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A good move to be “Miles Away from Ordinary” in the ATP?

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Groupo Modelo’s decision to invest $70 million over 5 1/2 years for its Corona Extra brand to become the premier partner of the ATP Tour has raised some eyebrows.  Bob Basche, chairman of Millsport, described Corona’s partnership with the ATP as a category reach for the brand.  While I do not believe the sponsorship is a category reach – my presumption of the ATP’s demographics is affluent, active, middle-aged males; sounds like a good fit for Corona – I would like to argue for Corona’s investment based upon Hyung-Seok Lee and Chang-Hoan Cho’s work “The Matching Effect of Brand and Sporting Event Personality: Sponsorship Implications” (2009).  After all, we should feel encouraged that a deal of this magnitude has come to fruition.  There’s hope for Jerry Jones and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority!   

Sponsorship research has primarily focused on the necessity of a brand matching its sponsorship portfolio with the lifestyles and interests of its targeted market.  This would explain Monster Energy Drink’s successful partnership with motocross.  They are both targeting white males,14-30 years old, that are thrill seekers (having worked at six motocross events I can safely make this assertion).  However, if you are a marketer without such an intuitive brand fit as Monster and motocross, how should you approach sponsorship?  You could take Spongetech’s approach and sponsor every team on the Eastern Seaboard, or you could look deeper.  You could look to your company’s DNA to determine if a property is a personality match.

Lee and Cho describe this match as “personality congruence”.  Previous research has established the anthropomorphism of brands by their consumers – Aaker in “Dimension of Brand Personality” (1997) described the five personality dimensions as: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness – but little research has been done to see if people ascribe similar human characteristics to sporting events.  Lee and Cho undertook this task in their previous work “Sporting Event Personality: Scale development and sponsorship implications” (2007), finding consumers associate sporting events with the traits of: diligence, unihibitedness, fit, tradition, and amusement.  The U.S. Open of Tennis to be associated with the trait of diligence.

Lee and Cho determined the best pairing, of the 25 possible combinations between brand personalities and event personalities, was that of a sincerity brand e.g., Cheerios or Hallmark, with a sporting event inferred to be diligent. 

****The word inferred here is important.  Brands proactively create an image, while sporting events/franchises image is molded by the consumer. A hockey franchise is a hockey franchise.  I do not find their product appealing; therefore, a brand’s image would not be elevated in my opinion as a consumer were they to sponsor an NHL franchise (as a marketer I believe the NHL does have value i.e., an affluent, educated, tech savvy and passionate fan base).  However, it is possible the NHL franchise’s image would be elevated in my opinion were they to strike an accord with a brand I admire.  An interesting topic I will tackle in a future post. ****      

One point of contention I have with Lee and Cho’s work, which they acknowledge as a flaw, is their choice of subjects.  As with most academic research, undergrads looking for extra credit were the participants in the experiment.  Tennis’ diminished stature in the United States would preclude most college students from developing an opinion of the sport.  Furthermore, the 18-22 year old demographic is a mercurial one, and not necessarily a fair representation of the population at whole.  I believe tennis should be associated with the characteristics of tradition or fit, more so than diligence.  The vagueness of their sporting event classifications leaves something to be desired.  Nevertheless, the idea of “personality congruence” is an important revelation.  We are more likely to do business with people whom we find agreeable; therefore, it would make sense that we align our properties with a compatible partner.

James Martin of ESPN.com, argued that Corona’s sponsorship of the ATP would enhance the tour’s image.  He stated the sponsorship would appeal to “the highly coveted Joe Sixpacks of the world.”  I disagree.  Only a brand with the personality trait of  “ruggedness”  e.g., any domestic beer, would enable the ATP to penetrate the “Joe Sixpacks” demographic.  Corona has a personality that would be considered either “sophisticated” or “sincere”.  While the ATP may not be able to reach a new subset of individuals, Corona may benefit immensely from their investment in the ATP.

As was stated previously, Lee and Cho found the best sponsorship pairing to be a “sincerity” brand with a “diligent” sporting event.  Their research also found participants to have an increase perception of a “sincerity” brand when it sponsored a “fit” or “tradition” sporting event.  “Sophistication” brands were found to have the greatest personality congruence with “diligence” and “tradition” events.  Thus, if we believe Corona to be a “sophisticated” or “sincerity” brand, we must then assume – according to Lee and Cho’s work – Corona’s marriage to the ATP  as a “personality congruence”.

Theoretically, we can argue for the partnership, but will its ATP sponsorship enable Corona to penetrate the markets of Europe and China, or increase its market share in the United States (where, according to my inside sources, Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign has done a number on Corona’s sales)?  As with any sponsorship it will come down to how Corona activates its sponsorship.  Will they host events in cities leading up to ATP tournaments?  Will they interact with ATP fans via social media channels?  Will they sign Rafael Nadal as an endorser (doubtful, considering Corona’s emphasis on the experience of drinking its product)? Will they create a campaign similar to Coca-Cola’s phenomenal “FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour” (possibly the best activation of a sponsorship in the past five years; I’m not buying a Pepsi anytime soon)?  It is difficult to know. 

Corona does not have much of a history when it comes to sport marketing.  Corona has created a brand image focused on a distinctive bottle, an image which they must incorporate into their sponsorship.  Time will tell whether it was a prudent decision by Corona to invest so heavily into the ATP.  But I’m glad they did.

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Written by Peter Amador

March 8, 2010 at 8:43 PM

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