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Rival team effects in cause-related sports marketing

Bridget Satinover Nichols (Haile/US Bank College of Business, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, USA)
Joe Cobbs (Haile/US Bank College of Business, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, USA)
B. David Tyler (College of Business, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA)

International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship

ISSN: 1464-6668

Article publication date: 13 September 2019

Issue publication date: 22 January 2020




The purpose of this paper is to examine how reference to a rival or favorite sports team within cause-related sports marketing (CRSM) campaigns affects fans’ intentions to support the cause. The purpose of the studies is to assess the perils of featuring a specific team in league-wide activations of cause-related marketing.


The research comprises three experiments. Study 1 employs CRSM advertising to test fans’ responses when rival or hometown team imagery is featured by Major League Baseball (MLB). Studies 2 and 3 utilize a press release to activate a cause partnership in MLB and the National Basketball Association (NBA) and assess the potential influence of team involvement and schadenfreude toward the rival team.


Contrary to previous research, results demonstrate that rival team presence in league-wide activation can reduce intentions to support the cause effort across both leagues, but not in all circumstances. The influence of rival team exposure on perceived sincerity is moderated by team involvement with the cause in MLB, but not the NBA. However, sincerity consistently enhances cause support across all studies. While conditional effects of schadenfreude are noted, it is not a significant moderator of cause support.

Research limitations/implications

This research exposes the nuance of league-wide CRSM activations. Specifically, the rival team effect on perceived sincerity seems to be league dependent, and subject to team involvement with the cause. Moreover, these results are limited to the leagues studied.

Practical implications

League administrators and their cause-related partners should exercise due diligence when promoting their affiliation using specific teams and levels of involvement with the cause.


These studies produce results that differ from the limited prior research within the domain of league-wide CRSM, and therefore advance the conversation regarding how best to activate such campaigns.



Nichols, B.S., Cobbs, J. and Tyler, B.D. (2020), "Rival team effects in cause-related sports marketing", International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 23-45.



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