Westberg, K., Stavros, C., Wilson, B. (2008) ‘An examination of the impact of player transgressions on sponsorship b2b relationships’, International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship: 125—134

[NB b2b means business to business.  The actual analysis isn’t very gripping, but there is a good discussion on semi structured interviews]

There is some speculation about the effects on sponsors when players transgress.  This study interviewed executives of Australian team based sporting organisations in order to develop a model.  The model isolates the key factors that affect responses, and these include ‘the nature of the incident, sponsor’s type of business and existing relationship between parties.  Media response is also a key factor.  Further research might investigate ‘the attribution of blame; the relative impact of different types of transgression; consideration of the impact of transgressions on various customer segments; and the impact of incidents at various stages of the relationship’ (126).  It is also possible that transgressions can even produce ‘a positive impact for stakeholders’ (126).

A number of recent transgressions are listed, including sexual assault, drug use and violence.  The background to the growth of sponsorship of sports is also discussed.  There is a discussion in marketing literature suggesting that transgressions can harm sponsors, especially if they are ‘violate the rules guiding relationship, team and societal standards’.  Particular transgressions can trigger stronger reactions.  Stakeholder response can be one result.  Images becoming particularly important in spectator support.  Sponsors want to link their brand with a particular event or organisation positively, to create ‘brand choice and customer loyalty’ (127).

‘Semi structured in depth interviews’ with senior executives were conducted.  The sample is defined by a convenience and also the notion of ‘theoretical saturation for the researcher’ (128).  Prompt questions were derived from major issues in the literature.  Respondents could expand.  Interviews were taped and transcribed and then coded for themes.  Finally, ‘relationships among variables were noted and a logical chain of evidence to support the propositions developed’ (128).

Transgressions that took place on and off the field were distinguished.  On field transgressions were seen as easier to control, as being more to do with reactions in a game.  Off the field transgressions attract more attention and were more difficult to deal with.  Particular transgressions can be particularly sensitive depending on the type of business—for example sexual assault allegations are damaging if women are major clients, while financial irregularities clearly will affect the business of Financial Services sponsors, or criminal action will affect state bodies who might sponsor.  Much will depend on the strengths of the relationship. Key sponsors have to be nurtured over time, and a good relationship can survive specific crises.  Sponsors need to be fully informed, however.  They might also need help in developing realistic expectations of players.  Increased media scrutiny is a growing problem, and more both transgressions are being reported.  Some sponsors feel that any transgressions in any sport have a negative effect on sport in general.

Although transgressions were discussed, ‘there were no instances noted in the interviews of sponsors withdrawing their sponsorship’ as a result (129).  Reassurance by the sports organisation that the issue is being dealt with seems crucial.  New sponsors might be put off, however.

The findings are summarised in a model on page 130 [usual jobby -- boxes with arrows, with slightly more detail of the factors already mentioned].  Some pretty obvious propositions follow, for example the response by sponsors depends on the ‘nature, severity and frequency of the transgression’, that responses can be mediated by a good relationship and the success of the sporting organisation, and weakened by extensive negative media attention.  Thus a transgression ‘that develops quickly and has media attention is the most concerning’ (131).  Further research might investigate which customer segments react most strongly.  Managers might anticipate the results by developing a more ‘proactive scenario style studies’ (131).  Business partners might also experiments with forgiving or tolerating transgressions.  Other work has examined the levels of commitment which sponsors exhibit—‘relationship quality theory’ (132), and apparently, quality is affected by factors such as ‘brand partner quality, love and passion, intimacy, self connection, nostalgic connection, interdependence and commitment’ (132)..  It might even then be possible to model relationships mathematically.

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