– The aim of this study is to evaluate rugby fans’ attitudes toward financial sponsorship, specifically event sponsorship and Dove Men+Care and its association with the Welsh Rugby Union. The study examines four issues: How do rugby fans perceive event sponsorship? How does such sponsorship affect consumption choices? Do fans engage in long-term relationships with the event’s sponsoring brand? Are relationships affected by the event sponsor’s engagement with other international teams and rugby events?
– This paper is a theory-building, exploratory study that utilised a qualitative framework. Data were collected over a 12-month period, incorporating the autumn internationals of 2012 and 2013, with 198 fans participating in focus groups before and after games.
– The results reveal a distinct lack of brand awareness on the part of the participants, a collective perception of the sponsor as incongruent given the event and a demonstration of enmity arising from rival sponsorships by the sponsoring brand. Additionally, the findings reveal a reluctance to consume the sponsoring brand in either the short or long term given its incongruence, lack of functionality, pre-existing schematic frameworks and obdurate brand preferences.
– Given that autumn internationals are held every season by several of the international rugby board (IRB) ranked teams, the findings of this research have an immediate and direct application for brand managers involved or implementing sponsorship programs. The research outlines both short and long term mistakes made by the sponsor as perceived by the fans’ themselves, and suggests that those brands considering becoming involved in sport and event sponsorship instigate a more informed, strategic approach to their sponsorship activities. However, the work is context driven and therefore not generalisable.
– The findings enable marketing brand managers to effectively evaluate events against the backdrop of strategic fit, as well as fan/consumer expectations, their needs and wants and willingness to engage.
– Despite rugby union’s growing global presence, little or no research has examined sponsorship within the context of rugby union and none exists that has evaluated event sponsorship, and been driven by fans’ perspectives. This paper fills that void. The research delineates fans attitudes, opinions and brand conceptualisations relating to event sponsorship, incorporating evaluations of identity, congruence and fit. Moreover, the paper highlights what to avoid from a strategic and brand building perspective when considering event sponsorship in a rugby union context.