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FINNISH SPORT SPONSORSHIP AND SPONSORED SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT

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Estonian Business School
Department of Marketing and Communication
FINNISH SPORT SPONSORSHIP AND SPONSORED
SOCIAL MEDIA CO...
ii
I herewith declare that I have written the Master’s Thesis independently. References
have been indicated for all the pu...
iii
DEDICATION
I would like to dedicate this thesis to my Juhana, of course.
…
I would like to thank my family, my friends...
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FINNISH SPORT SPONSORSHIP AND SPONSORED SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT

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In Finnish sports marketing sports organizations' social media networks are used to connect sponsoring brands with the fans. The main objective of this thesis is to help rights-holders and sponsors to recognize and create engaging sponsored social media content that generates desired reaction and engagement among the target audience. This thesis is a case study that investigates how different content factors affect the willingness of Finnish sports consumers to engage with sponsored content posts published by the rights-holders. The research focuses on investigating sponsored posts published by Liiga ice hockey teams on their social media platforms and the reaction they create among the target audience. The case organizations, Liiga ice hockey teams, are 15 Finnish ice hockey teams that compete in Liiga, Finnish top professional ice hockey league. To offer an international benchmark to the research also three NHL ice hockey teams and the sponsored posts published on their social media platforms are included.

The research was conducted by analysing the collected social media content posts with explanatory sequential mixed research method which combines both quantitative and qualitative methods. Based on the research results suggestions and recommendations are given on how sponsored social media content could be developed and targeted more effectively.

In Finnish sports marketing sports organizations' social media networks are used to connect sponsoring brands with the fans. The main objective of this thesis is to help rights-holders and sponsors to recognize and create engaging sponsored social media content that generates desired reaction and engagement among the target audience. This thesis is a case study that investigates how different content factors affect the willingness of Finnish sports consumers to engage with sponsored content posts published by the rights-holders. The research focuses on investigating sponsored posts published by Liiga ice hockey teams on their social media platforms and the reaction they create among the target audience. The case organizations, Liiga ice hockey teams, are 15 Finnish ice hockey teams that compete in Liiga, Finnish top professional ice hockey league. To offer an international benchmark to the research also three NHL ice hockey teams and the sponsored posts published on their social media platforms are included.

The research was conducted by analysing the collected social media content posts with explanatory sequential mixed research method which combines both quantitative and qualitative methods. Based on the research results suggestions and recommendations are given on how sponsored social media content could be developed and targeted more effectively.

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FINNISH SPORT SPONSORSHIP AND SPONSORED SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT

  1. 1. Estonian Business School Department of Marketing and Communication FINNISH SPORT SPONSORSHIP AND SPONSORED SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT CASE: LIIGA ICE HOCKEY TEAMS Master’s Thesis by Laura Peltonen Supervisor: Katri Kerem, PhD Tallinn 2016
  2. 2. ii I herewith declare that I have written the Master’s Thesis independently. References have been indicated for all the publications, claims, opinions and different sources by other authors. April 18.5.2016 ……………………./Laura Peltonen/
  3. 3. iii DEDICATION I would like to dedicate this thesis to my Juhana, of course. … I would like to thank my family, my friends, and my colleagues who have always been there to support my dreams. Also, I would like to especially thank Emmi who is always there for a friend.
  4. 4. iv TABLE OF CONTENTS DEDICATION..............................................................................................................iii LIST OF TABLES........................................................................................................vi LIST OF FIGURES .....................................................................................................vii ABSTRACT................................................................................................................viii INTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................... 1 1. REVIEW OF LITERATURE .................................................................................... 4 1.1. Sport Marketing................................................................................................... 4 1.1.1. Definition of Sport Marketing ...................................................................... 4 1.1.2. Sport Marketing and Social Media............................................................... 6 1.2. Sport Sponsorship ............................................................................................... 7 1.2.1. Definition of Sport Sponsorship................................................................... 7 1.2.2. Sponsorship Process ..................................................................................... 8 1.3. Social Media and Marketing ............................................................................. 13 1.3.1. Definition of Social Media ......................................................................... 13 1.3.2. Social Media Marketing ............................................................................. 13 1.3.3. Overview of the Social Media Platforms.................................................... 15 1.3.4. Marketing Measurements in Social Media................................................. 18 1.4. Sport Sponsorship in Social Media ................................................................... 20 1.4.1. Sports Consumers in Social Media............................................................. 20 1.4.2. Sponsored Content in Social Media ........................................................... 22 2. MATERIALS AND METHODS............................................................................. 24 2.1. The Field of Study............................................................................................. 25 2.1.1. Finnish Sponsorship Market....................................................................... 25 2.1.2. Case: Liiga Ice Hockey Teams................................................................... 27 2.2. Research Methodology and Design................................................................... 28 2.2.1. Research Sample......................................................................................... 31 2.2.2. Definition of the Data................................................................................. 33 2.2.3. Data Collection........................................................................................... 35
  5. 5. v 2.2.4. Data Analysis.............................................................................................. 38 3. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION.............................................................................. 41 3.1. Results ............................................................................................................... 42 3.1.1. Liiga Ice Hockey Teams’ Sponsored Social Media Content...................... 42 3.1.2. Sponsored Social Media Content and Engagement.................................... 44 3.1.3. Benchmark results: NHL Ice Hockey Teams ............................................. 46 3.1.4. Engaging Factors of Sponsored Social Media Content.............................. 50 3.2. Discussion ......................................................................................................... 55 CONCLUSIONS.......................................................................................................... 59 REFERENCES ............................................................................................................ 61 APPENDIXES ............................................................................................................. 70 1. The number of collected sponsored content posts per ice hockey team in different social media platforms ............................................................................................. 70 2. The sizes of the social communities of Liiga ice hockey teams in Twitter, Facebook and Instagram........................................................................................... 71 3. The quantitative data collection tool. ................................................................... 72 4. The qualitative data collection tool. ..................................................................... 73 5. Published sponsored content posts and average engagement rate per social media platform (Liiga teams).............................................................................................. 74 6. The amount of published sponsored content posts by content type..................... 75 7. Top 10% of the sponsored content posts with the highest engagement rate (Liiga teams) ....................................................................................................................... 76 8. Bottom 10% of the sponsored content posts with the lowest engagement rate (Liiga teams) ............................................................................................................ 77 9. Example content: Behind the scenes.................................................................... 78 10. Example content: Charity campaigns................................................................. 79 11. Example content: Fans meet players.................................................................. 80 12. Example content: Consumer and company competitions .................................. 81 13. Example content: Conditional Benefits.............................................................. 82 14. Example of inconsistent content: Competition .................................................. 83
  6. 6. vi LIST OF TABLES Table 1. Social media platform types and different social media platforms................ 16 Table 2. Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams’ origins ..................................................... 28 Table 3. Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams’ social communities and the number of followers in January 2016............................................................................................ 32
  7. 7. vii LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1. Blueprint for Strategic Sponsorship. .............................................................. 8 Figure 2. Sponsorship Process model ............................................................................9 Figure 3. Communication channels used to leverage sponsorship programs in 2013.12 Figure 4. Comparison of Nordic Sponsorship Markets from 2009-2014 .................... 25 Figure 5. Research Design ........................................................................................... 30 Figure 6.The data collection schedule 2015-2016. ...................................................... 36 Figure 7. Distribution of Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams’ sponsored content posts per platform.................................................................................................................. 37 Figure 8. The number of different types of sponsored content posts Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams published in different social media platforms.......................................38 Figure 9. Published sponsored content posts and the average engagement rate (%), Liiga ice hockey teams.................................................................................................42 Figure 10. The number of different types of sponsored content posts Liiga ice hockey teams published on different social media platforms................................................... 44 Figure 11. Liiga ice hockey team specific engagement rate(av) by social media platform........................................................................................................................ 45 Figure 12. The average of engagement each different content type received in different social media platforms. ................................................................................. 46 Figure 13. The monthly average of published sponsored social media content posts and the average engagement rate, Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams .......................... 47 Figure 14. The number of different types of sponsored content posts NHL ice hockey teams published on different social media platforms................................................... 48 Figure 15. Comparison of Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams’ social media platform specific engagement rates (average) ............................................................................49
  8. 8. viii ABSTRACT Peltonen, L. Finnish Sport Sponsorship and Sponsored Social Media Content, Case: Liiga Ice Hockey Teams, Estonian Business School, Tallinn 2016, 91 pages, 15 figures, 3 tables, 72 sources, in English. SPORT SPONSORSHIP, SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING, SPONSOR, RIGHTS- HOLDER, SPORTS CONSUMER, SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT, SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT. In Finnish sports marketing sports organizations' social media networks are used to connect sponsoring brands with the fans. The main objective of this thesis is to help rights-holders and sponsors to recognize and create engaging sponsored social media content that generates desired reaction and engagement among the target audience. This thesis is a case study that investigates how different content factors affect the willingness of Finnish sports consumers to engage with sponsored content posts published by the rights-holders. The research focuses on investigating sponsored posts published by Liiga ice hockey teams on their social media platforms and the reaction they create among the target audience. The case organizations, Liiga ice hockey teams, are 15 Finnish ice hockey teams that compete in Liiga, Finnish top professional ice hockey league. To offer an international benchmark to the research also three NHL ice hockey teams and the sponsored posts published on their social media platforms are included. The research was conducted by analysing the collected social media content posts with explanatory sequential mixed research method which combines both quantitative and qualitative methods. Based on the research results suggestions and recommendations are given on how sponsored social media content could be developed and targeted more effectively.
  9. 9. INTRODUCTION Social media has been an important part of sports marketing already for several years and one of the most important trends in sports sponsorship. In Finnish sports marketing, social media is enabling different sports organizations and athletes to reach their fans easily through their own networks. Social media platforms are used to share information, to interact and to entertain the fans. Sports organizations’ social media networks can also be used to connect sponsoring brands with the fans. When social media is used systematically as an interaction channel it can bring sponsors closer to their target audiences with clear relevance creating a meaningful engagement. However, creating higher target audience engagement requires sponsors and rights-holders to cooperate closely in order to create added value through sponsorship activations. The key to the success lies in understanding what kind of sponsored content triggers meaningful target audience engagement. (IEG 2015) In Finland sports sponsorship is an important source of revenue for sports organizations and because of this one would assume that sponsors would be exploiting the possibilities offered by social media (Koljonen 2012, 29). However according to research conducted in 2012 it was found that less than 50% of active Finnish sponsors use social media as a sponsorship activation channel (Sponsorointi & Tapahtumamarkkinointi ry 2012). One reason behind the reluctant use of social media for sponsorship activations may be the difficulty in recognizing and creating content that would benefit all the stakeholders involved; the sponsor, the rights-holder, and the sports consumer. The main objective of the thesis is to provide an answer to the main research problem; what kind of sponsored social media content, published in the rights-holders’ social media platforms, is the most engaging among the Finnish sports consumers? The analysis is conducted on the sponsored social media content posts published on the
  10. 10. 2 social media platforms of Liiga ice hockey teams and analyzed comprehensively by including sponsor, rights-holder, and sports consumer aspects. To offer an international benchmark to the results secondary research objects, three NHL ice hockey teams, were added to the research. There has not been similar research in this scale carried out and published on this particular topic of the Finnish sports market. Following research questions were created to frame and specify the research approach of this study: 1. Which social media platform and what content type is the most used for publishing sponsored social media content among the Liiga and ice hockey teams? 2. What kind of similarities and differences the most and the least engaging sponsored content posts of Liiga ice hockey teams have? 3. What kind of similarities and differences the most engaging sponsored content posts of Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams have? 4. What kind of content factors affects the sports consumers' willingness to engage with sponsored social media content? The thesis intends to help rights-holders and sponsors to recognize and create engaging sponsored social media content that generates the desired reaction among the target audience. Useful and authentic sponsored social media content is able to offer value to the sports consumers, engage the sports consumers and favourably influence their perception of the sponsor. However, the creation of such content requires knowledge of the target audience, clear sponsorship objectives and cooperation between the sponsor and the rights-holder. The author has reviewed and analyzed previously conducted researches and academic journals on the topics of sports marketing, sports sponsorship, and social media marketing. The theoretical overview can be found from the chapter 1. The research was conducted in the form of a case study by combining both quantitative and qualitative data analysis. The research methodology is introduced in chapter 2. The research results are based on sponsored social media content posts published by Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams. The results of the research and discussions can be found from the chapter 3.
  11. 11. 3 As social media is still rather new and fractionally exploited in the Finnish sports sponsorships, this research is able to offer a deeper understanding of how Finnish sports consumers react to sponsored social media content in different social media platforms. The research analyzes sports consumers' interest and preferences when it comes to sponsored social media content they receive from the social media platforms of their favourite sports teams. Research on this topic is needed to recognize what kind of sponsored social media content is able to offer value to the sports consumer and at the same time benefit the sponsor and the rights-holder. For the sponsors, the research can give an understanding of what is the most engaging way to reach their target audience through the rights-holders' social media platforms and create a memorable and positive impression. At the same time, the research clarifies the role the rights-holder has in enabling the development of the sponsored content.
  12. 12. 4 1. REVIEW OF LITERATURE 1.1. Sport Marketing In this chapter, the concept of sports marketing will be introduced. The main purpose is to understand how sports marketing has evolved due to the changes in consumer behaviour and technological development in the business environment. The main opportunities and challenges sports marketing is facing at the moment will be also discussed. Sports marketing could be described as a result of growing global sports industry that through the years of evolvement has started to require even more structured and reasoned management processes. Processes that are specially designed for such an industry that sports have grown to be and for such that keeps on adapting according to the emerging changes (Shilbury et al. 2009, 15). The main focus of sports marketing is to sell and develop sport as a product to consumers. The means of marketing are endless and vary from branding to advertising, merchandising, promotion and events. The science of marketing itself does not separate sports marketing from marketing in general but the sport as a product does (Sports networker 2012). There are several special qualities that make sports special as a product and for that reason sport marketing requires certain abilities from the marketer. For the marketer sports can be an unpredictable and uncontrollable product. At the same time sports could be describes as a special, emotional and even very personal experience for the consumer (Mullin et al. 2014, 20). 1.1.1. Definition of Sport Marketing According to Mullin, Hardy, and Sutton sports marketing could be defined as following: Sports marketing has developed two major thrusts: the marketing of sports products and services directly to the consumer of sport and the marketing of other consumer and
  13. 13. 5 industrial products or services using partnerships and promotions with sports properties. (Mullin et al. 2014, 13) This definition is supported by the research of Fullerton and Merz (2008, 2). They also divide the concept of sports marketing into the marketing of sports and marketing through sports. Marketing of sports is usually used by sports organizations which aim to secure and develop the position of their sport. In comparison marketing through sport involves partnerships with companies in the form of sponsorship. Sponsorships enable companies to exploit the sport in order to reach a specific target audience. (Shilbury et al. 2009, 247) This definition is also supported by Lefever who defines sponsorship as “the process in which companies make use of popular and alternative sports, and the athletes prominent within those sports, to connect with consumers.” (Lefever 2010, 11) Based on these definitions of sports marketing has three main stakeholders that need to be considered. In the heart of these stakeholders are the consumers. In the context of the sports marketing, the consumers could also be called sports fans. There are many different levels of being a fan but the simplest way to divide fans could be separating them into two groups. First group is consisted of fans who are consumers interested in the sport and follow it on some level and the second group consists of fanatics who rigorously attend the sports events and follow the sport actively. The second stakeholder group consists of the actual sports organizations, such as sports teams, which aim to maintain and develop the sport they represent. All sports organizations are in competition of the time and money of the consumer with other forms of sports and entertainment. Sports organizations are marketing the sport to the consumers (Shilbury et al. 2009, 248). The existing fans and fanatics are the target audience that sports organizations are able to reach with less effort than for example people who are just interested of the sport but not actively following or participating. Fans and fanatics of the sport form the actual core audience of the sport. In the sponsorship partnerships, sport organizations represent the rights-holders. The last stakeholder group consists of different organizations that are the sponsors of the sport or the partners of the sports organization. Most of the sponsor organizations are different companies marketing their brand through the sport to the consumers
  14. 14. 6 (Mullin et al. 2014, 233). Their aim is to reach their target audience through the chosen sport and advertise their products or services to them. There are several ways to activate sponsorship but the main idea is that the sponsor receives the access to the exploitable commercial potential that the rights-holder is able to offer. (Belzer 2013) This commercial potential can be much more diverse than a company's logo presented in a sports context (Desbordes and Richelieu 2012, 49). 1.1.2. Sport Marketing and Social Media The emergence and expansion of the new media and the decline of the traditional media have forced the marketing communications to evolve and change. New media has many forms and channels such as social media, blogs, search engine optimization, content marketing, video marketing, apps and websites (Perrin 2012). Sports marketing still seems to be adjusting to these changes as the fragmentation of the media has created a lot of challenges as well as opportunities for the sports marketers. According to Santomier’s analysis: “New media facilitates the aggregation of consumers across multiple platforms on a global scale while communicating a brand’s message and building relationships with consumers.” (Santomier 2008, 26) It could be said that sports marketing has changed from simple to more complex and from marketing to communication. The once so well selling media exposure of sports is not enough for sponsors anymore. To exist, modern sponsorship investments require the permission to exploit the emotional impact of the sport in order to build brand awareness and provide content possibilities that create proved returns, according to Chris Conway (2014). A simple TV-commercial or signboard visibility in a broadcasted sports event as a return to sponsorship investment used to be enough for sponsors. However, as the way sport is consumed has changed so has the ways it should be produced, marketed and delivered. Sports marketing is now integrating multiple channels and communicating instead of informing. These changes mean that the marketing is more targeted and even created together with the consumer. If the interaction between consumer and brand is
  15. 15. 7 through integrated marketing channels, the brand is able to reach larger audiences and exploit sport longer and more effectively. (Santomier 2008, 25) Social networks have taken an important role as a platform of interaction in the modern sports marketing as consumers choose to be involved. For consumers, this means not only the possibility of a more personal relationship with sports teams or individual athletes but also with other fans and sponsoring brands. Social network platforms have created brands a better way of understanding their own brand image and how to affect it. (PWC 2011) In 2014, Fidelman listed five ways sports market industry is about to change forever. Most of the major changes have to do with new media and especially with social media. He forecasts that sponsorships, in general, are moving to the online environment as the actual marketplaces are moving there. He also emphasizes the importance of social media influencers in the sense of product sales. Social media influencers have straight channel to their followers who are in this case the potential customers. In the most optimistic situation, the consumers are willing to invite the brand into their lives and they treat the advertisements rather as entertainment. Eventually, online environment will enable accurate ROI calculations where the engagement and impact play the key roles. (Fidelman 2014) 1.2. Sport Sponsorship In this chapter, the concept of sport sponsorship is introduced in depth. The main purpose is to define sponsorship, understand the basic sponsorship process, introduce the stakeholders involved, list the main goals of the cooperation and the most effective means to achieve them. 1.2.1. Definition of Sport Sponsorship In the chapter 1.1.1. the concept of Sports Marketing was defined and divided into two dimensions: marketing of sport and marketing through sport (Fullerton and Merz 2008, 2). Sponsorship is marketing through sport and business relationship forms the core of this marketing communication platform. Sponsorship relationship exists between a
  16. 16. 8 provider of funds (sponsor) and individual, event or organization (rights-holder) in search for mutual benefits. (Lagae 2003, 11) (ICC 2003) European Sponsorship Association (ESA) has defined sponsorship in the following way: Any commercial agreement by which a sponsor, for the mutual benefit of the sponsor and sponsored party, contractually provides financing or other support in order to establish an association between the sponsor’s image, brands or products and a sponsorship property in return for rights to promote this association and/or for the granting of certain agreed direct or indirect benefits. (ESA 2014) Marketing industry associations ESA and ICC share the same comprehensive definition of sponsorship and emphasize the mutual benefits of the cooperation. Wim Lagae and David Shilbury emphasize the business nature of sponsorship and the fact that sponsorship should not be confused with charity or patronage in any level. Sponsorship always seeks for mutual benefits for the parties involved and is a formation of a reciprocal relationship. (Shilbury et al. 2009, 246; Lagae 2003, 35) 1.2.2. Sponsorship Process The sponsorship process offers understanding of the overall partnership and its effects to the stakeholders and to the target audience. The theories combined in this chapter are built on Kodadek’s (2014) Blueprint for Strategic Sponsorship and on Liukkonen’s (2014, 19) Sponsorship process model. Kodadek’s model consists of six separate but connected steps presented in Figure 1. This model will be the base for the structure of this sub-chapter due to its coherent representation of the sponsorship process. Figure 1. Blueprint for Strategic Sponsorship. Source: Janus Kodadek. (online source) http://www.slideshare.net/jkodadek/blueprint- for-strategic-sponsorship-26358392 (21.09.2015). Drawing by the author.
  17. 17. 9 Liukkonen's sponsorship process model in Figure 2. presents the sponsorship process that includes both stakeholders, the sponsor, and the rights-holder. The model describes the process from the point of searching a partner until the development of the co- operation (2014). What makes this model important is the visualization of the steps before the co-operation and during the co-operation. The model visualizes clearly the importance of the starting point of the co-operation between the rights-holder and the sponsor. Figure 2. Sponsorship Process model Source: Liukkonen (online source) https://publications.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/74321/Liukkonen_Sofia.pdf?se quence=1 (08.10.15). Drawing by the author. When Kodadek’s and Liukkonen’s models are compared, it is possible to find similar proceeding of steps with slightly different terms. The meaning of these terms is opened next. Authenticate and Correlate These first steps, named as authenticate and correlate by Kodadek (2014), consist of defining sponsorship objectives and understanding the connection between the sponsor, the target audience, and the rights-holder. Usually in the beginning of the process the
  18. 18. 10 sponsor and the rights-holder are mapping out the suitable partners individually (Liukkonen 2014, 19). In many cases the first initiative to the sponsorship comes from the rights-holder. For this reason the ability to offer competitive partnership possibilities to the potential sponsor is essential in the market where companies receive multiple sponsorship proposals (Arthur et al. 1997, 2). After finding the suitable partner, the main purpose of the correlation is to ensure that the planned sponsorship enables the parties involved to reach their objectives equally. The compatibility of the sponsor’s brand and the brand of the rights-holder can be called as sponsor fit (Ipsos Reid 2014). Compatibility of sponsorship has an important role in communicating the intended message to the target audience. The compatibility ensures that the sponsor’s brand image matches with the values, interests and lifestyles of the target audience (Lee and Cho 2009, 5). Brand should be able to receive a detailed target audience profile from the rights-holder and for this reason, rights-holder should know their own product and audience (Ratilainen 2015). In sports sponsorships, sponsor's objectives are usually focused on two main goals which are brand building and sales growth. Brand related objectives can involve improving or changing the brand image in the minds of the consumers. The objectives can also include corporate responsibility objectives or new positioning strategies. Positioning strategies aim to help the sponsor to stand out from the competitive brands by reaching new or larger audiences. Eventually, all the activations which have been conducted in order to achieve these objectives also aim to increase sales. However, there can be a distinction between brand building objectives and sales growth objectives. Sponsorship may enable the brand to reach new target audiences and if the sponsorship is conducted successfully it way lead to sales growth. (Shilbury et al. 2009, 63) Activation Plan and Collaboration Activation plan is an essential part of the sponsorship process as it ensures that the actual activations are able to transmit the wanted message about the brand to the target audience. The main goal of the sponsorship activations is to show that the brand is committed to the rights-holder and to the audience (Kodadek 2014). Sponsorship activation planning could be also described as sponsorship agreement negotiation
  19. 19. 11 (Liukkonen 2014, 19). At this point, the interaction and collaboration between the sponsor and the rights-holder could not be emphasized enough as it creates the opportunity for the brand to create an actual bond with the audience. In practice, this collaboration includes creating activations together with the rights-holder to ensure the benefits to all stakeholders involved. When activations are created in collaboration they are more likely to serve the goals of the sponsor and rights-holder as well as enhance the experience of the consumer in the most natural way. (Kodadek 2014) Best practice activations are able to present the value brand is offering to the consumers and engage with them in a natural unforced way. The main purpose of the activations should be to enhance the consumer experience in some way or decrease the negative aspects of the experience. Planning should always be built on the sponsorship goals to ensure the possibility to actually succeed. Planning also includes deciding on the measurement tools for the evaluation process. (Kodadek 2014) Activation and Evaluation The activation is the part of the sponsorship process where the sponsorship comes to live and meets the target audience (Kodadek 2014). Very rarely there is a situation where one-time activation is able to reach the target audience as there are usually several types of consumer groups among the audience. For this reason, it is necessary to take all the different groups into consideration and conduct activations that do not alienate any of these groups. (Goodman 2014) Multiple communication channels offer the sponsor a great opportunity to connect with different types of target groups and in Figure 3 IEG has listed the most popular marketing communication tools used to activate sponsorships.
  20. 20. 12 Figure 3. Communication channels used to leverage sponsorship programs in 2013 Source: IEG (online source) http://www.sponsorship.com/iegsr/2013/01/28/Best- Practices--Sponsorship-Activation.aspx (10.9.2015). Drawing by the author. The importance of the ability to engage and interact with the target audience has become more important and it could be also described as the new norm of a successful sponsorship activation. The role of social media platforms in sponsorships has increased due to the consumers' ability to engage with the content and co-create the content. At the same time, the evaluation of the sponsorship activations is easier than ever with available digital tools. The evaluation of sponsorship should be consistent from the first activation till the end. At this point of the sponsorship process, the pre-established objectives act as the measurement of the ROO (return on objectives) (Kodadek 2014). Sponsorship success can be evaluated based on the activation channel and the objective of the activation. The importance of matching the pre-established objectives with suitable measurements in the activation planning phase is vital to conduct the evaluation of the sponsorship. The purpose of the evaluation is to find out whether the sponsorship investment to the activations was profitable or not. Liukkonen introduces development as the final step in the sponsorship process model and this step leans heavily to the evaluation results (Liukkonen 2014, 19). It is impossible to evaluate whether the sponsorship should be continued or not without measurement results. Measuring and evaluating is the base for long-term sponsorship partnerships which are developed to evolve according to the consumer needs and to reach higher goals as the partnership continues.
  21. 21. 13 1.3. Social Media and Marketing In Chapter 1.1. current trends in sports marketing were discussed and social media had a special place among them. In this subchapter social media, social media marketing, and social media networks are defined from the marketer’s point of view. 1.3.1. Definition of Social Media Social media has developed fiercely in the recent years and it is still changing constantly. Social media’s core identity and effect could be defined as “the democratization of content and the shift in the role people play in the process of reading and disseminating information (and thus creating and sharing content)” (Anjum et al. 2012, 96). Many people consider social media as a very modern creation of the Internet boom era even though its development started already in the 70's and 80's. Nevertheless, the late 90's was the time of the so called explosion of Internet and the beginning to social media networking on the large scale. The development of the social media is usually linked to new technological innovations and creation of new web applications. A good example of the technological development is the development of mobile devices and mobile computing which has made the use of social media even more comprehensive in people's lives. (Digital Trends 2014) Social media includes a wide range of different web applications that were established to allow the individual web users to create and exchange content such as information, knowledge, and opinions in the form or words, pictures, videos and audios within their communities (Safko et al. 2009, 4; Weber 2009, 4-6). Social media was introduced in the Web 2.0 and as a result was born a new world of unpaid media (Kaplan 2010, 59- 61). Based on these definitions it is possible to say that social media is the enabler of interaction or two-way communication between consumers and marketers. And for this reason the traditional marketing rules do not apply as such in social media. 1.3.2. Social Media Marketing Social media marketing has a lot of similarities with traditional marketing. However, interactivity, the role of the individual consumer, behavioural complexity of the
  22. 22. 14 consumer and a number of different channels makes the social media special and different. What is common to all the different definitions of social media is the emphasis on advertising in the form of discussion and sharing over the Internet. In the following definition, Gunelius mentions marketing means, purposes, and tools to define the concept. …any form of direct or indirect marketing that is used to build awareness, recognition, recall, and action for a brand, business, product, person, or other entity and is carried out using the tools of the social Web, such as blogging, micro-blogging, social networking, social bookmarking, and content sharing.” (Gunelius 2011 ; Anjum et al. 2012, 97) Gunelius’ definition has a practical approach and it gives a clear understanding of why and how social media marketing is conducted. Nevertheless, this definition does not emphasize nor explain what kind of influence marketer wants to create among consumers and what the preferred reaction is. Chary’s explains that the social media is a process where the aim of the marketer is to gain visitors to their web page or gain attention with their content that would preferably trigger a reaction where the reader would share and communicate the message within their social networks (2014, 1). When this process is successful it enables the content released by the brand reach a lot more consumers and reach the marketer's goals through electronic word of mouth (E- WoM). The definitions give an understanding of the basic meaning behind the concept of social media marketing. However, in order to get a deeper understanding it is necessary to analyse the benefits and the challenges of social media marketing. One way to do this is to compare the concept of social media marketing to the traditional marketing. The main element that has increased due to the emergence of social media is the level of engagement. The social media tools and platforms used together with the chosen message thrive for creating higher engagement level within the target audience (Page 2011). One of the major traits of social media marketing is putting the focus on building relationships with target audiences. This means that the social media marketers focus on generating and increasing engagement above all (Guneysel 2014). Return on investments is a commonly used in traditional marketing but it has lost its purpose in an environment where all the efforts are used to connect with the potential customer by being present where they are and acting as the facilitator for communication,
  23. 23. 15 collaboration, education and entertainment (Safko 2009, 4). This can also be seen from the development of brand websites which used to be like printed advertisements with technological features. Nowadays most brand websites facilitate and encourage discussion instead of just conveying a wanted message. More and more often businesses include social media as a part of their integrated marketing communication in order to connect with their target markets (Anjum 2012, 97). This development can also be seen in the annual marketing budgets where social media is increasing its share (Guneysel 2014). Traditional marketing still exist strong but as the society adopts new behaviours there is a major challenge for the marketer to adjust to the changing consumer behaviour (Page 2011). Consumers on social media do not want to see marketing or hear about the brand but instead, they are looking for inspiration to their lives, solutions to their problems and just interesting information (Safko 2009, 6). Marketers who are able to help their followers find solutions instead of trying to sell their products or services are usually the ones who gather the appreciation, engagement and loyalty among the customers. Social media should be used first of all to connect with a potential customer and not for selling. One key benefit of social media is the instant feedback. You are able to learn more and faster about your customers' needs and desires by following the conversation. At the same time if you exploit the social media analytics you gain insights of your customer, of the potential customers and even of the people who you should not waste your marketing efforts on (Chary 2014, 3). 1.3.3. Overview of the Social Media Platforms The platforms chosen to be defined and analysed in this subchapter are based on the results of Sponsor Insight's annual Navigator-research which's sample size and structure represents the population of Finland. In the research, the respondents were asked to answer the question of which social media platforms they use at least weekly. Based on the research Facebook is the most used platform with 79% of the respondents, the next most popular is YouTube with 49% of the respondents and in the third place are both Twitter and Instagram with 11%. (Sponsor Insight 2015) The only one of these four
  24. 24. 16 channels I will only introduce very briefly is YouTube as its role in the research will not be as important as the others’. There exist several different types of social media platforms and like you are able to see in Table 1 under each type, there is a great number of different individual platforms. The number of different platforms, as well as platform types, is increasing constantly as new platforms emerge. Table 1. Social media platform types and different social media platforms Myers, A. (2012) Web source: http://decidedlysocial.com/13-types-of-social-media- platforms-and-counting/. (11.11.2015) Facebook Facebook is one of the most popular social networking platform which had allowed individuals as well as organisations to create their personal profiles since 2006. According to Statista's (2015) statistics, there were 2,7 million Facebook users in Finland in 2015 and it is estimated that the number will grow to 3 million users in three following years. The main features of the platform are the ability to upload, review, response to content and share others' content. The interaction happens by liking, sharing or commenting content posts (Wallace et al. 2011). The main reason individuals join and are active on Facebook is to keep in touch with their already existing friends (Boyd and Ellison 2008).
  25. 25. 17 According to Wallace et al. Facebook is used by brands to improve the brand image and brand communications (2011). In sports marketing, this is often done by providing information, pictures or promoting events to the fans and potential customers (Witkemper et al. 2012, 171). On Facebook, as on any social networking site, marketers should add advertisements with caution as it can be seen as invading into users' space and time uninvited. First of all, in an environment with multiple other advertisers, there is a risk of being unnoticed. According to research by Greenlight, 44% of Facebook users choose to avoid clicking any links or posts that have been sponsored (Garun 2012). For organisations, Facebooks offers free information on the organisations own page statistics as well as demographic information about their followers (Wallace et al. 2011). YouTube YouTube is a video sharing platform that was launched in 2005. It allows users to search, watch, share and edit videos. According to the Realtime Report's (2013) statistics in 2013, YouTube was the fourth most visited website in Finland. YouTube is used by individuals as well as organisations and brands. Twitter Twitter is one of the most popular micro-blogging sites in the world which allows individuals as well as organisations to create their personal profiles. It was established in 2006 and it has grown steadily since then. In Finland Twitter has approximately 500 000 users (Sponsor Insight 2015). In Twitter, the interaction between the users is limited by using a maximum of 140 characters per post. The limitation of the length of the messages makes it a quick source of information when compared to other types of social media platforms. Also posting pictures is possible as well as re-tweeting others' posts. The idea behind limiting the length of the post is to create a platform where reading information does not require too much effort. Twitter enables people to follow others and this way by posting content the user is able to reach the followers. For organisations and brands, Twitter is a suitable channel for informing their followers and other users in real time. The aim often is to keep the Twitter users connected to the brand with regular tweeting (Witkemper et al. 2012, 172).
  26. 26. 18 Instagram Instagram is a photo-sharing mobile platform that was established in 2010 as a smart phone app. According to several types of research in Finland approximately 11-15% of internet users are using Instagram frequently (Sponsor Insight 2015) (Bennett 2014). The platform allows individuals and organisations who have created their own profile to upload, edit and share photos or short 15 second long videos with other users. The platforms also allow users to publish the content simultaneously on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. The interaction in Instagram is based on liking or commenting on the shared photo or video content (Rouse 2012). What makes Instagram different from Facebook or Twitter is the very simple usage and focus only on pictures and short videos. For organisations and brands who wish to do marketing on Instagram, there are two options available. The first one is to create an own profile and gather own group of followers of whom 100 per cent will receive your content to their Instagram feed. This way you are able to reach users who have chosen to follow you and not push your content to people who might not be interested (Cohen 2015). The second option is to buy advertising space from Instagram and include your content randomly on individual users' feeds. Recently advertisement content possibilities were included in Instagram. This second option can be a risky investment as the reaction of users towards sponsored content has been mostly negative (Rogers 2015). 1.3.4. Marketing Measurements in Social Media In most cases the overall business goals of companies are to lower costs, increase customer satisfaction and ultimately gain profits with the chosen tactics (Sterne 2010, 5) (Williams and Chinn 2010,6). However in order for brands to drive sales from social media platforms it requires them to understand how these social media platforms operate, what kind of marketing objectives can be achieved through them and how. Social media platforms offer a lot of different kind of measurement opportunities and analytical insights brands can exploit in order to analyse the success of their content or
  27. 27. 19 social media campaigns. However, the problem of understanding of the numbers arises if there is no comparison or context to them. In order to gain real metrics, brands need to do comparisons within their own previous results and by comparing their results to competitors. For this reason, the importance of context as well as defined objectives is essential (Sterne 2010, 7). Social media platforms such as Facebook offers detailed insights for their business users. However, when in need of comparison the businesses should focus on analysing the open information they are able to receive from their competitors from the platforms and compare these metrics. According to Luke Chitwood (2013), there are five most important metrics to be tracked when operating in social media and two of them are offered as public information in social media platforms to anyone. The first measurement is reach, which means the number of people you are able to reach with your content. The easiest way of tracking the growth of your audience is to follow the progress of the amount of followers of your organization's page. It is important to focus on the growth of the audience but also to the number of followers leaving and trying to analyse the reasons for the progress. The second metric is engagement and this metric measures the reactions of the audience in numbers such as likes, comments, and shares based on the platform. The simple number of engagement is not valid as a metric but instead, it is important to track the average engagement rate. Simple average engagement rate can be used to make comparisons between competitors ability to engage their audience. Average engagement rate is calculated by dividing the total number of engagement per post with the total audience (Smitha 2013). The number shows the percentage of followers who engage with your content and who does not (Chitwood 2013). Engagement, however, goes beyond numbers and requires further analysis from the businesses as one of the most important customer insight is offered by consumer comments. The objective is to gain an understanding of your audience preferences and create value accordingly. Based on the discussions and interactions businesses are able to analyse whether the engagement is positive or negative and react when required (Prager 2014). One of the metrics Chitwood mentions is conversion rate. This metric tracks traffic from social media to brand's website and a percentage of visitors who for example purchase a product (Chitwood 2013). This way it is possible to track the number of leads the
  28. 28. 20 content published in social media is able to create. The conversion rate is available from webpage analytical tools and social media platforms do not offer it as part of their analytics. However, this is one of the most important metrics in order to measure the effects of social media marketing to the company's revenues. In social media, everything starts with a network the organization is able to gather and the level of interaction it is able to inspire. That is why the most practical level of goals in social media marketing should evolve around the followers and engagement. Prager discusses in her article about the key performance indicators (KPI's) of social media platforms. Key performance indicators help marketer to understand which measurable metrics serve brand's larger goals. The first KPI's she introduces are the follower growth and the conversion rate. A lot of followers alone do not serve any brand's ultimate goal of increasing profits but it enables the brands to reach a number of people. It could be stated that if a brand is able to increase the size of its network, it is also increasing its reach and brand awareness. Nevertheless, the real challenge for the marketer is to convert the reached consumers to its own website or web store to make a purchase that will lead to the ultimate goal of increasing profitability. (Prager 2014) 1.4. Sport Sponsorship in Social Media The goal of this chapter is to conclude what sponsors need to consider when creating social media content to the right-holders' social media platforms. The chapter will start with analysis of sports consumers' social media behaviour and motivations in order to gain an understanding of how sponsors should approach them. The next analysis in this chapter will focus on defining sponsored content and how to evaluate individual content posts in terms of engagement. 1.4.1. Sports Consumers in Social Media Defining sports consumer and sports consumer behaviour has been found difficult by previous researchers. The difficulty arises from multiple different channels and ways to experience sports (Stewart et al. 2003, 206). Usually, behavioural categories in sports marketing are divided based on the consumers' interest and participation level when it comes to the sport and more specifically to the team or athlete they support. According
  29. 29. 21 to Williams and Chinn the main trait that categorizes sports consumer is his or her desire and involvement level for a long-term relationship with the team or athlete (2010, 171). This chapter focuses on analysing the behaviour of sports consumers who actively follow their favourite sports teams in social media platforms. The aspects analysed based on previous research are sports consumers' needs, wants and expectations when it comes to the sports teams' social media content and especially sponsored content. Also, the aim is to find out what content characteristics encourage sports consumer to engage. In 2014, Synergy conducted a research in cooperation with Loughborough University that aimed to find out how young and tech-savvy sports fans behave in social media and how they react towards different types of content. The research was conducted by interviewing 500 sports fans aged between 16 and 25. Even though the sample represents only small age group it is able to give some answers of sports fan behaviour. It also provides some guidelines to sponsors on how to analyse their content based on their objectives. The research sample was divided into three categories which were massive fans, average fans and small fans based on the time devoted to the sports in social media. The research results argued that male sports fans, in general, are more valuable to the sponsors because they devote 22% more time on sports than women in social media. According to the research a massive fan spends approximately two and a half hours a day in social media and 72% of this time is spent on sports. When it comes to the youngest participants it was found out that social media has a greater effect on their fanship towards a sports team than with older participants. (Robinson and Saker 2014, 3-14) The research was also able to find congruent needs and wants the respondents had when it comes to the content in the social media platforms of the sports teams they follow. The key drivers for these young consumers to use social media were the ability to receive information immediately and as easily as possible. Unfortunately for sponsoring brands less than 15% of the participants found branded content engaging. At the same time the team's content was found engaging by 40%. According to the participants branded content seems to lack authenticity and in-depth knowledge about the team and the athletes. This in-depth knowledge was more likely to be offered by the team or the athletes themselves. (Robinson and Saker 2014, 7-14) The lacking aspects of branded
  30. 30. 22 content is actually the main characteristics of quality content according to definition by Wysocki who researched the role of social media in sports communication (2012, 16). One of the most important aspects increasing the authenticity of social media content by sports marketers is the presence of shared values between the consumers, the team and the sponsoring brands. (Williams and Chinn 2010) The research of Robinson and Saker did not analyse actual content posts but instead interviewed fans who actively used social media. However, the authors of the research make a very clear suggestion to brands of how to find out what kind of content works best for their objectives. "In order to understand how to make the most of the content on these platforms, it is essential to understand which content sports fans find most engaging” (Robinson and Saker 2014, 4). Companies who have previous experience in sponsoring and creating branded content can actually find out what kind of content engages their audience most efficiently by analysing the branded content against their competitors. It should be remembered that there are differences between sports consumers and their preferences as there are differences in sponsoring brands and their objectives. 1.4.2. Sponsored Content in Social Media Sonderman and Tran define sponsored content in a following way “content that takes the form and qualities of the publisher’s original content and offers useful or entertaining information as a way of favourably influencing the perception of the sponsor brand” (Sonderman and Tran 2013). Sponsored content should not be confused with advertorials, press releases or with content marketing because first of all the goal of sponsored content is that the consumer knows and appreciates the brand’s involvement. In other words sponsored content’s goal is not to be hidden in the message. Secondly sponsored content puts the consumers’ interest before the brands interest and aims to be entertaining, useful or/and authentic for the reader. Lastly sponsored content is not created nor published alone by the brand but instead in close cooperation with the rights-holder. (Sonderman and Tran 2013). In social media marketing branded content in practice appears among the right-holder's own original content in the form supported by the platform. Social media platforms
  31. 31. 23 have differences in the terms of content type opportunities but the most common types are text, pictures, links and videos. (Wysocki et al. 2012, 16) For sponsored content to be considered effective it is necessary to take the three main stakeholder groups into consideration in the designing process. These stakeholder groups are the rights-holder, the sponsor and above all the fans. IEG's article argues that the success behind effective sponsored content is measured by how engaged fans feel about it. They rationalize this by the fact that sponsoring brand is after attention and impressions among a target audience it is only able to reach through the rights-holder's social media platforms. At the same time, engaged fans are the only ones who are truly able to offer the attention and impressions to the sponsors. (IEGSR 2015) This is why the designing process of the sponsored content should always start by analysing the target audience and finding a way to provide them value. In this equation, the rights- holders holds the key to the target audience knowledge, to the channel to reach them and to the background information about the team. Without the rights-holder, the sponsor will not be able to design engaging sponsored content nor will it be able to reach the audience.
  32. 32. 24 2. MATERIALS AND METHODS This thesis is a case study that combines sports sponsor and sports consumer oriented data in order to find answers to the research problem and research questions. The main research problem of this study aims to find out what kind of sponsored social media content, published in the rights-holders’ social media platforms, is the most engaging among the Finnish sports consumers. The data collection has been conducted in social media and both quantitative and qualitative research methods have been used. The research method chosen for this case study is explanatory sequential mixed research method that combines both quantitative and qualitative methods. In this case study the quantitative research results were used to build detailed background of the case and then qualitative content analysis was used to explain the findings in depth. (Creswell 2014, 19) (Macnamara 2005, 5) The main goal with combining the methods was the assumption that “collecting diverse types of data provides more complete understanding of a research problem than either quantitative or qualitative data alone.” (Creswell 2014, 19) In this research, the publicly available data was collected from chosen social media platforms manually and then organized and filtered. The process continued with categorizing the data based on chosen attributes and then analysed based on chosen themes (Aptel Research 2015). Social media offers numerical data suitable for quantitative research as well as more complex content and behaviour related data suitable for qualitative research. According to Tuten and Solomon (2014, 267), social media research is often used to provide new ideas for marketers but also for assessing how campaigns and brand communication is perceived by the target audience. The focus of this research was on gaining insights of the sponsored content posts sports teams publish in social media and how sports consumers react towards it. (Recourse Center 2015).
  33. 33. 25 The chapter 2.1. introduces the field of study and the research objects. In chapter 2.2. the details of the research methods of the research, the research design, the sample of the research, the data collection, and data analysis processes are further explained. 2.1. The Field of Study This chapter introduces the background information of the case of the thesis. The chapter begins with an overview of the Finnish sponsorship market and then continues with the introduction of the research objects, Liiga and ice hockey teams. 2.1.1. Finnish Sponsorship Market According to IEG's annual statistics, the sponsorship spending globally amounts up to 57,5 billion US dollars and is growing by 4.1% second year in a row. (IEG 2015) In Finland, the sponsorship market has not been following the speed of global growth trend. Finnish sponsorship research company Sponsor Insight has compared the size of the Finnish sponsorship market to the Swedish and Norwegian markets. The comparison between 2009 and 2014 can be seen in Figure 4 (Virkkunen 2015). The growth of the sponsorship spending in the Finnish market has been almost non-existent and dependent of yearly economic fluctuations. The size of the Finnish Sponsorship Market in 2015 was 212 million euros (Hakola 2016). Figure 4. Comparison of Nordic Sponsorship Markets from 2009-2014 Market development of Sweden, Norway and Finland between 2009 and 2014. Source: Klaus Virkkunen, Sponsor Insight Finland. (20.09.2015) (reprinted with permission)
  34. 34. 26 However, Finnish advertisers' association's annual research found out that in 2015 18% of Finnish companies were planning to increase their sponsorship. This means the total market has a possibility to grow in the following years. In Finland, the largest amount of sponsorship spending is allocated to sports. According to Mainostajat (2015) approximately 64% is allocated to sports when the rest is divided between culture and for example social organizations. Among sports, the Finnish sponsorship market favours ice hockey. Of the total sponsorship spending approximately 12% goes to ice hockey and this is the largest percentage allocated to an individual sport. In 2014, the Finnish companies sponsored ice hockey with approximately 45 million euros (Sponsor Insight 2015). The popularity of ice hockey among sponsoring companies is easy to explain by comparing the popularity of different sports among the Finnish consumers. In Finland ice hockey has been the most attractive sport for six years in a row according to annual Sponsor Navigator research conducted by Sponsor Insight (Sponsor Insight 2015). When the sport is popular among the general population it tends to have more fans. Large audience encourages advertising through that particular sport as it enables brands to reach larger audiences. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that popular sports gather multiple sponsors and the sponsor impact may decrease as the consumer focus spalls. Sponsorship goals are closely related to the sponsorship executions and they have an important role in defining the measurements of success. The primary goals of Finnish sponsors are brand building, increasing the visibility of the brand, reach the target audience and increase the sales (Virkkunen 2012). The main ways Finnish sponsors measure their sponsorship results are visibility, sales, and their own brand awareness measurements (Mainostajat 2015). In 2015 approximately 57% of Finnish sponsors reached or exceeded their sponsorship goals and only 7% admitted to having failed. According to these findings nearly 30% of Finnish companies did not have any goals for their sponsorships. (Mainostajat 2015) These results indicate that the companies with no sponsorship goals, might be struggling to manage the overall sponsorship investments and the partnerships with the rights- holders. There can be multiple reasons, such as the lack of overall integration of the
  35. 35. 27 sponsorship or simply lack of time. Nevertheless, the lack of goals often indicates a lack of measurements. Without measuring the performance of sponsorship activations, it is impossible to know if the sponsorship investments ever returned as value. Activations of the sponsorship are a way to create value for the consumer and make an impact. The most popular way Finnish companies activate their sponsorship is to exploit the rights-holders' available channels as well as their events or other communication channels. At the same time, among the sponsoring companies 16% do not exploit or activate their sponsorship deals in any way. In 2012, research found out that less than 50 per cent of the Finnish sponsoring companies used social media to activate their sponsorships (Virkkunen 2012). Some of the companies expect that the brand visibility through the sponsorship in social media is managed by the rights-holder in their social media platforms (Mainostajat 2015). This leads us to the Finnish rights-holders and their role in the sponsorship. In 2015, Sponsor Insight conducted a research of what Finnish companies expect from the sports organisations they sponsor. Finnish companies expect and wish for active partners whom with they are able to communicate systematically and who are able to offer them tailor-made partnership deals with sponsorship activation ideas. The responsibility of the rights-holders lies on enabling the brand to meet the consumer and offering the most natural ways for the brand to create value for the consumer. (Ratilainen 2015) 2.1.2. Case: Liiga Ice Hockey Teams Liiga, originally named SM-Liiga, has been the Finnish top professional ice hockey league since 1975. Liiga consists of 15 ice hockey teams competing of the Finnish Championship in ice-hockey. Liiga is an organization that organizes the championship matches and is owned by the playing teams. The Liiga-season begins annually in September and ends in April. Each team plays approximately 60 matches per season and six best teams proceed to the playoffs. The fifteen teams playing in Liiga in the season 2015/2016 are located in different parts of Finland and the teams and their locations are listed in Table 2. All the fifteen ice hockey teams negotiate their own sponsorship agreements with companies and
  36. 36. 28 organizations. It should be noted that Liiga also as a Finnish Championship organizer has its own sponsors but teams are not taking any part in these negotiations. All the teams have their own websites as well as social media pages in several platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. (Wikipedia 2016) Table 2. Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams’ origins Source: liiga.fi, nhl.com. To broaden the scope of the thesis and to offer international comparison, three NHL ice hockey teams were added to the research. NHL, in other words, National Hockey League consists of 30 different ice hockey teams located in the United States of America and Canada. The National Hockey League was established in 1917 and it is considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world. The three selected teams and their locations can be found in Table 2. in the right column. (Wikipedia 2016) 2.2. Research Methodology and Design This research design was created to give a clear structure for collecting and analysing data in order to find answers to the research problem and research questions of this case study. In this case study, both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to gain a complete understanding of the research problem and to find reliable answers to the research questions.
  37. 37. 29 In this case study, the quantitative research method was used as a supportive method to build a detailed background of the case for further qualitative content analysis. The quantitative data was analysed through frequency analysis and qualitative data through content analysis, which focused on theme and pattern interpretation of text and images. The needed data was collected by observing the research objects’ sponsored content posts and social media users' reaction towards these posts. Data collection process of this thesis is focusing on observing social media data. The research tools used in the thesis were specifically developed and are presented in details in chapter 2.2.3. The research process (presented in the figure 5) is divided into two main parts based on the chosen research method. The first part is the quantitative research, which begun with defining the data requirements in order to determine the research objects before the actual data collection. After the research objects were selected the channels for the data collection were chosen. The channels for the data collection were chosen based on the research objects and the channels they all were found using. Data collection schedule per channel for the primary research objects and benchmark objects were determined based on a trial data collection process conducted before the actual research process. This way it was ensured that the collection schedule lasted long enough to collect needed amount of data for reliable results.
  38. 38. 30 Figure 5. Research Design Design developed for social media content research. Drawing and design by the author.
  39. 39. 31 The quantitative phase continued by data handling the process, which was divided into two main parts; data collection and data rating. Data collection was conducted by collecting pre-determined information about Liiga ice hockey teams' and NHL ice hockey teams' sponsored social media content posts for the quantitative analysis. This included the social media user reactions. At the same time, all the selected posts were copied and saved for the quantitative analysis. This part of the research was mostly focused on collecting and organizing quantitative data from Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams' social media platforms in order to answer to the first research question. Data rating was conducted by determining the engagement level for each piece of recorded content by using engagement rate calculation. This was necessary in order to find an answer to the second research question. In this phase also the collected posts were organized based on the engagement rate. The last part of the process was the data analysis which was based on both, quantitative and qualitative data. The sponsored content posts for the qualitative analysis were chosen based on the quantitative data analysis. The qualitative data analysis was conducted in the form of content analysis. The data analysis phase was conducted in order to answer the last two research questions. 2.2.1. Research Sample The research sample in this case study was selected with purposive sampling, which is a non-probability sampling technique. With this particular sampling technique the research focuses on particular characteristics of a population that will enable to find answers to the research problem. This sample technique is often used in mixed method research designs and it does not aim to represent any population (Laerd Dissertation 2012). According to Tuten and Solomon (2014, 274) in social media research, it is not possible to identify unique people as units in a defined population. Instead the population should be identified as the social communities to which our audience belongs. This is where the social media research sampling differs from traditional marketing research. The sampling frame should be then created based on the description of the selected social communities. In this chapter, the research sample is presented by briefly identifying the chosen social communities and their audience.
  40. 40. 32 The defining of the research sample was based on the main research problem of this study. The research problem raised one main sample requirement which needed to be fulfilled to provide reliable results. The requirement was that the audience of which the sample is taken should represent Finnish sports consumers in social media. The decision to limit the selection of social communities only to Finnish ice hockey teams that play in Liiga was made by the author due to two major facts. In Finland ice hockey is the most popular sport among the sports consumers and it also gathers more sponsors than any other sport when measured financially. With this information, it was more likely to find the suitable sponsored content posts from the chosen social media platforms and find information of how sports consumers react towards this content. Also, this ensured that the collected data of the audiences of different ice hockey teams would be comparable to each other. All the Liiga ice hockey teams and their social communities on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook were observed for a total of two months to collect and analyse the data primarily for the quantitative data analysis. Each team has their own official social media communities and the sizes vary. In Table 3 all the social communities included in the research are presented by the number of the followers of each social media platform. The table includes both the Liiga ice hockey teams as well as the selected NHL ice hockey teams. Table 3. Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams’ social communities and the number of followers in January 2016 The data collected from the ice hockey teams’ social media platforms.
  41. 41. 33 The sizes of social communities of the different teams vary significantly when compared based on a number of followers. The differences in the sizes of the communities by platform as well as in the total number of followers can be seen in the Appendix 1 where all the Liiga ice hockey teams and their communities are compared. Even though the entire communities were observed in terms of their engagement towards sponsored social media content, it should be noted that the further analysis focuses only the users who choose to engage in a way or another. The size of this engaging group is estimated by percentage per channel as in social media it is difficult to identify individual users reliably. The combined size of the social community included in this research consisted approximately of 860 000 Liiga ice hockey teams’ followers and 9 600 000 followers of three NHL ice hockey teams. After the quantitative sampling, the sample for the qualitative analyse was drawn from the quantitative results. It should be noted that sampling for qualitative analysis is not required to meet the statistically valid formula of quantitative analysis (Macnamara 2005, 18). 2.2.2. Definition of the Data Before the data collection phase of the research, it was vital to define what kind of data is collected and analysed. The defined data requirements were solely based on the research problem of the study. The first two data requirements were that the collected data needs to be sponsored social media content that is published on the selected rights- holders' social media platforms. Sponsored social media content can be understood in a two different ways and for that reason at this point it is important to separate the two different views. In social media terminology sponsored content means using social media for ad placement by paying to the platforms in order to reach individual users (Fontein 2015). However when talking about sponsored content that is published in the rights-holders social media platforms the social media terminology refers to this as branded content in order not to mix the two different approaches. When using branded content instead of sponsored content the brand is in cooperation with the publishing party to reach their followers or specific social community instead of paying the platform from reaching individual users. In sports marketing brand's logo visibility is
  42. 42. 34 seen as exposure marketing to provide brand awareness. In contrast, content marketing is a result of integrated partnership between the rights-holder and the sponsor. Content marketing creates value for the fans through different kinds of content posts that offer the fan more than brand visuals. Content marketing aims for creating interaction and engagement between the brand and the fans (Reider 2014). For the purposes of this research, the collected data is defined as sponsored social media content and it includes all the social media posts of the selected research objects that can be connected to a sponsoring brand. The form of the collected content was not limited by the research and all the forms the platforms support were collected. However, the collected data definition does not include paid social media advertisements nor advertisements the rights-holder publish on their own platforms. In this case, exposure marketing is considered as advertising as the published post does not offer any recognizable value by itself to the fans. The next important step of defining the data is to define the data source which in this case were limited to three social media platforms; Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The reason to choose these platforms as a data source was the fact that all the selected research objects, the 18 ice hockey teams, have their own official social media pages on these platforms and they use the pages to communicate and interact with their fans. This ensured that research object-specific results would be comparable to the other research objects. The data was only collected from the official pages of the selected ice hockey teams and this was ensured by selecting only platforms that were linked to the official web-pages of the teams. The last major data collection requirement was to understand how to measure the engagement level of the content among the sports consumer. Chapter 1.3.4. introduced engagement as the main measurement to separate efficient and inefficient social media content (Robinson and Saker 2014, 13). For this reason, it was necessary not only to collect the sponsored content posts but also all the available engagement data about the fans' reaction. All the publicly available engagement measurements were chosen to be collected and they are the number of comments, likes/favourites and shares/re-tweets per content. Also the comments sponsored content posts received were collected by number and as an original text for further analysis. This was necessary in order to get
  43. 43. 35 in-depth knowledge of the sports consumers’ attitudes towards the sponsored content posts. Listening to consumer conversations in social media is a way to understand what kind of content is preferred and creates value in the eyes of the consumer (Tuten and Solomon 2014) 2.2.3. Data Collection The time frame of the data collection process was designed according to the official ice hockey seasons of Liiga and NHL in order to collect the data when the teams are playing and being the most active in social media with their sponsors. As a result, it was assumed that also the sports fans are following their favourite teams actively during this time and engaging on social media more than during off-season. The data collection schedule was divided in such a manner that each primary research objects' three social media platforms were followed for a total of two months and in contrast the secondary research objects for a total of one month. During the data collection process a total of 99 months of social media posts in the chosen social media platforms were read. Among this data, a total of 477 sponsored social media content posts were collected according to the data definition presented in the chapter 2.2.2. 380 of these content posts were published by Liiga and 97 by NHL ice hockey teams. The collection was conducted manually by the researcher due to the lack of suitable automated data collection tool that would enable data collection without the permission of the platform admin to the unlimited access to the social media accounts of the research objects. The manual data collection method made the collection process time consuming and for this reason, the data collection schedule was spread to several months but at the same time ensuring that the results of individual research objects would be comparable to the other objects. Collection began in November 2015 and ended in February 2016. The social media platforms specific data collection schedule is presented in details in the Figure 6 and reliability and validity of the research will be discussed further in chapter 2.2.5.
  44. 44. 36 Figure 6.The data collection schedule 2015-2016. Figure shows which platforms were measured during which months. Drawing by the author. For the collection of the selected social media posts, two separate collection tools were created that enabled to collect, organize, filter and eventually analyse the collected quantitative as well as qualitative data. The first data collection tool focused on enabling the collection of the quantitative data and it was important that this same tool was created in a manner that would also enable organizing, filtering and analysing the data. The tool was created on an Excel-sheet where a data specific table for the quantitative measurements was listed. Each collected content needed to be marked to the Excel- sheet on its own line with the following information; a specific collection number tight to the collection month, the team's social media platform and a number of followers, the type and publishing time of the content, the engagement numbers and the tone of the comments. Also, automated calculation of the engagement rate was included in the tool to enable later on the organizing of the data. The collection tool is presented in Appendix 2. The second data collection tool was focused on recording the collected content posts so after the collection they would be easily accessible for further qualitative analysis or for data inspection if required. This was also necessary due to the fact that some social media platforms such as Twitter only save posts for a limited time period and after that they are not accessible anymore on the platform. During the data collection process, a screenshot was taken from each collected content and of the engagement measurements such as the comments. All the sponsored video posts were watched and also a screenshot was taken of them. Recording or saving the videos was not necessary after viewing them once and collecting them in the form of a screenshot. All the screenshots were saved and each content was marked with a collection number and collection month so the content could be later on connected to the correct information on the excel sheet. The qualitative data collection tool is presented in Appendix 3.
  45. 45. 37 In this research, the publicly available data was collected from chosen social media platforms manually and then organized and filtered. The process continued with categorizing the data based on the chosen attributes and then analysed based on chosen themes. During the data collection process the selected 15 Finnish ice hockey teams and their official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages were investigated and all the sponsored content posts were collected. The division of the collected content posts per platform in percentages is presented in the Figure 7. The amount of collected sponsored social media content posts in different platforms per team are presented in the appendix 1. Figure 7. Distribution of Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams’ sponsored content posts per platform Drawing by the author. In practise collection was conducted on a Excel-sheet by giving each collected content a collection number. On this Excel-sheet, there were certain details the data collector needed to write down. In addition to the collection number the included details were the name of the team, the name of the social media platform, the number of followers, the type of the content (photo, text, link, video), the posting date of the content, the posting time of the content, the name of the sponsor of the content, number of likes, number of comments, number of shares if applicable and whether the majority of the comments were negative or positive. The amount of different types of collected content posts and the platforms they were published on are displayed in the Figure 8.
  46. 46. 38 Figure 8. The number of different types of sponsored content posts Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams published in different social media platforms. Results of data collection period of two months. Drawing by the author. 2.2.4. Data Analysis Quantitative frequency analysis, which was conducted first, focused on measuring and counting numerical data on chosen attributes. The second phase of analysis, the qualitative content analysis, focused on analysing the contextual factors in the collected social media content posts. Quantitative Data Analysis: Data Rating / Data Mining In this research, the collected data from social media is based on the sponsored content posts of selected sports teams and for this reason, the data analysis could be defined as content analysis that is organised and researched in quantitative research manner. The quantitative content analysis refers to "a method of studying and analysing communication in a systematic, objective, and quantitative manner for the purpose of measuring variables” (Kerlinger 1986; Binsbergen 2013). It could be also described as a way to transform observations of found categories into quantitative statistical data (Binsbergen 2013). In this research the quantitative analysis is conducted as frequency analysis which deals with the number of occurrences (frequency) and analyzes measures of central tendency, dispersion and percentiles (Research Optimus 2016).
  47. 47. 39 After the data collection, the data analysis begun by ranking the collected content posts against each other based on the engagement rate. Engagement rate was calculated by finding out what percentage of the followers had engaged with that particular content. This way the engagement was made proportional so that the size of the network did not distort the results. The purpose of the engagement rate is to measure what share of the audience engaged with the content and it represents the main measurement used in quantitative data ranking. There are two different ways to calculate the engagement rate. The first one is dividing the total engagement of the posted content with the reach of that particular content. This is an opportunity only when the research data has the availability to the insights, which in this research was not possible. For that reason, the chosen engagement rate calculation was done with the publicly available data by dividing the total engagement with the total number of the followers. (Smitha 2013) By choosing to measure the engagement rate with publicly available data meant that in future the research results can be easily compared to competitors or other actors from different industry without the access to platform insights. After organizing the data based on the engagement the aim was to analyse whether there are certain content attributes that affect more to the level of positive engagement and to the different ways to engage. These attributes included, for example, the platform, the content type, the amount of the content posts and the publishing team. The quantitative analysis main purpose was to build up a detailed background of the case and support the qualitative analysis. The quantitative data analyses included both overall data as well as team specific data analyses to offer an understanding of differences between the teams but at the same time to offer a way to generalize and simplify the results. Qualitative data analysis In this research, the qualitative content analysis tries to determine the likely meaning of the content to the audiences. The focus of the qualitative content analysis is more complex than only the text, it also analyses the audience, the media, and the contextual factors. (Macnamara 2005, 5-6)
  48. 48. 40 Qualitative content analysis was conducted as a continuation to the quantitative frequency analysis based on the engagement rate data ranking. The aim was to find answers to the research questions and find out if it would be possible determine factors in sponsored content that enable positive engagement and higher engagement rate among the target audience. The main goal of the qualitative approach is to understand what about the content encourages the audience to engage and if the most engaging content posts have similar traits and value propositions. During the qualitative analysis, the sponsored content posts selected based on the engagement rate were re-read and pre-listed. It should be noted that analysed content did not only consist of text but also of photos, videos, links, and combinations of them. During the qualitative content analysis, three main techniques were used to yield results. These techniques were listed based on the Content Research Methodology of Jim Macnamara's (2005, 18). The first technique is to seek for the most typical examples from the data. In this research, this would mean the most typical or most common traits of the most engaging sponsored content posts. The second technique is to present negative examples and make comparisons to the most engaging sponsored content posts in order to find differences or similarities. This was a suitable technique to make comparisons between the content posts in general and also a comparison between different teams' content posts and find some audience specific engagement behaviours. The last technique is to try to seek inconsistent examples among the selected content. This would mean seeking to find examples of sponsored content posts that perform better or worse than similar posts in general. The main content trait that was analysed in a qualitative manner was the way the sponsor was articulated to the target audience in the content. Also, it was important to analyse what kind of value the content aimed to convey to the audience and how they have perceived it. The audience involvement and perception were analysed by looking deeper into the engagement data and especially the comments the content posts had received.
  49. 49. 41 3. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION The main goal of this chapter is to give answers to the research problem of what kind of sponsored social media content, published in the rights-holders’ social media platforms, is the most engaging among the Finnish sports consumers. The chosen method for this study was explanatory sequential mixed research method which combines quantitative frequency analysis and qualitative content analysis. All the research results are based on the sponsored social media content posts of the primary and the secondary research objects. The primary research objects in this research are 15 Finnish Liiga ice hockey teams and the secondary research objects are 3 NHL ice hockey teams. The data collection period of the primary research objects lasted for two months and for the secondary research objects for one month. The collection was conducted between November 2015 and February 2016 on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In total 477 sponsored social media content posts were found and collected for the data analysis, of which 380 (79.7%) were collected from Liiga ice hockey teams’ social media platforms and the remaining 97 (20.3%) from NHL ice hockey teams’ social media platforms. First sub-chapter present the results on to each of the following research questions and the second sub-chapter Discussions analyses and interprets the overall results. 1. Which social media platform and what content type is the most used for publishing sponsored social media content among the Liiga ice hockey teams? 2. What kind of similarities and differences the most and the least engaging sponsored content posts of Liiga ice hockey teams have? 3. What kind of similarities and differences the most engaging sponsored content posts of Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams have?
  50. 50. 42 4. What kind of content factors affect the sports consumers’ willingness to engage with sponsored social media content? 3.1. Results 3.1.1. Liiga Ice Hockey Teams’ Sponsored Social Media Content The quantitative frequency analysis results presented in this sub-chapter analyses how often, in which platform and with what content type the sponsors currently activate sponsorships in the rights-holders social media platforms. On average individual Liiga ice hockey team published 13 pieces of sponsored content per month. However, during the data collection period, the team specific amount of published sponsored content posts varied between 1 and 27 posts per month. The differences between the amounts of published sponsored content posts between Liiga ice hockey teams during the data collection period of two months are displayed in Figure 9. where the teams are organized starting from least active to the most active. Figure 9. Published sponsored content posts and the average engagement rate (%), Liiga ice hockey teams Results of data collection period of two months. Social media platforms included: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Drawing by the author.
  51. 51. 43 On average the most used social media platform for publishing sponsored content posts among Liiga ice hockey teams is Twitter. Approximately 42% of all the collected sponsored content posts of Liiga teams were published on Twitter, 36% on Facebook and 22% on Instagram. The average results are displayed in Figure 7. Even though the average results indicate Twitter as the most used platform for publishing sponsored social media content, it should be noted that the role of individual platforms differ when it comes to individual Liiga ice hockey teams. For example, JYP is an example of a team that published the majority of sponsored content posts in Instagram (47%), 35% on Twitter and 18% on Facebook. The amount of sponsored content posts published by individual Liiga teams on different platforms can be viewed in Appendix 5. The vast majority of the sponsored content posts published in the right-holders social media platforms were pictures. According to the research results, 66.5% of all the sponsored content posts published by Liiga ice hockey teams were pictures. At the same time, 15% of their sponsored posts were links, 10.4% were text and 8.1% were videos. Again, there are significant differences between the content types Liiga ice hockey teams use on different social media platforms for publishing the sponsored posts. This can be easily seen in Figure 10 which displays the comparison of the average amount of different content types published in different social media platforms. Picture content or combination content including a picture is the most common content type in all platforms. For example in Instagram, the picture is the only content type present in the analysed data. Liiga ice hockey teams use sponsored text content only in Twitter and video content only on Facebook. Links are used on both Facebook and Twitter.
  52. 52. 44 Figure 10. The number of different types of sponsored content posts Liiga ice hockey teams published on different social media platforms. Results of data collection period of two months. Drawing by the author. 3.1.2. Sponsored Social Media Content and Engagement Like the previous results indicated, on average the rights-holders publish most of the sponsored content posts on Twitter and as a photo content. With engagement rate analysis it is possible to determine what kind of content type in which platform makes the sports consumer the most compelled to engage. The average engagement rate among the Liiga teams is 1.92% when all the social media platforms are included. In other words, this means that on average an individual ice hockey team is capable of reaching engagement rate of 1.92% by publishing a sponsored content post. When the team specific engagement rates were compared to the amount of sponsored content post they published, it became obvious that there is no correlation between engagement rate and a number of published content posts. This can be seen in Figure 9. In other words, the amount of sponsored content posts published does not affect the willingness of sports consumer to engage with the content. From the frequency analysis, it became evident that the most of the sponsored content posts are published on Twitter. However, when the platform specific and team specific engagement rate levels were compared, the results indicated that sports consumer feel the least compelled to engage with sponsored content published on Twitter. Twitter had the lowest platform specific average engagement rate of 0.10% and the lowest team specific engagement rate among all Liiga teams. Sponsored content published in Instagram is able to engage significantly more sports consumers than in Twitter or
  53. 53. 45 Facebook. The average engagement rate in Instagram is 7.00% and in Facebook 0.94%. The team specific engagement rates support the average results and the rates are displayed in Figure 11. Instagram is the most engaging social media platform for sponsored content among all Liiga teams, excluding Kookoo, which did not publish any sponsored content posts in Instagram during the data collection period. Figure 11. Liiga ice hockey team specific engagement rate(av) by social media platform Drawing by the author. When rights-holders publish sponsored content it is most often published as a picture content. From the quantitative analysis, it was found that on average also sports consumer engages the most with picture content. However, according to the results, there is a difference in the level of engagement based on the platform the picture content is published in. The engagement each content type receives on average per platform are presented in Figure 12. and the results clearly indicate that the highest engagement per sponsored picture content is reached through Instagram. On average sponsored picture content receives 7 comments and 765 likes when published in Instagram. In Facebook sponsored picture content receives 45 shares, 62 comment, and 358 likes. At the same time on Twitter, which is the most used platform by rights-holders for sponsored content, sponsored picture receives on average only 4 shares, 0 comments, and 18 likes.
  54. 54. 46 Figure 12. The average of engagement each different content type received in different social media platforms. Liiga ice hockey teams’ average results. Drawing by the author. 10% (total of 47 posts) of the most and the least engaging sponsored content posts and their content types were compared to find out how important role the platform and the content type has when it comes to the sports consumers’ willingness to engage. The detailed quantitative data of the most engaging posts is displayed in a table in Appendix 7 and of the least engaging in Appendix 8. The results indicated that 93.6% of the most engaging sponsored content post were published in Instagram and the rest in Facebook. All of them were picture content posts. Among the least engaging content posts 95.8% were published in Twitter and the rest in Facebook. 63.8% of the least engaging content posts were pictures. The results indicate that even though the picture content on average is the most engaging sponsored content type, the platform the content type is published in affects more to the engagement level than the content type alone. 3.1.3. Benchmark results: NHL Ice Hockey Teams The main purpose of having a secondary research object in this research was to find out if there are differences in the way sponsored social media activations are conducted in Finland and internationally. Also the way sports consumers engage in Finland and internationally were compared. This chapter presents the results to the third research question of; what kind of similarities and differences Liiga and NHL ice hockey teams’ the most engaging sponsored content posts have? Following benchmark results should

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