This paper bridges a theoretical gap between early celebrity endorsement and hero worship literature. Additionally, the model connects a successful, winning athlete with several established branding constructs. The Roethlisberger Effect takes early theory proposed over 35 years ago in “The Namath Effect” and applies it with a modern touch. Given that the NFL is often referred to as a “copycat league” – i.e. when something works, all other teams work quickly to replicate it – the impact that Roethlisberger has had upon other league and team management philosophies is rather profound.
This paper is an updated version of a poster presentation I authored for the 7th Sport Marketing Association (SMA) Conference (2009).
There are three parties involved in a simple sponsorship mechanism: the sponsor, the sponsored event or team, and the consumers (fans). However, this structure becomes more complicated in some cases where sub-sponsors exist such as in international sporting events. In these cases, would an overarching event influence sub-sponsorship such as team sponsorship? Based on this question, this study aims to investigate the influence of overarching brand on team sponsorship effect, along with consumers’ attitudes toward team sponsors, team identification, and patriotism.
This study was conducted in the context of the 2010 World Cup with the United States team as a target subject. A total of 455 usable surveys were collected from the students at a Division I university two weeks prior to the 2010 World Cup. The results of multiple regression showed that only identification with the US National team (β= .54) and attitude toward the sponsoring companies (β= .28) were significant predictors (F(4,450) = 128.43, p < .00, R2=.53), explaining 53 percent of intention to purchase sponsors’ product. Interestingly, the attitude toward the World Cup and patriotism were not influencing factors on respondents’ intention to purchase sponsors’ products. (more…)
Submitted by Christie Zunker, PhD, Trisha Karr, PhD, Roberta Trattner Sherman, PhD, FAED, Ron A. Thompson, PhD, FAED, Li Cao, MS, Ross D. Crosby, PhD and James E. Mitchell, MD.
This study examined the relationship between clothing fit and perceived fitness level. Participants included 2,386 adults who completed an online survey after a running event. The survey included four questions related to photographs of athletic models wearing loose-fitting and tight-fitting clothing: (1) Which event do you think the model took part in? (2) What do you think is the main reason he/she took part in the event? (3) How well do you think this person performed? and (4) How confident are you that your running time beat this person’s time? Results showed participants were more likely to believe athletes wearing tight-fitting clothing ran further and faster than athletes wearing loose-fitting clothing; and were less confident in their abilities to run faster than athletes wearing tight-fitting clothing than those who wore loose-fitting clothing.
These findings suggest clothing fit influences perception of athletic ability among runners. Athletes making upward comparisons may become increasingly dissatisfied with their appearance and at risk for avoidance of certain sports, decreased amounts of time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity, and experience feelings of inferiority that negatively influence sport performance.
Sociocultural comparisons and perceived pressure to be thin can foster body dissatisfaction (15); however, some individuals report a preference for athletic-ideal body shapes over a thin-ideal (13). Comparing oneself to a fit peer can affect body satisfaction and the amount of time one engages in physical activity. For example, a study by Wasilenko and colleagues (2007) with female undergraduates found that women stopped exercising sooner and felt less satisfied with their bodies when they exercised near a woman they perceived as physically fit wearing shorts and a tight tank top as compared to exercising near an unfit woman wearing baggy pants and a baggy sweatshirt (23). Thus, social comparisons with peers may promote unhealthy behaviors or avoidance of certain activities. Additionally, individuals who experience weight-related stigmas may be less willing to participate in physical activity and avoid exercise due to low perceived competence and lack of motivation (16, 22).
Individuals who adopt an external observational view, or a self-objectified perspective of their bodies, may invest a considerable amount of psychological, physical, and financial resources into their appearance (1). Objectification theory proposes that these individuals internalize the observers’ view of their bodies (i.e., self-objectification) and become preoccupied with how their body appears to others without regard to how their body actually feels (10). Interviews with elite athletes indicate that they view an athlete’s body “as an object to be managed” (17p. 206). Self-objectifying thoughts and appearance concerns may be triggered in individuals with low self-esteem and exacerbated in certain environments (e.g., gyms with mirrors, women wearing revealing outfits;18). For example, a study by Fredrickson and colleagues (1998) in which participants (70% Caucasian) were instructed to try on either a swimsuit or a sweater in a dressing room with a full-length mirror and then complete a mathematics test showed that women in the swimsuit condition performed worse on the test than women in the sweater condition. The authors postulated that bodily shame diminished their mathematical performance since their mental energy was focused on their appearance (11). Another study by Hebl and colleagues (2004) with a similar protocol with men and women of Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian American descent, found that all participants had lower mathematics performance and appeared vulnerable to self-objectification during the swimsuit condition compared to the sweater condition (12). A study by Fredrickson and Harrison (2005) with 202 adolescent girls found that those with higher measures of self-objectification had poorer performance throwing a softball when asked to throw as hard as she could (9). These findings suggest that experiencing bodily shame may negatively influence one’s ability to engage in physical activities or other activities that require mental resources.
Clothing appears to be an important, but often ignored, part of how women manage their physical appearance (21). Wearing a swimsuit or other tight, body contouring uniform for a particular sport may be necessary for performance, but there are often gender discrepancies with women usually wearing much less clothing (19). Revealing sports uniforms may be perceived as stressors and exert pressure on some athletes functionality or performance advantage. Indeed, some individuals report feeling uncomfortable wearing revealing attire and may choose not to participate in a particular sport due to required uniforms.
Sports uniforms may contribute to unhealthy eating behaviors and eating disorders, especially among women. For example, female athletes often experience increased body image concerns, unhealthy body comparisons, and body dissatisfaction; however, satisfaction with uniform fit can improve body perceptions (6). In addition, female runners who report high identification with exercise and high value on having an athletic physique may be vulnerable to obligatory exercise (14).
Performance of sport participants depends upon a number of factors, including their psychological state, which may be influenced by their athletic clothing or uniform. Research by Feltman and Elliot (2011), Dreiskaemper and colleagues (2013), and Feather and colleagues (1997) suggests that the color and fit of an athlete’s uniform influences their psychological functioning. For example, during a simulated competition, participants reported feeling more dominant and threatening when wearing red as opposed to wearing blue (8). Participants also perceived their opponents as more dominant and threatening when the opponents were wearing red. Similarly, a study with male fighters taking part in an experimental combat situation found that those wearing a red jersey had significantly higher heart rates before, during, and after the fight compared to wearing a blue jersey (4). In addition, a study of female basketball players showed athletic clothing that provided a satisfactory fit on one’s body improved athletes’ body perceptions (6).
Findings from the literature (Feather and colleagues, 1997; Feltman and Elliott, 2011) indicate that clothing choices influence our perceptions and behaviors, which may affect us in a number of ways. At the present time, no studies to our knowledge have examined this phenomenon among endurance athletes. Thus, the purpose of the current study was to explore the role of clothing fit among a group of runners. We hypothesized that individuals would perceive both male and female athletes wearing tight fitting clothing to be more physically fit (i.e., ideal body type for their sport) than athletes wearing loose fitting clothing.
METHODS Study participants
Participants included individuals aged 18 and older who took part in a running event at an annual marathon in the Midwestern United States. Participants were recruited through flyers, an advertisement as part of a packet distributed to runners, and through an email list serve managed by the race director. Institutional review board approval was received. Informed consent was obtained from all participants.
Anyone who took part in the race was eligible to take the survey. Participants included 2,386 adults who completed the online survey. Of the total sample, 588 completed the full marathon (24.6%), 1,101 completed the half marathon (46.1%), and 697 completed a shorter distance such as a 5K or 10K (29.2%). The mean age for participants was 37.2 years (SD = 10.8; range: 18-91), and the mean self-reported body mass index (BMI) was 24.4 (range: 15.3-47.8). Within the sample, 96.2% were Caucasian, 93.2% were employed, and 67.5% were married. As compensation for participation in the study, participants were entered into a drawing to win one of four gift cards valued at $50 to $200 for a local sporting goods store.
The online survey was available for three weeks (i.e., from the day of the event until three weeks following the event). A total of 3,117 individuals logged into the survey during this time. A flowchart provides a detailed description of how the final study participant sample was determined (see Figure 1). The final sample included 2,386 participants (76.5% of those who originally expressed interest in the study), after removing those who originally logged onto the website, but had missing data or did not meet eligibility criteria (e.g., did not report gender, under 18).
As part of an online survey, participants viewed four photographs of models wearing black athletic clothing. The photos were cropped to display the model from neck to ankle. The first photo (Model A) was of a woman wearing a loose-fitting, short-sleeved top and loose-fitting shorts. The second photo (Model B) was of the same woman wearing the same shirt, but in a smaller size and tighter-fitting shorts. Similarly, the third photo (Model C) was of a man wearing a loose-fitting outfit and the fourth photo (Model D) was the same man wearing a tighter outfit. A manipulation check to assess the validity of the photos as an assessment of perceived physical fitness level was performed by showing the four photos to ten individuals with expertise in physical fitness and eating disorders. Each individual independently viewed the photos and provided an open-ended response. As expected, each person who viewed the photos reported that Model A was perceived as less fit than Model B and Model C was perceived as less fit than Model D.
All participants viewed and answered questions related to each photo. Both males and females evaluated photos across genders. The first and second author developed 4 questions related to the photos: (1) Which event do you think she/he took part in? (there were 9 race options as answers to choose from: marathon, half marathon, 2-person relay, 4-person relay, 5k on Friday plus half marathon Saturday, 5k on Friday plus full marathon Saturday, 10k, 5k, and prefer not to answer); (2) What do you think is the main reason she/he took part in this event? (there were 5 answers to choose from: just for fun, to meet a personal goal, to qualify for another event, other reasons, and prefer not to answer); (3) How well do you think she/he performed? (there was a range of 5 answers: extremely well, finished in the top 25%; very well, finished in the top 50%; not so well, finished in the bottom 50%; poor, finished in the bottom 25%, and prefer not to answer);. (4) How confident are you that your running time beat this person’s time? (there was a rating scale of 6 choices: I feel certain that I ran faster, I am pretty certain that I ran faster, I think we ran about the same pace, I am pretty certain that I ran slower, I am certain I ran slower, and prefer not to answer).
All analyses were conducted using SAS 9.2 GENMOD Procedure. Generalized linear models were built to compare the pair-wise contrasts about perceptions of models wearing athletic clothing by gender.
The first research question asked was “Which event do you think she/he took part in?” We hypothesized that more participants would report Model B (compared to Model A) and Model D (compared to Model C) ran the full marathon. The results show that male participants were 1.5 times more likely to believe that Model B ran the full marathon compared to Model A (OR = 1.465; p = .004). Female participants were 1.4 times more likely to believe that Model B ran the full marathon compared to Model A (OR = 1.409; p = .002).
Table 1. Odds ratios from contrast estimates of gender, perceptions of clothing fit, and athletic performance
The differences for Model D and C, the male models, were more dramatic. Male participants were 2.8 times more likely to believe that Model D ran the full marathon compared to Model C (OR = 2.817; p < .0001). Among men, the results showed that 40% believed Model D and only 17% thought Model C ran the full marathon. Female participants were 3.2 times more likely to believe that Model D ran the full marathon compared to Model C (OR = 3.19; p < .0001). For women, the results showed that 46% believed Model D and only 16% thought Model B ran the full marathon.
The second research question asked was, “What do you think is the main reason she/he took part in this event?” We hypothesized that more participants would report Model B and D participated in the event to qualify for another running event. Male participants were 2.7 times more likely to believe Model B was trying to qualify for another event compared to Model A (OR = 2.710; p = .001). Female participants were 4.0 times more likely to believe Model B was trying to qualify for another event compared to Model A (OR = 3.958; p < .0001).
Similar to the previous research question, the differences for the male model were more dramatic. Male participants were 6.3 times more likely to believe Model D was trying to qualify for another event compared to Model C (OR = 6.346; p < .0001). While female participants were 10.0 times more likely to believe Model D was trying to qualify for another event compared to Model C (OR = 9.972; p < .0001). See Table 1.
The third research question asked was, “How well do you think she/he performed?” We hypothesized that more participants would report Model B and D finished in the top 25% of the runners. For males, the odds of Model B finishing in the top 25% were 4.8 times greater than Model A (OR = 4.791; p < .0001). For females, the odds of Model B finishing in the top 25% were 3.7 times greater than Model A (OR = 3.701; p < .0001). For males, the odds of Model D finishing in the top 25% were 5.3 times greater than Model C (OR = 5.338; p < .0001). For females, the odds of Model D finishing in the top 25% were 5.9 times greater than Model C (OR = 5.892; p < .0001). See Table 1.
The fourth research question asked was, “How confident are you that your running time beat this person’s time?” For this question we were interested in how the participant compared him or herself to the same gender athlete (i.e., female participants compared themselves to Model B, male participants compared to Model D). We hypothesized that more women would report that they were less confident about their running time compared to Model B (i.e., believe that they ran slower than Model B). Indeed, female participants were 1.5 times less confident in beating the running time for Model B (OR = 0.687; p = .0008). We hypothesized that more men would report that they were less confident about their running time compared to Model D (i.e., believe that they ran slower than Model D). The results indicate that male participants were 2.6 times less confident in beating the running time for Model D (OR = 0.385; p < .0001). See Table 1.
As hypothesized, we found both male and female participants believed that the models wearing the tighter-fitting clothing were more likely to have run the full marathon and were more likely to be trying to qualify for another event compared to the models wearing the loose-fitting clothing. Particularly interesting was the finding that female participants were 10 times more likely to think the male model in the tight-clothing was trying to qualify for another event as compared to the male model in the looser clothing. Our results also indicate that male and female participants believed the models in the tighter-fitting clothing were more likely to run faster than them. Additionally, the participants were less confident of their running time when asked to compare themselves to the model of the same gender wearing the tighter clothing. In general, athletes who wore tight-fitting clothing were perceived as more physically capable and competitively successful than those who wore loose-fitting clothing.
The present findings support previous research involving social comparison theory in that participants were less confident in their running abilities, or negatively influenced by viewing photos of fit peers (23). These results suggest that participants make upward comparisons (3), by comparing themselves with individuals who were viewed as faster runners (i.e., Models B and D), which in turn, was associated with reduced confidence in their abilities to perform.
Athletic identity, performance enhancement, and style preferences, such as fit, comfort, and aesthetics, are important factors to consider when determining sport clothing needs of consumers (5). For example, a female runner may be more likely to purchase a pair of shorts that offer adequate coverage and sweat-wicking properties than shorts with minimal coverage and lack quick drying material. Consumer spending may also be influenced by how they identify with well-recognized athletes (2). Furthermore, in line with self-objectification theory, an external perspective of body appearance may be influenced by a number of specific functions for clothing selection, such as clothing for comfort, camouflage purposes, and individuality (21). Findings from the present study add to this literature by demonstrating that clothing may also influence perceptions of athletic performance, including physical capability and competitiveness among runners.
This study has several limitations that should receive consideration. This was a cross-sectional study with an inherent selection bias because the persons who decided to complete the survey may be different from those who chose not to participate. Therefore these findings may not generalize to all runners who took part in this running event or other similar events. For example, the majority of participants who completed the current survey were Caucasian, but participants of other races may have different perceptions of athletic bodies and clothing fit (7).
In spite of these limitations, the current study provides important information about the potential contributing factor of clothing fit on perceived fitness levels of endurance athletes. One notable strength of this study is the number of participants from a variety of fitness levels, including individuals aged from 18 to 91 years with a wide range of experiences from the casual 5k run/walk to the more serious seasoned marathoner. The popularity of running events is increasing along with the number of persons entering these events each year, which suggests a growing need to continue research in this area.
APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
From a clinical perspective, we are concerned that tight-fitting attire will facilitate upward body comparisons. Such comparisons could result in athletes becoming body conscious and dissatisfied with their appearance, possibly resulting in unhealthy weight loss attempts, or avoidance of certain sports. However, the results of this study suggest another possible negative consequence related to tight fitting sport attire, but not for the person wearing it. If an individual views such attire as intended exclusively for those who are more physically fit, then the individual may experience feelings of inferiority or inadequacy and not feel fit enough to wear such attire while exercising or competing. Thus, she might feel too uncomfortable to wear sport attire that she associates with physical fitness and success in sport, not to mention attractiveness. Unfortunately that perception also appears to decrease confidence regarding one’s own sport performance, which would be an important treatment issue for sport psychologists, who focus on factors affecting sport performance. In essence, she may not feel that she can compete in regards to meeting societal pressures for a certain image that signifies athleticism. If the discomfort with attire and the lack of confidence is significant, the individual may withdraw from her sport/physical activity. Many individuals with low self-perceptions of their physical ability require extra encouragement and support to engage in sports (20).
Future studies should consider measuring clothing fit and perceived fitness level among different target groups, such as individuals who have never participated in a running event to elite athletes participating in intense competitions (e.g., Olympics; Ironman) and other geographical locations. It may be interesting to compare the current results with less physically active individuals as well as elite athletes. In addition, it may be helpful to gather more information on participants’ perceptions of themselves, self-worth, and their own confidence level of performance prior to and following exposure to photos.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the survey assistance provided by Annie Erickson and cooperation of the Fargo Marathon Committee.
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Outsourcing is a crucial tool that allows sport organizations to turn over their noncore processes to external service providers. The outsourced service providers help sport organizations focus on sales efforts to maximize revenue. The purpose of this study was to examine outsourced marketing in NCAA Division I institutions from the outsourced marketing companies’ perspective. A survey was conducted to gather information from the general managers at the primary outsourced marketing company’s property affiliated with select schools in NCAA Division I conferences. Collected data were analyzed with descriptive statistics along with qualitative responses. The study found that the outsourced marketing firms focus on revenue generation through securing corporate sponsors. Primary inventories sold included commercials during radio broadcasts of games and signage at athletic facilities. These are typically packaged with the sports of football and/or men’s basketball. The study found that many sponsorship categories remained unfulfilled. There was also growing concern by the companies regarding the escalading financial guarantees paid to the schools. The findings and recommendations are valuable to college administrators, athletic directors and outsourced marketing firms as the parties strive to find outcomes beneficial to everyone involved in the partnership.
More and more collegiate athletic departments have adopted outsourcing as a strategy which uses their corporate partners, such as State Farm, Burger King or Verizon Wireless, to help them earn additional revenue in exchange for advertising at the sporting events. Outsourcing is a crucial business strategy that allows companies to turn over their noncore processes to external service providers while the company concentrates on its core competencies (18). In the highly competitive environment of intercollegiate athletics, some schools are able to handle its corporate partnerships with in-house marketing departments. However, the growing trend for major NCAA Division I schools is to outsource its marketing efforts to an outsourced marketing company that specializes in the sales of inventory such as commercials on radio broadcasts or coaches’ television show, corporate hospitality at home sporting events, signage at athletic facilities and more (24, 38).
The athletic department will typically sit down and outline what they would like to see from an outsourced partner (2). For most schools, outsourced companies offer the opportunity to streamline operations or provide resources that might not otherwise exist, such as sales expertise (24). Li and Burden (24) add that the athletic department may want a company to produce radio call-in shows or coaches’ television shows in addition to the sales efforts. The outsourced companies would have a greater opportunity to improve the quality of the broadcast and simplify the production efforts.
Host Communications, International Sports Properties (ISP Sports) and Learfield Communications were viewed as the main outsourced marketing companies in the early 2000’s (38). Nelligan Sports was also seen as an emerging outsourced marketing company. These outsourced companies handle sponsorship sales while the in-house marketing department shifted its attention to promotions and increasing attendance and ticket sales. The outsourced company would maintain a “property” at the school with the property serving as an extension of the parent company. The property was responsible for the sales efforts and reporting back to the parent company.
The benefits of the outsourced marketing partnership are that of guaranteed and additional revenue (19). An outsourced marketing company will promise a financial guarantee of a set amount to the school’s athletic department in exchange for being able to sell the “rights” of that athletic department. Another option includes a simple revenue-sharing model for the “rights.” The rights could be in the form of a radio commercial, an on-field promotion, a giveaway at a sporting event, or signage at an athletic facility including on a video board (38).
To a lesser extent, the outsourced company will also sell advertising in game programs, on ticket backs and on the athletic department’s website. A fan might pick up a schedule poster and schedule card at a football game with a sponsor’s logo on it. That sponsor may also have a permanent sign at the football stadium visible to fans and may also host a corporate village for its clients prior to the game. In exchange for its advertising opportunities, the sponsor will pay the outsourced marketing company an agreed upon amount of money. The outsourced marketing company will then put that revenue towards the promised guarantee for the athletic department. Once the guarantee is met, the athletic department receives an agreed upon percentage of any future revenue, but it is there that the outsourced company earns its greatest financial sales commission. If this financial model is not used the straight revenue sharing of each sponsorship sold is another viable option.
As these outsourced marketing companies gain more schools under their watch, they spread their sales territory and can start to package a few schools with one corporate sponsor. For example, ISP Sports may approach Verizon about a national sponsorship deal that could reach the Northeast through sponsoring Syracuse University, the West Coast through sponsoring UCLA, the Midwest through sponsoring the University of Houston and the Southeast through a sponsorship of Georgia Tech Athletics. At the same time, Verizon may also discuss a similar deal with Host Communications through sponsoring the athletic departments at Texas, Boston College, Arizona, Kentucky and the University of Michigan. Companies might also pursue schools in a set geographic region, further enabling them to partner with corporate partners exclusive to that particular region. By strategically acquiring attractive schools (those with large market areas and large fan bases) around the country, the outsourced marketing companies can pool their resources, reduce their costs and diversify their portfolio of schools at the same time.
A number of studies have examined the perceptions of athletic directors and senior staff administrators from the institutions that partner with an outsourced company about their relationship with their outsourcing partners (10, 19, 24, 25, 38). Issues examined include details of the outsourcing contracts such as the length of the term, the financial guarantee, and the strengths and weaknesses of the outsourced partnership. This current study provided the outsourced company a chance to respond with its own sentiments about the relationship and future issues related to outsourced marketing. An analysis of the schools’ responses in conjunction with the responses of the outsourced marketing companies could help make for a better relationship in the future. The purpose of this study was to examine outsourced marketing in NCAA Division I institutions from the outsourced marketing companies’ perspective.
An Overview of Outsourced Marketing in Intercollegiate Athletics
The most significant outsourced marketing deal to date took place early in the fall of 2004 as Host Communications won the rights to the University of Kentucky athletics in a ten-year deal valued at more than $80 million. Host placed a bid of $80.475 million edging the bid of $80.35 million submitted by Learfield Communications, while ESPN Regional bid $74 million and Viacom Sports $55.25 (29). The previous deal was $17.65 million over the course of five years and expired April 15, 2005 (20). This deal established a benchmark that has since been surpassed, but clearly raised the fair market value.
To look at the origin of outsourced companies’ involvement with athletic departments, it is necessary to start in Lexington, Kentucky, and the origin of Host Communications. In 1973, Jim Host bid on the rights for the University of Kentucky in what is the first believed outsourced deal in intercollegiate athletics. Within ten years, Host had secured the rights to the Final Four after convincing then NCAA president Walter Byers that corporate marketing was the wave of the future (34). Host saw the opportunity that existed in advertising and licensing given the affinity associated with the college sports fan.
In working with colleges and universities and their marketing efforts, what Host strived for was a clean venue comparable to the Olympic Games where there was limited signage and less clutter in the advertising. The corporate partners who paid the most would receive these exclusive opportunities to advertise. Host notes that the philosophy is not applied to the Bowl Championship Series which is run outside the control of the NCAA (34).
Today, Jim Host is no longer head of the company he started, but he has enjoyed seeing the company grow to the point that it sells advertising on over 500 radio stations for the Final Four (5). This is up from the 200 radio stations the company partnered with in 1982 (12). Host also prints game programs for over 43 NCAA championships and operates most marketing and promotional aspects of the NCAA events. It annually earns over $100 million in revenue (7) and has not limited itself to just intercollegiate athletics. Event marketing in junctures as diverse as Streetball and the National Tour Association (tourism industry) have led the company to be recognized by the SportsBusiness Journal as one of the top five marketing companies in the world and the premier in intercollegiate athletics (6). In 2007, global sports marketing giant IMG purchased Host Communication, as the company exists today as IMG College (17).
In time, other companies began to surface to challenge Host Communications as the “one-stop” shopping point for colleges and universities. The companies realized what athletic departments were failing to grasp, that season-ticket holders were more than just fans who wrote a check once a year for seats to a sporting event. These fans were consumers that could spend up to $100,000 or more during a lifetime on tickets, concessions, and parking (22). In addition, the fans were loyal to their teams and everything associated with their team.
Corporate partners began to realize this and wanted to partner with schools. With money to be made and Jim Host demonstrating some early financial return on investment for the University of Kentucky, more start-up outsourcing companies wanted to become involved in their revenue opportunity. Some of the companies were locally owned and operated, but others were more regional like an ISP Sports, Learfield Communications, or Nelligan Sports. Companies and athletic departments sat down to best figure out which schools were good fits for which company and how to best utilize the relationships over the long-term. After that outsourced companies began to provide sponsorship options or packages to corporate sponsors based on what other schools were doing (22).
In creating packages of what could be sold, the typical items included signage at the athletic facilities, television rights and radio broadcast rights (14). Cohen adds that higher dollar values were attached to such sponsorship packages and enabled athletic departments to offset growing expenses including scholarships and rising facility costs. Schools would “bundle” their inventory and see more of the revenue return directly to the school instead of multiple outside parties (13). Outsourced marketing enabled corporate sponsors to visit one individual or company instead of stopping at the radio station to gain radio advertising during game broadcasts, stopping at the local television station to gain on-air advertising during coaches’ television shows, then concluding with a visit to the athletic department for additional advertising signage at the athletic facilities. This is especially true as video boards became more and more detailed in intercollegiate athletic facilities starting with the University of Nebraska in 1994 (31).
As scoreboards have been supplemented or replaced with video boards fans are now afforded instant replays and advertising messages. A full-color video board could now offer “fan of the game” or “play of the game” or “great moments in history” segments that are presented in collaboration with a corporate sponsor. It could also roll a commercial exactly like the ones seen on television at home. Steinbach (31) noted that with their addition of video boards, Michigan State experienced a sponsorship revenue increase from $400,000 in the pre-video days in 1998 to more than $3 million annually by 2002.
While these video board improvements provided new fan entertainment and sponsorship revenue, they did not come without a price. Many older fans thought the video board was too much like the television they chose to leave at home. Others felt the noise was too distracting and took away from the natural elements of the sporting event including the fans’ cheering, the band and cheerleaders (15). Athletic administrators and outsourced companies had to evolve to package their advertising in subtle fashion around trivia contests, historic moments, replays and scores from around the country. Pure video commercials advertising products were not welcomed in the stadium as it distracted from the entertainment aspect of the game itself. Furthermore, sponsors recognized that if fans were not happy with the advertising, their affinity to the sponsor would not be positive either. Too much advertising could also lead to a clutter of sponsors with their advertising messages being lost on the fans (15). The message was heard by the outsourced companies which now included Viacom Sport and Action Sports Media in the mix.
Recent Concerns in Outsourced Marketing
Arizona State University completed a study in 2004 on a small sample size that found that in intercollegiate athletics, sponsorships are typically formed in the categories of: airlines, auto parts, beer, credit cards, DSL, gas/oil, health and fitness, long distance, paging devices, and tires/auto services (3). The same group also found that categories frequently ignored include: auto parts, boats/marines, computer hardware/software, delivery services, department stores, drug stores, electronics, hardware/home improvement, music stores, pharmaceuticals, personal hygiene, video game systems and video stores. One major concern is that ignoring these categories can result in significant lost revenue. Tim Hofferth, president and chief operating officer of Nelligan sports stresses that outsourced companies cannot ignore pre-existing business relationships between schools and area businesses as those are additional sponsorship opportunities waiting to happen (23). This is particularly important as the parent outsourcing companies, with a greater portfolio of schools, pursue national sponsorships that are more financially viable to the parent company relative to the schools’ properties pursuing regional and local sponsorships. Therefore another concern is that local relationships can be impaired or even lost.
Additional research by Walker (36) noted that it is important that communication between the outsourcing property and the school remain a high priority. Because of the athletic department’s affiliation with an institution of higher education there are certain restrictions that exist that may not be as prevalent in professional sports. Such restrictions may central on alcohol, gambling or lottery sponsorships or trying to maintain a “clean” image at the sporting events to avoid concerns of excess commercialization within higher education. Goals, philosophy and objectives between the school and property must be aligned (11).
Future research needs to also explore whether the escalating guarantees paid to schools have grown too rapidly for the outsourcing companies to keep pace. After Kentucky signed their landmark deal, Connecticut, Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio State and Nebraska have since signed contracts guaranteeing at least $80 million to their schools from their respective firms (29). Wisconsin, Oklahoma, LSU and Arkansas are all guaranteed at least $73 million through their school’s contractual obligations with outsourced marketing firms.
Outsourcing as a Strategic Alliance: A Brief Overview
As competition becomes more and more intensified, individual firms have to seek out strategies to stay competitive. One of such strategies is strategic alliances (16). The age of in-house operations is quickly being replaced by the age of alliances (16).
According to Spekman and Isabella (30), an alliance is a close, collaborative relationship created between two or more firms for the sake of accomplishing some goals that would be difficult for each to accomplish alone. By collaborating, alliance partners will not act in self-interest, but will promote the partnership and foster its strengths. There are several benefits of forming a strategic alliance. According to Parise and Casher (26), a strategic alliance is characterized as “an open-ended agreement between two or more organizations which enables cooperation and sharing of resources for mutual benefits, as well as enhancement of competitive positioning of all organizations in the alliance” (p. 26).
1. Strategic alliances exist to create value. Whether or not it is in the form of new market penetration, increased profit sharing, or competitive opportunities, companies join to reap the benefits that neither partner could enjoy alone.
2. Strategic alliances are developed to create a number of advantages. Some of these advantages are opportunity-based alternatives. In other words, strategic alliances can provide firms in the alliance with many opportunities to reposition themselves in the market because the infrastructure network created by the alliance gives all members access to a range of information, markets, technologies, and ideas that would be far beyond their reach otherwise (16, 27). Due to the fact that it is often difficult for a particular firm to possess all the resources required to meet new challenges and opportunities, the formation of an alliance can be extremely advantageous (16).
3. Strategic alliances are developed to divert corporate attention away from nonessential efforts where the firm lacks expertise, cost advantage, or scale. The skills gained through new partnerships can introduce new techniques, market segments, or new geographic markets, and the addition of complementary skills also helps boost revenue opportunities by gaining greater returns from existing customers, channels, and products (1, 30).
Outsourcing within intercollegiate athletics is a viable means for an athletic department to utilize strategic alliances to create value and take advantages of skills that may not be found with the in-house marketing staff. The outsourced marketing firm can focus on revenue generation while the in-house marketing staff enhances event atmosphere and boosting attendance.
The general manager at the primary outsourced marketing company’s property affiliated with select schools in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision conferences was the original subject of this study. The select NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision conferences included such six conferences as the Atlantic Coast Conference (12 schools), Big East Conference (12 schools, including four independents), Big Ten Conference (11 schools), Big Twelve Conference (12 schools), Pacific Ten Conference (10 schools), and Southeastern Conference (12 schools). Each of these six conferences is a member of the Bowl Championship Series, the leader in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A, post-season play. Furthermore, earlier research by Zullo has indicated that a majority of schools outside of these six selected conferences affiliated with the Bowl Championship Series do not have an existing relationship with an outsourced marketing group (19).
With the six BCS conferences, there are a total of 69 schools. Among these 69 schools, 13 handle their marketing in-house and an additional seven were marketing in-house and recently reached an agreement to start a relationship with an outsourced marketing partner (19). That left 49 schools with outsourced marketing relationships. However, seven schools used multiple companies in their outsourced marketing efforts rather than pooling their efforts bringing the number of included participants down to 42. For example, one firm may sell signage at the stadium while a second sells radio inventory. These schools were not included as this research focused on school’s exclusive outsourcing partnerships only.
The main outsourced parent companies include ESPN Regional, Host Communications (presently called IMG College), International Sports Properties (ISP Sports), Learfield Communications, Action Sports Media, Nelligan Sports, and Viacom Sports (presently called CBS Collegiate Sports Properties). An examination of these companies found an additional 19 Division I schools with outsourced marketing relationships. These 19 schools are not in the six major conferences but have been included in the study to increase the sample size to 61.
To achieve the objectives of this study, a questionnaire was designed and utilized to examine the outsourced marketing companies’ perspective pertaining to their affiliations with NCAA Division I institutions. The researcher designed the questionnaire in consultation with four account executives from two major sports marketing firms. These four reviewers were not general managers with the outsourced marketing properties thus they could freely express their suggestions and concerns. This collaboration enabled further critique, expertise and anonymous feedback to enhance the instrument’s validity. Further review by academic colleagues aided in the process of eliminating biased questions or clarifying wording. The questionnaire and consent form were then sent to the general managers of the outsourced marketing companies’ operations at 61 major NCAA Division I institutions.
Both close-ended and open-ended questions were included in the survey instrument. There were nine open-ended questions. They were (a) what is the property’s best method of soliciting sponsors? (b) what are the primary goals of outsourced companies? (c) how often do outsourced companies fail to meet their financial guarantee to their schools? (d) what inventory sells the most, the least and why? (e) what sponsorship categories are presently being sold and which are ignored in sales? (f) why do outsourced companies sell certain sports and not others? (g) what are the strengths and weaknesses of outsourced marketing companies? (h) what do outsourced marketing companies perceive as the future problems with outsourced marketing? and (i) at what level is outsourced marketing a good fit within college athletics?
Data Collection and Analysis
The survey instrument was mailed to the respective general managers with a second mailing added to heighten the response rate. Descriptive statistics, such as frequencies were used to analyze the collected data. Qualitative responses were also analyzed to identify reoccurring themes.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
As mentioned previously, the purpose of this study was to examine outsourced marketing in NCAA Division I institutions from the outsourced marketing companies’ perspective. Twenty-eight general managers of the identified sixty-one NCAA Division I institutions responded to the survey, which accounted for a 46% response rate.
Primary Goals of Outsourcing Marketing Operations
In conducting their sales efforts, most surveyed properties (93%) focus on personal selling efforts as their means of reaching out to potential partners or sponsors. Telemarketing and using a database are secondary methods of soliciting sponsors or partners. These sponsorships or partnerships are secured for the primary purpose (68%) of generating revenue for the overall parent company to meet the guarantee to the school. After that goal is met then the secondary focus becomes trying to bring in additional revenue beyond that initial guarantee. This is consistent with previous literature by Burden and Li (9-10) and Zullo (38). The findings are also congruent with the strategic alliance research that place an emphasis on the value of partnerships yielding enhance values to both parties (26).
Table 1 Property’s Best Method of Soliciting Sponsors/Partners/Clients
Table 2 Primary Goals of Outsourced Marketing Properties
As mentioned earlier, this revenue is ultimately shared with the affiliated institution of higher education’s athletic department. It should be noted that the surveyed general managers indicated that outsourced properties focus on sales and not on the business of enhancing an athletic department’s marketing or promotional efforts. The outsourced properties responding also did not indicate a willingness to boost ticket sales or create awareness for the athletic department. This is also in line with past research by Zullo (38) and Burden and Li (9). Consistent with research in strategic alliance the in-house marketing departments focus on the areas of ticketing and brand awareness while the outsourced firms avoid such areas where they lack expertise and experience (1, 18, 30)
Duration of Relationship and Success Rates
Of the outsourced properties responding, 42% have been working with their current school for over six years and 54% have worked with their school for less than six years. There was one non-response. Twenty of the twenty-eight properties have successfully met their financial guarantee to the school’s athletic department throughout the duration of the relationship with the remaining eight respondents choosing to not answer the question. Of those eight, the subsequent question found that two of them have failed at least once to meet its financial obligation to the school’s athletic department. That is collectively a success rate of greater than 90% for the outsourced marketing properties in meeting their financial guarantees to the schools.
Table 3 Number of Years Property Has Worked With School
Table 4 Number of Years Property has Successfully Met Financial Guarantee
Table 5 Number of Years Property has Failed to Meet Financial Guarantee
If one tallied the cumulative number of years that all of the respondents have partnered with their respective outsourced marketing firms, factoring in the two years the guarantee was not met, that pooled annual success rate improves further thus supporting the philosophy of such alliances as advantageous (16, 30). Why companies failed to meet their guarantee could be asked on further questionnaires to help facilitate what factors impact not meeting the guarantee. Additional questions could also explore whether the escalade in financial guarantees paid to the schools by the properties has hindered the success rate. Furthermore, questions could also ask whether joint bids have become a necessity with the higher paid guarantees. ISP Sports pursued joint bids with IMG College before the latter company acquired the former in 2010 (4).
Attractiveness of Marketing Inventory
In examining what inventory items are sold most by the outsourced properties, the respondents cited radio broadcast of games (61%) and permanent signage (57%) at athletic facilities as the best selling inventory. These findings are consistent with Cohen’s findings (13-14) and Zullo’s research in 2000 (38). Video board advertising and ribbon signage at athletic facilities are other top sellers on the second tier of inventory, along with game day promotions and print media. Steinbach noted (31) that while start-up expenses for video boards may be higher the boards can offer a significant return investment. A third tier of inventory would consist of coaches’ radio shows, coaches’ TV shows, corporate hospitality, and the athletic department’s internet advertising rights.
Table 6 Best Selling Inventory Items
The idea of an interactive marketing area or fan zone that is increasingly being found at professional sporting events has not caught on as a popular inventory item at the college level yet. This may be due to the greater expense of such a project relative to the production of a radio commercial or one time cost of making a sign to display in an arena or stadium. An interactive area or fan zone’s costs and expenses could offer a lower financial return on investment for the outsourced marketing property.
The findings indicate that inventory provided by the athletic department and sold by the outsourced marketing company is limited. As professional sports are quick to sell more creative inventory, including corporate hospitality, ribbon stripe advertising in arenas and more fan friendly websites, institutions of higher education, athletic departments and outsourced marketing companies appear to continue to do business in the same way over the last decade as shared by Zullo’s (38) research. Athletic departments that prefer the permanent signage route over ribbon advertising or video board are not maximizing their revenue opportunities. Though accompanied by greater start-up costs, the ribbon advertising and video board messages garner greater fan interest and can be sold at a higher rate to the corporate sponsors. Outsourced companies may provide greater access to this newer technology enabling schools to add inventory they could not otherwise do on their own thus demonstrating another value of the strategic alliance (16, 27).
In terms of which sponsorship categories have been filled by the outsourced marketing property in the last three years, 71% of the respondents maintained some form of sponsorship in the categories of sit-down restaurants, fast food, hotel, soda/cola, banking, cellular service provider, car insurance, hospital/medical center, grocery store, automobile brand, life insurance, pizza and airlines. What is notable is the wide range of categories left unfulfilled by outsourced marketing properties including: water, health clubs, credit cards, real estate, tires, military, home improvement, dairy, automotive repair, motor oil, office supply store, tools/power equipment, coffee, satellite television, batteries, delivery services, boats/marinas, and candy. These findings are consistent with the study conducted at Arizona State (3).
Table 7 Sponsorship Categories Successfully Filled in Last Three Years
There are many categories typically sold in professional sport that are ignored in intercollegiate athletics. Future research is needed to address why this is the case. Is the sponsorship not a good fit for the college setting? Have companies tried approaching these categories and failed in their sales efforts? Or are companies aware that a greater financial return can be found with select categories relative to others? Additional research is warranted in this area as strategic alliances may yield new revenue opportunities and open new markets (1, 30), but only as these questions are explored further.
Attractiveness of Sports as Outsourcing Inventories
When surveyed general managers were asked what sports sold well when working with corporate sponsors or partners, the overwhelming response indicated football first and men’s basketball second. Women’s basketball and baseball were second tier sports in the sales effort. However, football and men’s basketball sold the best because that is what the sponsor/partner demanded (79%) in the sponsorship package first and it was demanded based on the historical perception of greatest return on investment value.
Table 8 Top Three Sports Outsourced Properties Sell
Table 9 Reasons for Selling Such Sports
Other sports simply did not garner the sponsor’s interest (71%), offer a significant return on interest (18%), or yield a past history of success in sales (11%). This was especially true of Olympic Sports and women’s athletics excluding women’s basketball. Low regular attendance at Olympic Sporting events equates to low return on investment from the sponsor’s perspective.
Table 10 Top Three Sports Outsourced Properties Did Not Sell
Table 11 Reasons for Not Selling Such Sports
This should not be interpreted as a dislike of these sports, but rather as a financial decision by corporate sponsors. A State Farm or AT&T corporate sponsor has the ability to reach many more fans at a football game then at a tennis match due to the larger attendance of patrons at the football games. Such a sponsor may also have the capability to advertise to a broader audience on the radio and television via the broadcast of the football and men’s basketball games. These findings are consistent with Zullo’s study (38).
Though this may be an area of concern between athletic administrators and outsourced marketing companies, most schools’ administrators understand the financial implications if an outsourced marketing company focuses too much time on selling sponsorships for a softball game instead of football or men’s basketball. The financial guarantee would not be met by the outsourced company and their services would not be retained. While the guarantee would be paid by the property’s parent company, the school would lose confidence in the property’s ability to sell and would look to partner with another company. It is a balancing act by the outsourcing marketing companies and many of these companies have offered to package Olympic Sports or women’s athletics with football and men’s basketball sponsorship packages provided that the corporate sponsor did not object. That noted, schools such as Georgia, Texas, or Stanford may need to explicitly state in their contracts with an outsourcing company that Olympic Sports and women’s athletics must be sold, given the high status of such programs at these schools.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Outsourced Marketing
Respondents noted that the major strength of outsourced marketing properties includes revenue generation (57%) with service quality ranking second. The weaknesses of outsourced marketing properties range from lack of control over content to lack of interest and promotion for certain sports. This reaffirms the previous research of Zullo (38) and Li and Burden (24).
Table 12 The Major Strengths of Outsourced Marketing
Table 13 The Major Weaknesses of Outsourced Marketing
Future Problems/Issues Facing Outsourcing Marketing
The respondents indicated the biggest future problem in outsourced marketing is too great of a financial guarantee for a school (50%), one that an outsourced marketing parent company may have trouble meeting on an annual basis. Smith (29) found that an increasing number of schools were surpassing the 2004 benchmark Kentucky deal as financial guarantees to school were reaching the $100 million mark. Secondary problems include clearly demonstrating a return on investment for sponsors (18%), an oversaturation of the marketplace with sponsorships, and turnover in sales personnel (both 14%). Tertiary concerns include ambush marketing, faculty concerns of over commercialization, increased operational expenses, and lack of control over the inventory and sponsorship content.
Table 14 Biggest Future Problems of Outsourced Marketing
Overwhelmingly, the respondents supported NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision institutions (96%) and conferences (61%) when they were asked the level of intercollegiate athletics outsourced marketing that is best suited for outsourcing. Lower levels of intercollegiate athletics simply did not catch the interest of outsourced marketing properties. Their response is consistent with Tomasini’s (35) findings, as well as those of Zullo (38) and Li and Burden (24). It is hypothesized that this is due to the smaller audience in attendance at sporting events at these levels compared to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision institutions.
Table 15 Level of Intercollegiate Athletics Outsourced Marketing is Best Suited For
CONCLUSIONS AND APPLICATION IN SPORT
Direct Practical Recommendations
Given the limited amount of research concerning outsourced marketing in intercollegiate athletics, research on outsourcing in higher education in general is important to consider when deciding whether to outsource sports marketing efforts. In examining the findings of this study and turning it into practical applications for presidents, athletic directors and general managers of outsourced marketing companies, the author would suggest the following recommendations for improving the business relationship and being pro-active in addressing future issues in outsourced sports marketing within the context of higher education:
1. Utilizing their acknowledged strengths, outsourced marketing companies should offer their consulting services in the area of marketing and sales to “smaller” Division I schools in non-BCS conferences that would not otherwise be financially attractive to partner with for an extended relationship. Their sales expertise would be considered invaluable to a smaller school and could be an extended revenue stream for the outsourced company collectively. Smaller schools could be packaged by entire conferences, or by several schools in same geographic region, or other characteristic (ex. HBCUs); outsourced companies could sell their season ending tournaments or championships, or “classic” games, etc. Smaller schools should also think in terms of packaging their entire campuses and not just the intercollegiate athletics department. This would help outsourced marketing companies address their concerns with the escalating financial guarantees paid to certain school that reduce the profit margin of the parent company.
2. Outsourced marketing companies must include new categories in their sales efforts as today’s sponsors simply have more places to spend their advertising dollars. Without a clearly defined return on investment, long term corporate partners may consider advertising elsewhere. Before this occurs, outsourced companies need to pro-actively evolve and consider alternative sponsorship categories that have been largely ignored in intercollegiate athletics as demonstrated by the research findings. This can alleviate departing sponsors due to the untapped revenue streams with new categories while also providing support in the escalating financial guarantees owed to schools.
3. In similar fashion, outsourced marketing companies need to continue to expand their inventory options in collaboration with the athletic department. As more options arise for corporate partners to spend their advertising dollars elsewhere, including professional sports, outsourced marketing companies need to be pro-active in offering new and exciting inventory and not remain stuck in the status quo option of radio commercials and permanent signage.
4. Along those lines, athletic departments who think they might not be able to afford new inventory items, particularly video boards and ribbon advertising, need to consider the option of letting an outsourced marketing company buy or finance the technology as they can earn a greater financial return on investment from the corporate partners with new capabilities.
While the arms race in intercollegiate athletics continues to press on and excessive spending in intercollegiate athletics is being criticized by detractors such as the Knight Commission (37), there exists the opportunity for compromise. As administrators in higher education begin to accept this belief as truth, Myles Brand, the former head of the NCAA, insisted that not all external involvement with intercollegiate athletics has been bad be it from alumni, supporters or corporate partners.
Brand (8) stressed that how you utilize the money contributed is of the greatest importance. He stressed that intercollegiate athletics focuses on opportunities for student-athletes namely in the means of scholarships and a quality education. It is not profit-driven like professional sports and owners of the teams. And funding for these scholarships and athletic department operating budgets can derive from corporate partnerships. The key is maintaining a clean fit for the corporate sponsor on the school itself and not just in the athletic setting (21). Outsourced marketing companies can play a vital role in these efforts through collaboration with their school’s mission thereby appeasing such groups as Faculty Athletic Representatives, the American Association of University Professors, the Drake Group, Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA), the NCAA and others.
Commercialization is not a bad thing as it occurs all over campus and it frequently comes with initial resistance. Fans and faculty may not initially like the addition of sponsorships, but it does offset the budget for the athletic department without relying too heavily on the university for financial support. As faculty groups arise around the country to denounce athletics’ place in higher education (32-33), it is important to realize that the excessive spending in big-time intercollegiate athletics is the problem and not necessarily the commercialization as that is occurring everywhere on campus.
In examining outsourced marketing companies and their relationship to colleges and universities around the nation, evolutionary and creative thinking needs to occur more frequently. If the outsourced marketing company continues to think from the mindset of the institution of higher education and not purely as a sales group, future relationships will continue to prosper. It is when outsourced marketing companies lose that train of thought that problems start to arise. Ideally, greater communication and utilization of these findings and similar research will enable future relationship between the school, the athletic department and the outsourced marketing company to create a “win-win” situation for all parties involved. In turn, this can also extend over to better benefit the corporate partners for the duration of the partnership.
Limitations and Delimitations of the Study
A number of limitations existed in this study. The willingness of the surveyed general managers to participate and answer the questionnaire honestly, and to share detailed information about their specific marketing contracts and relationship. Another limitation is that some schools may have several outsourced companies overseeing their sales efforts. One company may handle sales for the radio and television while a second company may direct the sales for the athletic department’s signage at athletic facilities. A third may manage the sales for corporate hospitality and promotions. To address this concern, only schools with a single outsourced marketing partner were selected to participate in this study. In-house marketing and multi-sourcing efforts were not addressed.
Finally, as noted above, not all schools in the six major conferences have an outsourced marketing relationship thereby limiting the initial sample size. However, this was offset with the addition of 19 schools that are not in the six major conferences but have existing relationship with the major outsourced marketing companies. All participating respondents shared the characteristics that they are Division I in nature and have an exclusive outsourcing relationship with one of the leading outsourcing sports marketing firms.
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Submitted by Sungick Min, WonYul Bae, David Pifer and Colin Pillay
World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE), which is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, produces one of the most popular sporting events in the world, spans a diverse audience, and has a fanatical base and following for its entertainment value. This study was designed to investigate the numerous ways in which the company promotes and markets its brand, its programming, its events, and its products. Drawing from 107 randomly collected survey questionnaires, the results of this research indicated a variety of significant differences in the effects of WWE marketing promotions on the age, income, marital status, and ethnicity demographics. These findings can in turn be used to help the WWE target designated consumer segments with the appropriate resources and marketing strategies as the company strives to increase future opportunities for success. Further samples from other areas in the country are needed, though, to verify if the regionally recognized inclination is consistent across the country. In addition, research should be performed at different times of the year to clarify seasonal sport preferences.
Professional wrestling fans receive different reactions from people. Some people think it is “cool” to be a fan; others are disappointed because they consider it to be faked. Fans respond that they enjoy the entertainment value of professional wrestling. According to Ball (1990), wrestling fans tend to be stereotyped as the “dregs of society,” a group composed mainly of lower-class people.
Nevertheless, professional wrestling is also a tremendous entertainment business and has become an addiction for a large portion of young Americans. Ball (1990) stated, “Professional wrestling in the United States provides an ideal platform for the study of entertainment-culture and portrays some of the richest symbolism in society today” (p. 4).
It incorporates action in the arena, and sometimes outside the arena. It is an action adventure show, a cartoon, drama, and a sitcom. It is like a big soap opera for men, a hybrid of everything ever seen on television. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE), which produces some of the most popular shows in the world and reaches a diverse audience, has an enormous fan base and following for its entertainment value. As one of television’s most unique shows, it draws upon many other successful forms of entertainment. The continuing story lines are familiar to viewers of soap operas. The action, adventure, and racier elements draw their motivation from the best that sports and Hollywood have to offer. According to Gresseon (1998), professional wrestling has gone from a dull participant ritual to an exciting, action-filled form of entertainment.
The action in WWE events may be “fake,” but the entertainment value of World Wrestling created by Vincent and Linda McMahon is very real. Gresson (1998) asserted that wrestling has taken into consideration the audience’s needs and successfully translated them into spectacular shows that draw spectacular profits. The WWE has dominated its market and has established its brand in the minds of the American public. As an integrated media and entertainment company, the WWE is principally engaged in the development, production, and marketing of television programming, pay-per-view programming, live events, and the licensing and sale of branded consumer products featuring its successful World Wrestling Entertainment brand.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
In WWE’s 2006 annual report, net revenues of $400.1 million were generated, while an income from continuing operations of $55.2 million, before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortizations, stock options, and other non-cash charges, was reported.
WWE is incredibly prevalent in the male demographic, especially those aged 14 to 34. The company has been involved in the entertainment business for over 20 years and has established the brand as one of the most popular forms of entertainment today. According to Stotlar (2005), demographic changes in the United States population have directly influenced sport marketing. Brenner (2004) indicated that population trends have caused organizations to take a long, hard look at marketing efforts as teams and leagues find that there is no single, correct approach. To increase market penetration, marketers often discuss how to reach Hispanic, Asian, or other ethnic consumer groups, but oversimplify the challenge by applying such labels. According to WWE, its operations are organized around two principal activities:
1. Creation, marketing and distribution of live and televised entertainment, including the
sale of advertising time on its television programs; and
2. Marketing and promotion of its branded merchandise.
In an effort to further exploit and bolster its business, WWE launched a brand extension that created two separate and distinct brands, “Raw” and “SmackDown!” Each extension has its own distinct story lines, thus enabling the company to have two separate live event tours. The two tours permit the company to visit new domestic markets while touring internationally on a more frequent basis. In addition, WWE currently maintains licensing agreements with approximately 70 licensees worldwide. The company logo and images of WWE characters appear on thousands of retail products, including various types of apparel, toys, video games, and a wide assortment of other items.
According to WWE’s 2006 annual report, the company produces and promotes wrestling matches for TV and live audiences. Its nine hours of TV programming each week include “Raw”, a top US cable program, and “Smackdown!”, the highest-rated UPN show. Most of its programming airs on Viacom outlets, including MTV, TNN, and UPN. WWE also produces 14 pay-per-view programs and about 240 live events each year, licenses characters for merchandising, and sells videos and DVDs that showcase such wrestling stars as “The Rock”, “Hollywood Hulk Hogan”, and “The Undertaker.”
WWE’s success prompted this study, which set out to investigate the numerous ways in which the company promotes and markets its brand, its programming, its events, and its products. Kwon and Armstrong (2004) asserted that one of the most crucial elements of sport marketing involves segmenting the market of sport consumers into smaller, homogeneous groups for which specific marketing strategies can be cultivated. Accordingly, this study examined the different results of WWE promotions and marketing based on age, income, marital status, and ethnicity.
Pitts and Stotlar (2002) defined sport marketing as “the process of designing and implementing activities for the production, pricing, promotion, and distribution of a sport product to satisfy the needs or desires of consumers and to achieve the company’s goals” (p. 80).
Understanding the “4 Ps of Marketing” is crucial to any successful marketing channels in an organization. In traditional marketing, the “4 Ps of Marketing”, a concept coined by E. Jerome McCarthy (McCarthy & Perreault, 1990), specifically refers to the following:
Product: the essence of the product or service that includes product lines, product extensions, and the meeting of new consumer needs within the targeted group of customers.
Price: shows the desired image a company wants to portray about a product or service while taking into consideration competitors’ prices, available discounts, and market share.
Place: the actual, physical distribution of a product or service. This can include the transporting of goods to wholesale and retail outlets or the geographic location of a business or organization.
Promotions: carrying messages about products and services to potential consumers. This can be performed through publicity, advertising, or other means of communication.
A brief overview of the 4 Ps as they relate to the WWE will serve as a base from which to understand WWE’s success. To begin, the WWE “products” are its superstars – “The Rock”, “Trish Stratus”, “Stone Cold Steve Austin”, and “The Undertaker”. These superstars are professional and skilled in the portrayal of popular characters. One of WWE’s top superstars, “The Rock”, the son of a Samoan homemaker and an African-American pro wrestler, became a feature film action hero in Universal’s blockbuster, “The Scorpion King”. WWE has a vastly increased talent pool that translates directly to brand extension and additional revenue streams producing more pay-per-view events, more live events, more international tours, more branded merchandise, and more new television programming with new stars and new brands outside the genre.
Compared to other sports leagues, the WWE ticket “price” is one of the most expensive. According to the WWE website (2007), the average ticket price for three live events in Asia in March 2002 was $63.00 and the average ticket price for live events in the United States was $36.00. Each of WWE’s other 11 domestic pay-per-view events have a suggested retail price of $34.95, up from $29.95. Compared to the baseball ticket, ESPN (2007) indicates that the lowest average price is $13.79.
According to the WWE annual report (2006), it has major arenas, such as Madison Square Garden in New York City, Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, California; Allstate Arena in Chicago, First Union Center in Philadelphia, Fleet Center in Boston, and Earls Court in London, England. These major arenas represent the “place” in the marketing mix. WWE has a 46,500-square-foot entertainment complex located in Times Square. The complex boasts a 600-seat restaurant and 2,200 square feet of retail space. The complex provides for a variety of entertainment uses, including:
1. Airing WWE’s regularly scheduled TV shows and pay-per-views;
2. Hosting concerts and other live events, including press conferences,
stockholder meetings and product launches;
3. A night club;
4. Appearances and autograph sessions featuring performers; and,
5. Banquets, birthday parties and other social and corporate functions.
“Promotion” is the final P in the marketing mix to be discussed. According to WWE, the company promotes and markets its brand, its programming, its events, and its products in numerous ways, including:
1. Approximately 200 live events are held each year in major stadiums and arenas
throughout the world, including Madison Square Garden in New York City, Arrowhead
Pond of Anaheim, California; Sky dome in Toronto, Canada; and the Manchester
Evening News Arena in Manchester, England;
2. Nine hours of original television programming are produced, 52 weeks per year;
3. 12 domestic pay-per-view events are produced each year;
4. Programs and pay-per-view events are distributed in over 150 countries in nine languages;
5. Branded merchandise is marketed and sold directly to consumers and to major retailers
6. The branded merchandise is licensed to approximately 85 companies to produce and distribute thousands of retail products worldwide;
7. Two monthly magazines are published with a combined annual circulation of
approximately 5.8 million; and,
8. News and information is distributed about the WWE’s story lines, performers, and
programming and, consequently, affects e-commerce sales through Internet sites.
For years, a great deal of research has been undertaken in an effort to understand the behavior of sport marketing strategies. However, most studies have focused on direct sport marketing strategies, while studies examining the factors that influence indirect consumer behavior have been neglected. At present, studies investigating the effectiveness of WWE marketing strategies have not been well designed, thus creating a need for further research. The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of various WWE marketing platforms and the demographic composition of its fan base. An empirical analysis looks at the numerous ways in which the company promotes and markets its brand, its programming, its events, and its products.
Furthermore, this study also examines the effectiveness of WWE promotions and marketing based on age, sex, educational level, and ethnicity. Differences based on age, sex, educational level, and ethnicity may compel sports marketers to adapt current marketing approaches.
Best marketing practices of current WWE are also examined, and recommendations for sports marketers on how to successfully target the population segment are provided.
In sum, the general research question for this study is: How do WWE marketing channels affect various fan bases?
METHODS Sample and data collection
As mentioned, WWE’s 2006 annual report showed a strong following of fans in males aged 14 to 34. Taking this into account, the designated target population of this study was university students aged 18-34. In addition to its representation of the WWE fan base, this demographic was also deemed appropriate due to the fact that university students fall into the age demographic (18-34) that is most sought after by sport producers. According to Turco (1996), college students differ significantly from other markets in their consuming behaviors. Therefore, surveys were distributed to over 500 students and a total of 107 viable questionnaires were obtained using SurveyMonkey. Within the collected sample, 40 students were from a public university in South Korea and 67 students were taking Sport Exercise and Science (SES) activity classes from April 23 to May 4, 2007, at the University of Northern Colorado. This sample size was intended to be used as a pilot study for future research.
The questionnaire was comprised of several sections with a total of 35 items. Part of the survey contained questions to gain information about general demographics of spectators, WWE-related information, and marketing-related information. Requested demographic information included age, sex, marital status, and household income. This survey was formulated to WWE marketing channels before the questions for demographic information. The objective of the study was to provide other related information necessary to assist WWE in developing effective marketing strategies. It took respondents approximately 15 minutes to complete the questionnaire.
The data was collected through SurveyMonkey from April 23 to April 30 in 2007. The researcher contacted course instructors and obtained consent from them to disseminate the surveys. Permission to conduct the study was obtained from the author’s Institutional Review Board, which approved the methodology and survey instrument. All participants were informed in advance that participation was voluntary and that all information would remain confidential and anonymous. They were able to refuse and decide to stop responding at anytime. 107 survey questionnaires were distributed randomly. A total of 103 usable surveys were collected. All questionnaires were answered anonymously. It was assumed that the participants in the survey gave honest and thoughtful responses to each question.
A cross tabulation is the process of taking two variables and tabulating the results of one variable against the other variable. A cross-tabulation gives us a basic picture of how two variables inter-relate. It aids us in searching for patterns of interaction. Each cell indicates the number of respondents that gave a specific combination of responses, that is, each cell contains a single cross tabulation. A cross tabulation was performed to examine the correlation between the different variables and various demographic make-up of its fan base. Descriptive statistics were also calculated for each of the demographics. SPSS 13.0 for Windows was utilized to perform the above statistical analyses.
The participants of this study included Caucasian, Asian, African-American, and Hispanic populations. Of the 107 total respondents, 55% considered themselves Caucasian and 38% considered themselves Asian. Only 7% of the responses gathered this study were from African-American and Hispanic (Chart 1). Figure 1 indicates that there is a significant difference between various ethnic groups. The majority of Caucasian respondents indicated that they made their decision to go to the WWE event to entertain guests, while most Asian respondents preferred attending the event to spend time with their families.
CHART 1 Demographics of Participants
FIGURE 1 Factors to Go to the WWE Event
Overall, giveaways were not seen as a significant factor in determining whether or not to go to the WWE event. In addition, in the question regarding the importance of the excitement offered by WWE, approximately 90 % of female respondents provided a response of neutral or less. 29% of male respondents produced a neutral response (Table 1).
TABLE 1 The Levels of Excitement by WWE
One of the interesting findings in this study is that while the majority of Caucasian respondents watched over 3 hours of television a week, their Asian counterparts reported watching less than 5 hours of television in a single week (Table 2). According to the WWE Report (2006), the majority of the WWE fan base was Caucasian. However, the results of this study indicate that 52% of Caucasian respondents were not watching WWE events on television. In general, the results of this study indicated that there were more male than female spectators at WWE events. The majority of the respondents who attended the events was from middle-income families and was Caucasian.
TABLE 2 Hours of Watching WWE on Television
A large proportion of the spectators were single. The people in different age groups differed significantly in the marketing channels. Those 30 years of age or younger appear to be more interested in attending the events, ordering pay-per-view, and visiting the WWE site. In regards to ethnicity, not only did very few Hispanic people attend WWE events, but very few participated in or were affected by the other marketing strategies.
According to the responses, pay-per-view and the website were the most effective sources of information about WWE. CD’s, home videos, print media, and other items were relatively less effective sources of information for WWE. Consequently, WWE should develop additional weekly television programming through creative and entertaining events while strengthening its pay-per-view marketing efforts to reach new consumers.
In essence, WWE must strengthen its existing television and pay-per-view distribution relationships and develop broader distribution arrangements for WWE branded programming worldwide. This can be accomplished by continuing to produce high quality, exciting live events, branded programming, and consumer products for global distribution.
In addition, WWE must develop its story lines by further integrating contemporary themes and increasing its focus on the continuous cultivation of skilled, young, entertaining characters to complement its pool of established talent. This can be accomplished by recruiting, developing, and maintaining a roster of highly skilled athletes who possess the physical presence, acting ability, and charisma to develop into popular performers. WWE should also augment the licensing and direct sales of WWE branded goods through its distribution channels while cultivating its Internet operations to further promote the brand and develop additional sources of revenue. In addition, the organization should also inflate the licensing and direct sale of WWE branded merchandise, and bring the distribution of home videos, CD’s and publications in-house.
WWE must meet certain objectives if it wants to achieve its goal and be the number one entertainment business in the United States or among the Hispanic Community. While advertising and broadcasting in Spanish may invite Latino and Hispanic consumers to the arena, the presence of Spanish-speaking ushers, vendors, and customer service representatives will ensure an enjoyable experience. According to Sergio Del Prado, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Vice President of sales and marketing (summarized in 10 Tips for Reaching Hispanic Consumers, 2007), “one thing where people really drop the ball, you get [Latinos] to commit, and then they come to the ballpark and nobody speaks the language and they feel different than anyone else.”
A Hispanic marketing blitz should contain promotions in the Hispanic newspapers, on Hispanic TV channels, and on Hispanic radio stations. Heavy advertising through all these media outlets will enhance the WWE brand name and symbol in the Hispanic community. Spending on advertising to Hispanic media outlets should be double that of English speaking outlets. WWE does not want to be an organization for the elite, but an organization that all of the country, regardless of income and race, can enjoy and love. This end message has to be communicated to WWE’s prospective Hispanic fan base in order for WWE to become profitable in the Hispanic community.
In addition to Hispanics, young people are a second market that WWE must target in order to achieve lucrative success. WWE must gear its consideration toward the young generation, a mission that can be accomplished by concentrating on young people while they are at school. WWE must work with the schools to generate programs and initiatives that spark the students’ interests. This can be accomplished through WWE ticket and merchandise giveaways. For instance, students who accomplish a certain GPA receive four tickets to a WWE live event. At the event, WWE will acknowledge their accomplishments with either scoreboard or public address recognition during a break in activities. This sort of program could generate short-term expenses, but will benefit WWE in the end. These students and their parents will become consumers of the WWE’s brand and will subsequently be more interested in WWE’s product. This interest will bring them back to the live events, where additional marketing strategies can move them up the consumer escalator.
Considering the time people normally spend on watching TV, television promotion showed high efficiency to communicate the information about WWE events to the respondents. However, it is obvious that TV advertising is the most expensive means to promote any event. Due to the fact that most people who attend WWE events are working class and spend plenty of time in their automobile driving regularly, radio is a comparatively cost-effective and efficient method to market a WWE event.
The aim of this study was to analyze the effectiveness of various WWE marketing platforms and the demographic composition of its fan base. What was discovered was that many people cannot pay for the price of a WWE event. The price is too costly for many people living in the United States at the present time and many of WWE’s prospective consumers consider a live event as a novelty and not a usual night of entertainment. Providing new ticket plans that are reasonable for the majority of U. S. residents would be exceedingly favorable to WWE. It would augment its revenue and attendance in a very short period of time and supply WWE with a stronger fan base for the future.
APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
WWE should implement new forms of entertainment and build brands that harmonize its existing businesses, including the improvement of new television programming that will extend beyond its current offerings. Such formulations will appeal to WWE’s targeted demographic market and build up branded location-based entertainment businesses directly or through licensing agreements, joint business enterprises, and other preparations. For the promotion to be flourishing and fill the stands, this decision must be made based on knowledge of WWE’s prospective spectators, their characteristics, and behavior patterns.
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