Interviews with key informants suggested food and beverage sponsorship was not extensive in NZ sport. Data from reviews of NSO/RSO websites supported this, finding more than three quarters (75.9%) had no overt links with food or beverage companies. The majority of food and beverage companies sponsoring NSO/RSOs were unclassified including bars, restaurants, and supermarkets, with the balance of sponsors fairly evenly split between brands and food companies classified as healthy or unhealthy.
Informants identified six examples where food and beverage companies supported their sponsorship by integrating it with other marketing activities. These included national sponsorships of netball, rugby, and junior cricket, provision of player of the day certificates for junior touch rugby and junior football, and licensed promotions with rugby. Four of these sponsorships targeted children and two promoted foods or beverages classified as unhealthy.
Food and beverage companies sponsoring the national teams of popular NZ sports used operant and respondent conditioning to support their sponsorships . They also drew on vicarious learning which promotes new behaviour by using role models. Sponsorships supported by advertising linked the players’ athleticism and high performance with consumption of the sponsors’ products and implied use of the featured brands could facilitate similar performance levels.
Analysis of logos featured on websites gives only a limited insight into sports sponsorship’s effects. High profile sports are likely to be regularly televised, thus creating repeat brand exposure, and supporting strong brand attribute associations. When sponsors established relationships with NSOs they gained access to regional clubs and youth players and provided them with product samples, branded merchandise and vouchers.
Only one third of the food and beverage products or companies sponsoring sport in NZ were classified as unhealthy which may reflect sporting organisations’ preference for a strong ‘fit’ over sponsorship income. Only a few cases allowed food companies to market unhealthy products directly to children through their associated clubs, with potential negative impacts on their junior athletes’ diets.
This study addresses some potential limitations of earlier research [10, 11] that used logo counting to assess sporting organisations’ use of unhealthy sponsorship. Counting logos does not capture the extent of food and beverage marketing in sports settings and may underestimate the extent of sponsorship. The mixed methods approach adopted in this study enabled identification of food and beverage companies sponsoring sport, and marketing strategies supporting sponsorships. This study provides a better estimation of the nature and extent of food and beverage marketing. However, this study did not identify food and beverage sponsorship in sports clubs and further research is required to examine this question.
Companies and products in this study were classified as healthy or unhealthy using the NZF&B system. This approach proved effective for classifying individual foods but many sponsors were food companies with diverse product ranges that we classified according to the majority of foods manufactured. Analysing company sales data would provide a more accurate picture in future research. A further limitation of this study is the large group of unclassified sponsors, mostly bars and restaurants. Classification may have been strengthened by adopting a Delphi survey process as used in Australian studies [9, 10]. Criteria in these surveys include companies selling alcohol [9, 10].
This study did not collect data on sponsorship of individual athletes, or franchised NZ teams participating in trans-Tasman competitions and international broadcast sport. These are all areas for further research.