Effects of sport celebrity transgressions in the sport industry

PhD Thesis


Sassenberg, Anne-Marie. 2015. Effects of sport celebrity transgressions in the sport industry. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.
Title

Effects of sport celebrity transgressions in the sport industry

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorSassenberg, Anne-Marie
SupervisorSummers, Jane
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages204
Year2015
Abstract

The importance of the brand image of sport celebrities is a growing research topic in marketing communication and sponsorship programmes. However, there is a dearth of research focus on the impact of different types of sport celebrity transgressions on the sporting celebrity brand image in a sponsorship and sport context. Limited empirical research and scarcity in assessment, or exploration, of the impact of a sport celebrity transgression on the sport celebrity brand image have resulted in a theoretical gap, which this study seeks to address. Although it is well noted in sponsorship theory how the positive sport celebrity brand image enhances the brand image of the associated sponsors, few studies have included the potentially negative brand image transfer associated with different types of sport celebrity transgressions. Even fewer studies investigate the impact of sport celebrity transgressions on the brand image of the celebrity’s associated sport.

Because the sport celebrities brand image is in association with the brand image of their associated sponsors and sport, the sport celebrity brand image is the central focus of this research. Since brand image is dependent upon the perceptions held in consumer memory, the perceptions of consumers need to be investigated in this study. In this context, the aim of this dissertation is to investigate the impact of real sport celebrity transgression scenarios on consumer’s’ perceptions of the sport celebrity brand image. The present research consolidates a range of theory-guided models used by previous researchers, and adds to sponsorship and sport literature by outlining how consumers respond to different types of sport celebrity transgressions. In the context of sponsorship portfolio, the associative network theory, brand image transfer theory, balance theory, identification and social identity theory are considered collectively and integrated into a conceptual model to guide the development of the propositions.

Evidence for this study was gathered through the use of a qualitative research approach, by applying focus groups and social media data collection methods. This study investigated 16 sport celebrity transgression scenarios by analysing 8280 comments of online consumers. Multiple data analysis methods were incorporated, including qualitative content analysis and NVivo analysis. Triangulation has been applied to compare the results obtained from the different methodologies, in order to seek out similarities and to integrate the different sets of results.

Proposition 1 aims to investigate the impact of sport celebrity transgressions on the sport celebrity brand image. Three key findings emerged from this proposition. First, inferences about the sport celebrity brand image, following a sport celebrity transgression are made in accordance with the celebrity’s sport related brand attributes (expertise) and personal related brand attributes (role model ability). The findings showed that consumers still valued the expertise of the sport celebrity after the occurrence of sport celebrity transgressions, but questioned the role model ability of the sport celebrity. Second, when the celebrity is involved in a sport celebrity transgression, the transgression is found to have a negative impact on the symbolic brand benefits (admiration) of the consumer with regard to the sport celebrity, and resulted in intense emotive responses. Third, the intense positive, negative and neutral emotive responses towards the sport celebrity brand image, following sport celebrity transgressions, are based on the core values and norms of consumers.

Proposition 2 was developed to investigate whether and how the different characteristics of sport celebrity transgressions impact on consumer’s’ perceptions. Results provided insight into grouping the different characteristics of sport celebrity transgressions into five new groups, representing different types of sport celebrity transgressions, including: Recreational drug use and Sexting; Spontaneous On-field Transgressions; On-field Brawl; Disrespect towards the Team; and Doping and Sexual Misbehaviour. Results replicate the findings of previous studies where inferences of a brand image are determined based on the culturally legitimacy of the brand, where the morals and values of the brand match-up with the morals and values of a community (Kates 2004). Specifically, Doping and Sexual Misbehaviour were found to be inconsistent with consumer’s’ expectations of the sport celebrity brand image and the brand image of the associated sponsors and sport. For this reason consumers offered negative emotive responses such as disgust and disappointment. These sport celebrity transgressions were found to impact negatively on the social fit between the brand and the community. The actions of the sport celebrity were not desirable within the socially constructed community of online sport consumers, and these actions seemed to affect the brand’s cultural meaning.

Recreational drug use, Spontaneous On-field sport celebrity transgressions and the On-field Brawl, were consistent with consumer’s’ expectations of the sport celebrity brand image. However, Recreational drug use was found to be inconsistent with consumer’s’ expectations of the sport brand image, while Spontaneous on-field sport celebrity transgressions and the On-field Brawl were found to be consistent with consumer’s’ expectations of the sport brand image.

Consumer’s’ perceptions of the sport celebrity brand image, following a sport celebrity transgression, have important implications in terms of gauging the effectiveness of the sport celebrity brand image in the sport industry. A unique association between the sport celebrity brand image and the brand image of the sponsors and sport are created through the process of association. Using the associative network theory as an explanation of how consumers re-evaluated the sport celebrities brand image and sport brand image, it was conceivable that consumer’s’ responses can be developed on the basis of the value they attributed to the match-up between the sport celebrity brand image and the sponsor brand image. This study found that when the sport celebrity transgression had the ability to impact on the match-up brand attribute of the sport celebrity brand image with the sponsor brand image, there might be a correspondingly negative impact on the sponsor brand image. Perceptions of the impact of sport celebrity transgressions on the sponsor brand image might have been formed depending on whether and how consumers valued the match-up brand attribute between the sport celebrity brand image and the sponsor brand image. Theoretically, this research adds to current understanding of sport celebrity transgression effects by moving beyond simple pairing of the sport celebrity transgression and sponsors, to consider the relationship between different characteristics of sport celebrity transgression and how they impact on the brand images of the sport celebrity, the sponsors and sport. Practically, this research assists managers in the event of sport celebrity transgressions. The conceptual model developed in this thesis offers useful guidelines in providing output into the management of the sport celebrity brand image, the sponsor brand image and the sport brand image, after the occurrence of sport celebrity transgressions.

Finally, the challenge for sport celebrities, sport managers and brand managers is to acknowledge the importance of aligning the sport celebrity brand image with the interests of consumers in the sport industry. It is important that the sport celebrity brand image matches-up with the value that consumers attribute to the sponsor and sport brand image. Good brand citizenship depends on incorporating the legitimate meaning of the community and aligning themselves with the interests of consumers and thereby become culturally authentic (Kates 2004). Only then can the different sports achieve thier main purpose – to serve the customer through the maintenance of a culturally authentic acceptable sport celebrity brand image and a sport brand image.

Keywordssport industry; sports marketing; sport celebrities; brand image; transgressions
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020350602. Consumer-oriented product or service development
350606. Marketing research methodology
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Management and Enterprise
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