the sponsors, the club, and its fans by posting paroles or provoking graphics. Moreover, fans of opponent teams call for boycotts of RB Leipzig games or organize actions at RB Leipzig games. Activists further urge the football association to fight against the commercialization and Red Bull’s activities which undercut league rules. Finally, fans of RB Leipzig visit the anti-RB Leipzig communities and try to defend their team, thereby contributing to the interaction as well as rivalry among fan groups. The example of Werder/Wiesenhof reveals parallels to RB Leipzig but also illustrates strong differences. Half of the members are fans of the sponsee Werder Bremen who try to protect their club against negative spillover effects. The other half mainly consists of activists against industrial livestock farming who engage for animal rights and try to harm the sponsor. Werder fans indicate that their relationship to the club is negatively affected and that they are willing to boycott merchandising articles incorporating the sponsor brand. Finally, we identified a dilemma for sponsees and opposed sponsors: While public media appreciated reactions from the sponsor and the club such as discussion sessions with fans and visits of players at Wiesenhof, they had the opposite effect on the anti-sponsor community and rather stimulated the negative debate.
Because of anti-sponsor communities’ multifaceted effects on sponsors as well as clubs, this phenomenon has to be considered and monitored by both of them. The strong dynamics of social networks and propagation of anti-sponsor communities by other media to a broad mass of individuals corroborate this finding. While anti-sponsor community members generally dislike the sponsor, they differ in their attachment to the sponsored team. This imbalance of fan attachment to team and sponsor can lead to negative changes in fans’ attitudes toward the team. Brand managers and teams facing anti-sponsor communities need to identify the (varying) motivations of members in order to find suitable strategies for coping with this anti-sponsor activism.
References Available Upon Request