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Fan of the team, fan of the sponsor?

Dr Ashlee Morgan's research looks at sponsorship and naming of sports teams.
Dr Ashlee Morgan's research looks at sponsorship and naming of sports teams.

Sports sponsorship is big business, but how do we value brands’ association with sports teams and leagues.

An Edith Cowan University marketing academic is digging deeper into how sport organisations and their sponsors determine the value of their relationships.

While a traditional sponsorship association sees a corporation happy to associate themselves with a specific team, often with a logo, Dr Ashlee Morgan from the School of Business and Law questions if brand recognition is really enough.

“We don’t really know if fan loyalty to a team translates into loyalty for the brands that sponsor them,” she says.

“Just because a company sponsors your club, does that mean you will go out and switch insurance companies or buy a Honda or choose Coke over Pepsi?

“If we truly want to measure sponsorship value, we have to determine if brand recognition changes behaviour.”

Dr Morgan suggests her research reflects the evolution of sponsorship, which has boomed in sport over the past few decades.

Already, some companies are pursuing emotional branding instead of brand recognition, such as NAB’s AFL Auskick, which offers training programs for boys and girls, teaching the game and building skills.

“If your children and community get direct value, you might be more loyal to your brand, because it is seen as giving more; but again, we need to find out how to measure this,” Dr Morgan says.

Dr Morgan was a football player herself and helped set up NSW's women's league.
Dr Morgan was a football player herself and helped set up NSW's women's league.

Women’s professional footy

A former footy player in Sydney, Dr Morgan’s latest research project involves the new semi-pro women’s AFL league’s marketing – and its hidden opportunities.

Her work involves looking at the language and discussions of the league on social media, including from the official accounts, AFL, the public and media.

“I’m examining how women’s sport is being marketed compared to men’s sport, how people react to these messages and what this can mean in terms of understanding how sponsors might benefit from alignment,” Dr Morgan says.

This exploration of how women’s AFL links to social behaviour and attitudes speaks to Dr Morgan’s belief that sport permeates all areas of our lives.

“Sport runs across so many industries, including entertainment and media, health and sport science, tourism, statistics and analytics and even fashion, not to mention community development,” she says.

This community aspect of sport is one reason she feels that naming rights for venues is a contentious issue – while a corporate sponsor’s name on an arena brings in money for teams, there are downsides.

“When the names change frequently, you risk jeopardising the public’s ability to make a close and long-term connection to the grounds,” Dr Morgan says.

“People feel very loyal to places like the MCG, and those deep relationships cross generations – we need to appreciate the intrinsic value of that.”

Sport tourism and the push for global audiences also makes opting for names such as Perth Arena a good way for cities to establish themselves in overseas minds.

Dr Morgan teaches in Sport, Recreation and Event Management in ECU’s School of Business and Law.

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