The Gentleman, The Rebel and The Villain: A comparative study of the scandal-sensitivity of athlete personalities in sports marketing

University essay from Handelshögskolan i Stockholm/Institutionen för företagande och ledning; Handelshögskolan i Stockholm/Institutionen för marknadsföring och strategi

Abstract: Celebrity athletes have been powerful marketing tools throughout the professionalization and commercialization of sports. During the last couple of decades, the amount of sponsorship money allocated to the sports industry has rapidly increased, outplaying other sectors of entertainment. Today, celebrity athletes go beyond their traditional role as spokespeople. Instead, they function as communication channels for their own brand as well as for the brands they endorse. They operate with greater freedom and develop closer relationships with their follower base through the continuous communication via social media. The increased exposure of their private life puts emphasis on the personality type of the athletes, which makes this an interesting area of examination. Grounded in social psychology theory, this thesis examined the scandal-sensitivity of different athlete-personality categories. Having likeability and moral character as the two personality dimensions, three athlete categories - The Gentlemen, The Rebels, and the Villains - were formed and subject to the study stimulus of a charity-fraud scandal. Survey respondents, mainly business students in their twenties, evaluated the athlete and the endorsed brand on several measures. A quasi-experimental design was used, where the consumer response of a treatment group and control group was compared. Moreover, simple mediation analysis was used to further understand the underlying relationships. As athlete scandals could have severe consequences for their endorsed brands, companies tend to partner with uncontroversial, well-liked athletes with the intention transfer desirable attributes to their brands and mitigate risk. Despite this logic, the findings show that well-liked, high-moral athletes - The Gentlemen - are the athlete category that is the most scandal-sensitive, exhibiting significant losses in the attitude and intentions toward them and the endorsed brand. Non-liked, low-moral athletes - The Villains - exhibit no significant losses regarding attitudes and intentions. Well-liked, low-moral athletes - The Rebels - exhibit some significant losses in the attitude and intentions toward them, but none toward the endorsed brand.

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