An evaluation of the effectiveness of rugby event sponsorship: a study of Dove Men+Care and the Welsh Rugby Union

Robert Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – The aim of this study is to evaluate rugby fans’ attitudes toward financial sponsorship, specifically event sponsorship and Dove
MenCare 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?

Design/methodology/approach – 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.

Findings – 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.

Research limitations/implications – 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.

Practical implications – 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.

Originality/value – 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
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-321
JournalJournal of Product and Brand Management
Issue number4/5
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2014


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