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This study tested the paths of a structural model that was conceptualised by hypothesising that team attributes affect team identification, which in turn plays a mediating role in sponsor identification and image transfer from event to sponsor. A questionnaire adapted items from relevant constructs in past research and responses were collected from 991 conveniently sampled fans of professional soccer teams in Korea. Data analysis using the SPSSWIN statistical program (v. 12.0) and the AMOS structural modelling program (v. 4.0) found that the data fitted the conceptualised structural model.
Organisational identification is a manifestation of a social identity, and by recognising that a professional sports team is a type of organisation and that fans are its members, team identification can be seen as a form of organisational identification.
Drawing partly on past research, many factors are either proposed or empirically shown to affect team identification. Among these are attributes such as team attractiveness, team similarity and team familiarity. However, regardless of the factors that affect it, team identification is recognised as a form of event involvement, and a high level of involvement with a sponsored activity heightens sponsor awareness. This is so because highly involved fans continue to watch sports events, and sponsor awareness improves overtime. Also, highly involved fans are best able to comprehend meanings associated with sports events, and are therefore most capable of transferring these values to the sponsor through association. Gwinner (1997) proposed a model in which meanings are derived from event type, event characteristics and individual factors. By recognising the presence of a highly identified team or the level of team identification as a possible event characteristic or individual factor, respectively, this paper brings together the notions discussed above and conceptualises a structural model in which team attributes affect team identification, which in turn plays a mediating role in sponsor identification and the image transfer from an event to its sponsor.
This study is significant because it attempts to analyse the relationships of all the constructs as a whole, as opposed to previous studies, which analysed only parts of the relationship. Specifically, the following hypotheses were made: (1) team attractiveness, team similarity and team familiarity positively affect team identification; (2) team identification positively affects sponsor identification; and (3) sponsor identification positively affects sponsor image. For assessment, a questionnaire adapting items from relevant constructs in past research was devised, and responses were collected from a total of 991 conveniently sampled fans at 10 professional soccer games in Korea. The hypotheses were then simultaneously tested using the data and employing the AMOS structural modelling program (version 4.0). It was found that the data fitted the conceptualised structural model, and consistency was found in the results when the hypotheses were tested again individually.
One of the most important effects of sports sponsorship is the building of a positive image for the sponsor's brand, product and/or company (Meenaghan, 1991), and this image building takes on the form of establishing, strengthening or changing the sponsor's image (Gwinner & Eaton, 1999). Today, competition for sponsorship has become very strong, such that an assessment of the strength of image transfer from an event to the sponsor has become increasingly important in evaluating the effectiveness of a sponsorship (Grohs & Reisinger, 2005). While a common method is to quantify the link between event image and sponsor image, very few studies have been conducted in this area (Grohs & Reisinger, 2005).
Instead, more studies have focused on explaining the process by which sports sponsorship leads to the enhancement of the sponsor's image. In one study, Gwinner (1997) asserted that meanings are derived from the event type, event characteristics and individual factors to build an event image, which is transferred to the sponsor's brand image. Consequently, specific factors affecting the event image or the image transfer have been examined, and event-sponsor fit and event involvement were empirically found to be two important factors (Grohs & Reisinger, 2005).
Grohs & Reisinger (2005) explained event involvement's positive effect on the strength of image transfer through the notion of the learning theory. The theory implied that increased event involvement leads to greater processing of information, and greater knowledge about the connection between the event and its sponsor in turn boosts the image transfer. This is consistent with Pitts & Slattery's (2004) finding that recognition (i.e. awareness and identification) of sponsors improved over an extended period of time. It is also consistent with Meenaghan's (2001) assertion that since highly involved fans are best able to comprehend the meanings associated with sports events, they are most capable of transferring the meanings to the sponsor through the association.
When one recognises the importance of event involvement as a mediating factor in sponsorship identification, as well as the transfer of meanings to the sponsor, the importance of identifying factors that enhance event involvement becomes apparent. Team identification, defined as the level of psychological attachment felt by a sports fan towards his or her favourite team (Branscombe & Wann, 1992), was recognised as one form of event involvement, and Gladden & Funk (2002) suggested that team attributes are the criteria for judging a sports team's value, which affects team identification. From past empirical organisational studies, two of these attributes were shown to be organisation attractiveness (Fisher, 1998; Kelman, 1961) and organisation similarity (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Dutton et al, 1994; Fisher, 1998; Kelman, 1961). While no empirical evidence was provided for the effect of organisation familiarity, Trail et al (2000) and Heere (2005) respectively identified acquisition of knowledge and awareness and knowledge as factors possibly leading to team identification.
Purpose of study and hypotheses
By recognising the presence of a highly identified team or the level of team identification, respectively, as a possible event characteristic or individual factor in Gwinner's (1997) AMICIT model, this study conceptualised a structural model in which team attributes affect team identification, which in turn plays a mediating role in sponsor identification and the image transfer from an event to its sponsor. Unlike previous studies, which analysed only parts of the relationship, this study aimed to analyse the relationships of all the constructs as a whole. Specifically, the following hypotheses were established and simultaneously tested: (H1) team attractiveness positively affects team identification; (H2) team similarity positively affects team identification; (H3) team awareness (i.e. familiarity) positively affects team identification; (H4) team identification positively affects sponsor identification (i.e. awareness); (H5) sponsor identification positively affects sponsor image.