Studies of the off-field behaviours of sportspeople : are sponsors' objectives at risk?

Bloxsome, Ellen (2012) Studies of the off-field behaviours of sportspeople : are sponsors' objectives at risk? PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The research reported here addresses the problem of athlete off-field behaviours as they influence sports’ sponsors, particularly the achievement of sponsorship objectives. The question arises because of incidents of sponsorship contract cancellation following news-media reporting of athletes’ off-field behaviours. Two studies are used to investigate the research question; the first establishes the content of news-media reports, and the second tests the effects of news’ reports on athlete, team and sponsor evaluations using an experimental design.

Key assumptions of the research are that sponsorship objectives are principally consumer-based and mediated. Models of sponsorship argue that sponsors aim to reach and influence consumers through sponsees. Assuming this pathway exists is central to sponsorship activities. A corollary is that other mediators, in this case the news-media, may also communicate (uncontrollable) messages such that a consumer audience may be told of negative news that may then be associated with the sponsor.

When sponsors cancel contracts it is assumed that their goal is to control the links between their brand and a negative referent.

Balance theory is used to discuss the potential effects of negative off-field behaviours of athletes on sponsor’s objectives. Heider’s balance theory (1958) explains that individuals prefer to evaluate linked individuals or entities consistently.

In the sponsorship context this presents the possibility that a negative evaluation of the athlete’s behaviour will contribute to correspondingly negative evaluations of the athlete’s team and sponsors.

A content analysis (Study 1) was used to survey the types of athlete off-field behaviours commonly reported in a newspaper. In order to provide a local context for the research, articles from the Courier Mail were sampled and teams in the National Rugby League (NRL) competition were the focus of the research. The study identified nearly 2000 articles referring to the NRL competition; 258 of those refer to off-field incidents involving athletes. The various types of behaviours reported include assault, sexual assault allegations, driving under the influence of alcohol, illicit drug use, breaches of club rules, and positive off-field activities (i.e., charitable activities).

An experiment (Study 2) tested three news’ article stimuli developed from the behaviours identified in Study 1 in a between-subjects design. A measure of Identification with the Team was used as a covariate variable in the Multivariate Analysis of Covariance analysis. Social identity theory suggests that when an individual identifies with a group, their attitudes and behaviours towards both in- and out-group members are modified. Use of Identification with the Team as a covariate acknowledges that respondents will evaluate behaviours differently according to the attribution of those behaviours to an in- or out-group member.

Findings of the research suggest that the news’ article stimuli have significant, large effects on evaluations of athlete off-field behaviour and athlete Likability. Consistent with pretest results, charitable fundraising is regarded as extremely positive; the athlete, correspondingly, is likable. Assault is evaluated as extremely negative, and the athlete as unlikable. DUI scores reveal that the athlete’s behaviour is very negative; however, the athlete’s likability was evaluated as neutral. Treatment group does not produce any significant effects on team or sponsor variables.

This research also finds that Identification with the Team has significant, large effects on team variables (Attitude toward the Brand and Corporate Image).

Identification also has a significant large effect on athlete Likability, but not on Attitude toward the Act. Identification with the Team does not produce any significant effects on sponsor variables.

The results of this research suggest that sponsor’s consumer-based objectives are not threatened by newspaper reports linking athlete off-field behaviour with their brand.

Evaluations of sponsor variables (Attitude toward the Sponsor’s Brand and Corporate Image) were consistently positive. Variance in that data, however, cannot be attributed to experimental stimuli or Identification with the Team. These results argue that respondents may regard sponsorships, in principle, as good.

Although it is good news for sponsors that negative evaluations of athletes will not produce correspondingly negative evaluations of consumer-based sponsorship objectives, the results indicate problems for sponsorship managers. The failure of Identification with the Team to explain sponsor variable variance indicates that the sponsor has not been evaluated as a linked entity in a relationship with the sporting team and athlete in this research. This result argues that the sponsee-mediated affective communication path that sponsors aim use to communicate with desirable publics is not necessarily a path available to them.

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ID Code: 60920
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Neale, Larry, Lings, Ian, & Pope, Nigel
Keywords: sport sponsorship, objectives, athlete off-field behaviours, consumer evaluations, identification, balance
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 24 Jun 2013 04:43
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015 02:48

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