The Influence of Sponsorship on Brand and Event Attitudes: Understanding the Role of Emotions
Event sponsorship in sport has become one of the most prominent nontraditional components of the marketing communication mix for many companies across the globe (IEG 2011). Since many companies use sporting events to promote their brands, studying the effects of event sponsorships on both sponsoring brands and sponsored events has become increasingly relevant to marketing theory and practice (Sneath et al. 2005, Chien et al. 2011). Sponsoring events which have a global audience (e.g. FIFA World Cup, Olympics, Wimbledon) offers historically unprecedented reach for corporations and other organizations seeking to communicate messages worldwide (Farelly et al. 1997).
Sponsorship theory proposes that event sponsorship can lead to increased interest, awareness and intent to purchase the sponsor’s products (Meenaghan 1991; Roy and Cornwell 2004). To explain the relationship between sponsorship, attitudes and ultimately consumer behavior, scholars frequently refer to congruence theory (e.g., Osgood and Tannenbaum 1955; Fleck and Maille 2010) and the meaning transfer phenomenon (McCracken 1986). However, the mediating roles of event and brand emotions resulting from the sponsorship relationship and the subsequent impact on consumer attitudes have been largely ignored. Martensen and colleagues (2007) proposed a model to spark research within this theoretical gap, but testing and refinement of the model has thus far been limited to a single participant sport (golf) in a Western culture (Denmark). The purpose of this study is to refine and test a comprehensive model of the influence of sponsorship on consumer behavior in the Indian subcontinent, where a quarter of the world’s population resides.
Theory suggests that congruence (i.e., fit between the sponsor and sponsored event) first influences consumer emotions toward the event, which in turn influences emotions regarding the sponsoring brand (Martensen et al. 2007). Specifically, the effects of a congruent sponsorship are hypothesized to generate a more (less) positive (negative) emotion towards the event compared to an incongruent sponsor. Martensen and colleagues (2007) propose that a positive (negative) emotional experience with an event leads to a positive (negative) emotional reaction and attitude towards the sponsoring brand through a spreading activation process (Anderson 1983). Furthermore, consumers with positive attitudes toward the event and its sponsors are also more likely to attend the event and purchase the sponsors’ products and services. Hence, we predict that event emotions are positively related to brand emotions and consequently lead to a positive relationship between brand attitudes and event attitudes and ultimately higher purchase intentions.
In order to empirically assess the robustness of the proposed model, structural equation modeling (SEM) was performed on data collected from a sample (n=289) of consumers from the Indian sub-continent. The findings of this study support the contention of congruence theory that the fit between the images of the sponsor and the event ultimately enhances positive attitudes toward both the event and sponsor, but the lack of fit is not inevitably detrimental. However, our study’s results emphasize the mediating role of emotion by demonstrating that greater sponsorship fit elicits positive event emotion, which influences attitude toward the event and emotion toward the sponsoring brand, which contributes to brand attitude. Though we did not find sponsorship fit to significantly influence negative emotions, existing negative emotions toward the event did contribute to negative emotion felt toward the sponsoring brand. Furthermore, we find additional empirical support for the theory of reverse sponsorship effects proposed by Ruth and Simonin (2003) in that attitude toward the sponsoring brand affects the attitude toward the sponsored event by virtue of the association (McCracken1986).
These results suggest sponsorship managers should avoid association with teams or events when negative emotions are likely to be elicited by consumers, such as rivalry exposure (Bee and Dalakas 2012). Additionally, by testing the model using data gathered from an Indian sample, this study contributes to the burgeoning body of sponsorship research by demonstrating that fit and the emotions elicited from sponsorship are important for consumers in developing countries. In sum, this paper adds early evidence of the generalizability of sponsorship effects models, which have primarily been tested in Western context.