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Study: Analysis of the impact of sponsorship Zurich Insurance

Impact analysis of the ice hockey sponsorship of Zurich Insurance

Sponsorship is a central component of corporate public relations. Its effectiveness must be scrutinised in the same way as other measures within the framework of marketing controlling in order to have reliable information for marketing budget decisions. Is it worthwhile for companies to invest resources and money in sponsoring sports or cultural events?

This question arises both in science and in corporate practice. After all, companies do not only rely on sponsoring in order to get involved socially and culturally. As profit-oriented organisations, they also want to derive a financial benefit from the commitment themselves.

Zurich Insurance has been involved as an ice hockey sponsor for several years. On their behalf1 we have investigated the impact of this sponsorship in order to provide sound information on the effect of this commitment among the relevant target groups. In doing so, we focused, among other things, on the question of the extent to which sponsorship contributes to improving the image and possibly even directly to purchase considerations for the company’s products.

Thus, the main question of our study was: How does sports sponsorship influence the willingness to recommend and purchase the sponsor’s products?


To answer this question, we first consulted the literature on sports sponsorship. Then, in combination with our own assumptions, we summarised the possible modes of impact in an impact model in the form of hypotheses. After collecting data, we tested the hypotheses statistically.

In this study, we analysed the effect of sponsorship not only for Zurich but also for another sponsor of ice hockey. In the context of this article, we refer to this as a “comparison company”.

In science, the three-component theory is used to measure the impact of sponsorship2. The following three impact dimensions are relevant:

  • Cognitive effect: Stabilisation and increase of awareness level.
  • Emotional effect: Image building, stabilisation and change
  • Conative effect: Direct influence on the purchase decision

Since both Zurich and the comparison company enjoy very high awareness ratings, we have dispensed with the analysis of the cognitive effect and have looked in particular at the emotional and conative effect.

The role of attention (involvement)

In addition, we hypothesised that the channel through which a sponsored match is communicated and the frequency with which the matches are watched contribute differently to the increase in awareness of a company as a sponsor. For example, the emotional state and attention of viewers are different when watching the game in the stadium than when reading news about the outcome of the game. Furthermore, we assume that people who are particularly enthusiastic about ice hockey and thus show a high level of involvement inform themselves about ice hockey more often than other people via several channels.

In this study, we tested the extent to which the depth of involvement (following hockey via news in the media, following it LIVE via the media or watching the game in the stadium) as well as the frequency of following have an impact on the awareness of Zurich’s sponsorship commitment and that of the comparison company.

To measure the influence of the channel, the study recorded through which channels and how often ice hockey games were followed in the last 12 months. Based on the answers, 4 levels of involvement were formed:

  • No involvement: games are not followed at all or less often than 1 time per half year via media as news.
  • Low Involvement: 1 time per half year informed about games in the media (as news).
  • Medium involvement: followed 1 game live on TV/Internet in the last 12 months
  • High involvement: followed 1 match in the stadium in the last 12 months

As expected, the descriptive evaluation of the involvement levels confirms the assumption regarding the connection between the channel and the frequency of watching the games. People with a high level of hockey involvement not only watch the games in the stadium, but also follow them more often live online or on TV and inform themselves about them in the news.

Sponsorship impact model

Based on theoretical considerations and references from the literature (in particular Zengel 20142), we addressed the following questions:

  • How is the awareness of the sponsor related to the channel through which the audience follows ice hockey events?
  • How strongly does the knowledge that Zurich and the peer company sponsor the sporting events influence their image, recommendation intention and purchase consideration?

We assume that involvement positively influences the awareness of Zurich’s sponsorship commitment and that of the comparison company. This seems logical: due to the frequency of involvement with ice hockey, a person has several chances to perceive the sponsor of the event. According to Zengler2 , this should have a positive influence on the company’s image, and this positive image should in turn positively influence purchase consideration and willingness to recommend. The key role here is the awareness of the sponsorship. On the other hand, we suspect that involvement could also have a direct influence on image, purchase consideration and recommendation, if the effect is not via the cognitive (through awareness of the sponsorship commitment) but emotional path.

To test the model, we collected the components as follows:

  • Awareness: Zurich or the comparable company should be named as a sponsor at at least one of the ice hockey events mentioned.
  • Image: At the beginning of the survey (without any reference to the topic of sponsorship), the respondents rated the companies in terms of various image dimensions using an implicit image measurement.
  • Purchase consideration: After the information about the sponsoring activities of the companies was shown, it was asked to what extent the sponsoring activity is an incentive to at least consider the company as an insurer. In the case of the comparison company, the question was adapted to its business area.
  • Recommendation: As with the Net Promoter Score (NPS), recommendation was surveyed with the question to what extent one would recommend the company to friends and acquaintances (on a scale of 0 to 10). No reference was made to sponsorship.


By means of a path analysis with the statistics programme Stata, we tested and statistically confirmed the model created. This hypothesis-driven and rather demanding analysis procedure is particularly well suited to testing causal relationships and is often used in science. Significant effects of the sponsoring measures could be proven both with regard to Zurich Insurance and the comparison company.

Within the framework of a path analysis, path models that represent causal relationships between certain variables are statistically tested. The advantage of this method is the identification of the direction of the influence (causal relationship between the variables). This is a major advantage of a path analysis compared to a correlation, which does not provide any statement with regard to the direction of the relationship.

The results show that involvement does indeed have a significant influence on the awareness of the sponsorship measures, both at Zurich Insurance and at peer companies. Thus, following ice hockey via various media, such as sports news, live games but also watching the games in the stadium leads to the sponsoring measures being recognised. This in turn leads to a positive perception of the company (image). By means of implicit measurement without reference to ice hockey, we were able to prove that those who know that Zurich and the comparison company sponsor ice hockey implicitly evaluate the companies more positively.

Awareness of the sponsoring activities also has a positive influence on the purchase consideration. The influence is small but significant (ß = .097 for Zurich and ß = .11 for the comparison company). The positive image, for its part, primarily influences recommendation (ß = .71 for Zurich and ß = .94 for the comparison company), but not the purchase consideration. For the comparison company, on the other hand, there is a slight positive influence of image on the purchase consideration (ß = .05).

When looking at the direct influences of involvement (emotional path), it is noticeable that this also has a significant effect on purchase consideration and recommendation. Increased purchase consideration does not result from awareness of the sponsorship measures (cognitive path), but directly from attention and involvement in relation to ice hockey (ß = .027 for Zurich and ß = .05 for the comparison company).

In addition, we included customer status (customer vs. non-customer) in the model to test for spurious correlations. Although this influences image and recommendation, the effects of sponsorship do not disappear even when controlling for customer status.

In summary, sponsorship measures have the following implications for a company:

  • As expected, sponsorship measures are perceived primarily when there is close and frequent engagement with the sponsored event. The chances of perceiving the sponsor (through frequent interaction) are thus decisive. People who are interested in a sport and follow it frequently and across multiple platforms are thus more likely to know who is sponsoring the event.
  • Sponsorship measures lead to an improvement of the image as well as to the respondent showing a higher willingness to recommend the company to others.
  • Sponsorship measures also positively influence the consideration to buy products from the sponsor.
  • The increase in purchase consideration as well as willingness to recommend takes place both consciously (cognitive path), in that the (potential) customers know who sponsors the event, and unconsciously (emotional path), without consciously perceiving sponsors. In the case of the latter, the prerequisite is that the games are followed with a high level of involvement (preferably via several channels and in the stadium).

Of course – as everyone involved in marketing knows – sponsorship cannot usually be a “main lever” for the factual buying behaviour of customers.

Other factors such as customer satisfaction or pricing normally contribute much more to positive sales development.

With this study, however, we were able to show that sponsoring is nevertheless much more than just a “hygiene measure” – sponsoring plays an important role in the public perception of a company and can thus achieve the desired effect – namely, positively influence the attitude of (potential) customers.


1 Zurich Insurance agrees to the publication of the results.
2 cf. M. Zengel 2014: The effect of sports sponsorship

Methodological profile

  • Data collection method: Online survey with Survex software EFS by Questback
  • Data source: intervista Online-Panel
  • Target group: Swiss online population
  • Sample size: n=1,132 nationally representative by language region, gender and age, of which n=115 boost sample of those who watched at least 1 ice hockey event in the stadium
  • Survey period: 15 May to 09 June 2017
  • Evaluation method: Structural equation model with Stata
Felix Bernet
Felix Bernet
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