Shifting Perceptions of Corporate Sponsorship at a Public-Sector Park Agency: Results from a 14 Year Follow-Up Survey

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The Journal of Park and Recreation Administration







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Public sector park and recreation agencies have become more entrepreneurial in their financing and revenue generation efforts. A number of phenomena, including decreased tax-based revenues, have created the need for alternative funding strategies. One such strategy, corporate sponsorship, has become increasingly common within parks and public spaces. While there is an existing body of research concerning sponsorship effectiveness and acceptability in park and recreation contexts, few studies examine the evolution or shift in constituent support for sponsorship over time. Given the increasing ubiquity of sponsorship in society, it is possible that the public has adapted and become desensitized to sponsorship—becoming more positive and favorable toward it across a range of settings. To assess this issue, this study examines whether constituents’ opinions regarding corporate sponsorship of a metropolitan public park agency (i.e., Fairfax County Park Authority) have changed over the course of time. Data were collected in 1998 and 2012 through random surveys of subscribers to the Park Authority’s monthly magazine. Surveys assessed participants’ level of support for corporate sponsorship at the park agency, the perceived impact of sponsorship on the recreation experience, and the perceived appropriateness of specific corporate sponsorship activation activities and conditions. Comparisons between the two time periods were conducted with independent samples t-tests or Chi-square analyses (along with Cramer’s V statistics) in order to determine whether there were significant changes in sponsorship attitudes and what the nature of those changes were. Results suggest that, over this 14-year period, park constituents became significantly more likely to support park sponsorships. There were significant increases in sponsorship favorability toward sponsorship and well as its perceived impact on the recreation experience. Findings also indicate more favorable opinions toward specific sponsorship elements. Park constituents perceived a wider range of sponsor activities and conditions as appropriate. However, certain sponsorship issues remained problematic. For example, respondents still identified specific industries/products as more appropriate than others, were still wary of granting exclusivity to a sponsor, allowing naming rights, and eschewed visible sponsor recognition at trails and historic settings. Findings suggest that park and recreation agencies proceed cautiously and develop clear guidelines to maximize sponsorship’s contribution and minimize its negative impact.

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