Understanding the impact of college sponsorships on student athletes’ brand loyalty

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Gibson, Alison A.

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In recent years, the brand sponsorship industry has continued to grow, and with the emergence of the new Name Image Likeness (NIL) rules in college sports, it is essential for brands to understand how their sponsorships are impacting athletes. Athletes’ voices, followings and opportunities are growing and brands need to evolve to remain relevant. This thesis investigates the mental frameworks of student athletes as well as their perceptions of and affinity towards their sponsors to better understand the impact of brand sponsorships on student athletes’ long-term loyalty. Athletes were interviewed using a standard questionnaire, which was created based on concepts from Social Identity Theory and the consumer decision-making process. It accounts for consumer vs. brand loyalty, as well as functional, symbolic, and experiential variables. Using the standardized questionnaire, 23 athletes were asked about their college experiences, thoughts, memories, and feelings as they pertain to brand sponsorship. Five key findings resulted from this research: athletes feel connected to their university brands, but disconnected from their university sponsorship brand, aesthetic is a very powerful variable that affects self-concept, external perception, identity, and in some cases performance, branded clothing (aesthetic) can create exaggerated feelings of team connectivity as well as connections to strangers – this relationship becomes more complex as the clothing becomes more unique or requires more work to acquire, performance enhancement and brand trust are potentially related and inclusion, input and individuality impact athlete-brand connection. In relation to the overarching research question, over three fourths of the postgraduates interviewed said they still occasionally purchase gear from the brands they wore in college and over three fourths of the current athletes said that they will continue to purchase; however, no concise conclusions can be made that college sponsorship leads to long term brand loyalty



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