NFL sponsorships score big

March 23, 2012

Baylor professor presents study at MIT addressing effectiveness of sports advertising

Company sponsorship of the National Football League (NFL) is indeed effective in engaging fans and transforming attitudes critical to making purchasing decisions, according to a Baylor research paper presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, March 2-3 in Boston.

"Companies with official sponsorship of the NFL receive a significant lift among NFL fans compared to non-fans," said Dr. Kirk Wakefield, MBA '81, the Edwin W. Streetman Professor of Retail Marketing at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business and co-author of the study.

The study analyzed the effects of time (12 quarters), sponsorship (5 official vs. 15 nonsponsors) and fan affinity (30.6 percent fan vs. 69.4 percent non-fan) on brand knowledge, esteem, relevance and differentiation.

"Our findings emphasize the importance of continuing longer-term contracts to build the effects and benefits of the sponsorship linkage," said Anne Rivers, study co-author and senior vice president for Brand Asset Consulting in New York City.

The study period, 2008-10, is important because brand values deteriorated to historical lows following the market collapse in September 2008, corresponding with the kickoff of the NFL season. Corporate sponsors in the banking and credit card industries were particularly challenged as to the value of sponsorship investments while also receiving government bailout money.

Drawing from a national brand assessment panel of 16,000 consumers representative of the national population, data were collected over the course of three years (quarterly, 2008-10) on five official sponsors of the NFL and 15 of their chief competitors (three in each category). Each of the official sponsors was at least in the fourth year of its sponsorship at the beginning of the study, and all remain as official sponsors.

Market categories included banking, beer, credit cards, pizza and telecommunications. Other findings were:

  • Passionate fans -- those who watch or attend and prefer the NFL as an entertainment alternative -- have more positive attitudes toward the official sponsors of the NFL than do less passionate fans.
  • Over time, the official sponsors of the NFL improve their brand positioning vis-à-vis competitors.
  • If the consumer is coming to "know" a brand more through its NFL relationship, they are picking up many of the NFL's positive brand attributes. This works both ways (e.g., when leagues are in trouble).
  • Esteem is the key pillar to identify a fan of a team or a league. Esteem rubs off on the sponsoring brand, thereby helping reduce churn through increased loyalty. Consumers are often willing to forgive transgressions or setbacks of an esteemed brand compared to one that is less esteemed.