Cloud of Suspicion: Investigating the Effects of Clouds of Suspicion on Sports Heroes’ Perceived Endorsement Values

  • Jillian Borchard

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Advertising practitioners recognise the benefit of using celebrities in brand or product sponsorship. The ability to secure endorsement deals is equally important for the athletes as it is for the companies. Top grossing athletes, usually considered to have sports hero status, earn the majority of their incomes from endorsement deals rather than from their sporting contracts (Newcomb & Palmeri, 1990). Sports heroes are athletes who are recognised for their heightened athletic skills (Stevens, Lathrop, & Bradish, 2003) by participating in sport at the professional or Olympic level and who are advertised as a role models by the media (Goodman, Duke, & Sutherland, 2002). However, with the increased media attention on steroid use in professional and Olympic sport, practitioners now have to consider the potential effects of a cloud of suspicion regarding steroid allegations on a sports hero’s perceived endorsement value. A cloud of suspicion refers to athletes whose steroid accusations have neither been confirmed nor disproven.  Public image is a celebrity’s readily distinguishable personality traits (Newcomb & Palmeri, 1990), such as athletic skill, achievement, charm, and appeal (Van Hoecke, Van Hoecke, De Knop, & Taks, 2000), which generate a following of consumer fans who have a desire to identify with that celebrity (Dean & Biswas, 2001). Advertising managers suggested athletes could expand their fame by securing endorsement deals (Erdogan & Baker, 1999). These contracts are largely affected by the athlete’ ‘perceived endorsement values, or the instant recognition (Newcomb & Palmeri, 1990) as well as popularity and marketability of a celebrities (Carstairs, 2003), along with the extent to which the public perceives endorsers to be knowledgeable, credible (Dean & Biswas, 2001), and trustworthy (Charbonneau & Garland, 2005).The media serve as vessels to carry and perpetuate societal norms (Hamilton & Sherman, 1994) that the public uses to form opinions (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). When athletes are presented to the audience by the media, the opinions formed about those athletes are subject to media provided information. For an established sports hero, for example, the majority of the audience attitudes would be extreme and positioned towards the support end of the spectrum because of idolising from fans and pedestal of values in which the hero is placed (Shuart, 2007) as suggested by Social Judgment Theory. In conjunction, person perception, one aspect of social cognition, would suggest the audience’s perception of the athlete will be multifaceted with audience evaluations being memory-based or immediate (Fiske & Taylor, 1991) as the audience analyses its opinion of a given athlete. Therefore, because the public has established an anti-steroid stance, endorsers under clouds of suspicion risk alienating consumers. A mixed method approach was adopted while embracing a statistical inclination. A Solomon Four-group design (n=259) and focus group discussions (n=27) measured the effect of a cloud of suspicion on sports heroes’ perceived endorsement values and public image roles. Factorial ANOVAs determined a cloud of suspicion to be significant in negatively affecting evaluations of fictional sports hero’s perceived endorsement value and public image roles in Study 1. These results were confirmed using actual sports heroes under clouds of suspicion in Study 2, with the exception of public image as an athlete. The negative effect of a cloud of suspicion on a sports hero’s public image role as an athlete was lessened in Study 2 as a result of fan identification. Race was not a significant factor in either study, suggesting the racial athletic stereotype of black athletes being more naturally talented but less intelligent than their white counterparts is diminishing. The high reliability of the scaling instrument offers advertising practitioners a tool for assessing the risk associated with selecting an endorser.

Date of Award19 Jun 2010
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJeffrey Brand (Supervisor)

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