Positive sponsorship effects on a sponsored team’s fans can potentially be turned upside down for fans of rival teams, shows a MSc Thesis from BI Norwegian Business School.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Effects of Sponsorship

Teams in many sports leagues around the world are engaged in intense rivalries with other teams that in some cases go back many decades. Fans can have strongly negative feelings about the rivals to their favorite team, but do these feelings also transfer to the sponsors of the rival team? 

This question was addressed by a recent MSc thesis by Anders Oksnes and Thomas Dyer, under the supervision of Professor Erik Olson.    

Study on football fans

An online experiment contacted 151 fans of Manchester United football team via social media sites devoted to the team. Respondents were randomly assigned to view various “press-releases” announcing future sponsors of both Manchester United and its main rival Manchester City. 

Sports drinks and business software producers were respectively chosen as high and low fit sponsors of the teams. 

Balance theory predicted that respondents would have negative attitudes about rival team sponsors, particularly when the sponsor fit the football context better and was a direct competitor to one of the “home” team’s sponsors.   

Negative effects

As expected Manchester United fans that heard about the sports drink or software sponsorships of the rival team evaluated each significantly less than a control group that did not know about the brand’s sponsorships. 

Also as expected, when the rival sports drink sponsor was competing directly with a Manchester United sponsor the negative effects were more severe than in the case of the rival software sponsor.   

Sponsorship effects

Sponsors typically wish to gain brand recognition and enhance their image by sponsoring popular sports teams and individual athletes. 

Previous research by Professor Olson has demonstrated that firms that are perceived as helping well liked sponsees through their sponsorships can achieve these communication goals. 

Furthermore, positive sponsorship effects on attitudes towards the sponsor are highest when the sponsor is seen as fitting well with the object, in part because it enhances the perceived sincerity of the sponsor. 

The results of the current study suggest, however, that these positive sponsorship effects on a sponsored team’s fans can potentially be turned upside down for fans of rival teams. 

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

To counter-act this problem, sponsoring firms may wish to consider also sponsoring rival teams and/or entire sports leagues (i.e. official sponsor of the English Premier League) to avoid this rivalry problem. 

It is also important to note that such rival effects are likely to be less severe for poorer fitting sponsors and/or sponsors that do not have a direct competitor sponsoring the rival team.


Oksnes, Anders H. and Thomas E. Dyer (2012), “Sports Team Rivalry – A blessing or a curse for the sponsor?, BI Norwegian Business School MSc Thesis.

Olson, Erik L. and Hans Mathias Thjømøe (2011), “Explaining and Articulating the Fit Construct in Sponsorship,” Journal of Advertising, 40 (Spring), 57-70.

Olson, Erik L. (2010), ”Does Sponsorship Work in the Same Way in Different Sponsorship Contexts?” European Journal of Marketing, 44 (1/2), 180-99.

This article is published in BI Marketing Magazine #2-2012, a knowledge magazine from the Department of Marketing at BI Norwegian Business School.

Text: Professor Erik L. Olson and MSc Graduates Anders H. Oksnes and Thomas E. Dyer.


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