Factors for evaluating the Web as a marketing tool in Greek sport

Sports Academy/ June 4, 2018/ archive

Information and communication technologies (ICT) is a domain undergoing an accelerated transformation and evolution since the time the personal computer became a key business accessory during the early 1980s. The ICT evolution and the increasing penetration of internet technology in all areas of human activity, combined with significant developments in the socio-economic, political and demographic landscape have been continuously transforming the market dynamics and the consumer behaviour over the last fifteen years [14]. Although the Internet enables companies in general and sport companies in particular to collect large amounts of data, the intangible nature of some aspects of e-business makes it difficult to measure the contribution of specific e-business initiatives to overall business performance [19]. Moreover, the Web stagnation of recent years [12] has led to the conclusion that the lack of strategy and clear objectives [31], old-fashioned product orientation, limited understanding of customer needs and poor commercial competencies are very frequently mentioned as issues having contributed to the Web’s continuing demise [12].

Since the beginning of the century, the popularity of the Internet with consumers and businesses has driven thousands of firms to promote their products and services using internet technology, and the websites have created a competitive arena that enables exposure to millions of consumers worldwide [38]. As a consequence, since the 1990s the Internet as a global communication and exchange medium has witnessed unprecedented growth. It has grown faster than all other forms of electronic technology and all other communication media [9]. Zakron at 2005 suggested that globally, the number of websites increased from 23,000 in 1995 to more than 55 million in 2005 with Forrester Research Inc. (2005), highlighting that Europe-based internet marketers experienced a 44% increase of online sales in 2004 alone. Nowadays, the importance of the Internet to buyers, sellers, and intermediaries across all aspects of the relationship continuum, from prospective customers to customer retention, is unquestioned [32].

The Internet has been a key driver for corporate marketing during the past ten years [40]. It offers speed, reach and multimedia advantages, and has altered the way in which firms interact with their customers, suppliers, competitors and employees [7]. Businesses are increasingly investing substantial resources in online marketing and consumer use of the Internet is increasing correspondingly [28]. As more consumers use online technology, they have higher expectations of the nature and availability of the services that are provided [3]. As for the sport industry, not since the advent of commercial television has sport had such an opportunity to develop techniques for using a new communication medium. Through various means sport has created a symbiotic relationship with the Internet in much the same way that it did with television. Brunelli and Semprini [10] believed that sport is one of the most attractive ways by which one’s attention is attracted to a web page. This assertion is supported by a number of other scholars arguing that the websites are an ideal medium to target sport fans [20, 34]. Sport marketers worldwide and at all levels of the sport industry have intensively and extensively worked at incorporating emergent technologies into their marketing strategies [18].

Constantinides [13] argued that most academics and practitioners agree that demographic, social, economic, cultural, psychological and other personal factors are largely beyond the control and influence of the marketer and have a major effect on consumer behaviour. Although marketers have little or no influence on the above factors, they may have some bearing on the outcome of the buying process by engaging different marketing tools, the most prominent being the 4Ps – product, price, place, promotion – also known as the marketing mix [8]. While the value of the mix as a marketing tool is frequently disputed [12], marketing practitioners nonetheless widely deem the 4Ps as the tools that can influence the consumer’s behaviour and the final outcome of the buyer-seller interaction [36].
In sport, Brown [9] undertook an examination of the content of Major Baseball League (MLB) sites in the United States and found that all the established criteria for a successful website actually resided on MLB websites. The author determined that the content of these sites related directly to the elements of the marketing mix (product, price, place and promotion). Turner [37] completed a similar survey of Australian Football League clubs and Beech et al. [6] focused on an initial survey of English Premier League football club sites. All the research concluded the importance of applying the marketing mix to sport clubs websites.

Further work has explored the commercial implications of the Web and website development for sports clubs. There is a strong emphasis in the literature on the marketing effectiveness of the medium. Many commentators draw upon the “4Ps” (product, place, price, promotion) or “5Ps” (product, place, price, promotion and public relations) as a basis for their research. Johns [24] examined sports promotion on the Web; Turner [37] and Harverson [20] highlighted the product development opportunities emerging from the convergence of the Internet and television, while Tsitskari et al. [35] examined the use of the Web as a marketing and public relations tool in sport. Other authors, for example Pope and Forrest [30], investigated other factors of sport website marketing and agreed to six essential factors to be considered in sport marketing and website management: mission, calculating the margins, addressing the mechanics, planning the marketing, performing the maintenance and evaluating the metrics. Feather [17] stated that companies that successfully catch the Web’s digital advantage would incorporate 12 key marketing strategic elements into their websites: content, context, choice, communication, collection of customer database, connectivity of fans, convenience, customization, cost savings, community, cool experience and confidence. The primary goal of Feather’s “12 Cs of website marketing” for any e-retailer was to get their websites added to their customers’ favourites lists. Finally, Chang [11] used the above 12 key strategic elements of professional sport organization websites and classified them into four types of online information: web-based sport media information (content & context), convenience (choice & convenience), interactive communication (collection of customer database, communication, connectivity of fans) and value-added services (customization, cost saving, community, cool experience and confidence).

Online marketers can influence the decision making process of the virtual customers by engaging traditional, physical marketing tools but mainly by creating and delivering the proper online experience by using both the 4Ps of the traditional marketing mix and more complex elements. While it is important for sport marketers to understand how to use Web technology as an effective marketing and communication tool, most of the research in the use of the Web has focused on describing the use of this medium by marketers and sport organizations [38]. Limited studies have focused on what the audience wants to see on those sites. It is true that the Web is becoming an indispensable tool for companies that emphasize a customer-service orientation [25]. Walace et al. [39] found that if customers have multiple channels (including the Internet) for interaction and purchase, they are much more likely to be satisfied and loyal. Since perceived value influences customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty, this is of significant strategic importance to most companies [40] and as a result to sport organizations as well. The understanding of the marketing factors that positively affect people when using a sport website may help in the establishment of customers loyal to sport organizations.

Tsitskari et al. [35] and Delpy and Bosetti [16] have all suggested that there are correlations between the average sports supporter and the average internet user in that there is a tendency for them to be educated young males. With much of the sport fans’ community engagement online, it is clear that online marketing using the Internet has significant relevance to today’s sport organizations. However, while many organizations have readily incorporated the new technology into their marketing plans, some have had serious reservations with regard to the time and cost required for the initial development and the ongoing maintenance of their websites. In addition, many such groups have also questioned the effectiveness of the Web as a marketing tool [36].

Marshall et al. [26] found that the dominant attitude among businesses when deciding to develop a Web presence appears to have been the need to be on the Internet – but without clear goals or research to substantiate the decision. Related to this assertion Beech et al. [6] comment that “some sectors have been rapid and enthusiastic adopters, while in other sectors companies have taken more of a ‘wait and see’ approach” (p.176). Greek sport organizations clearly fall into this latter category. Complex factors can be advanced as to the reason for the delay in embracing the new technology, ranging from concerns about the technical factors shaping the development and maintenance of internet communications to factors specific to the sector. Nonetheless given international experience and growth, the slowness of Greek sporting organizations to adopt and utilise the new technologies has been surprising even though many are the companies that are having a difficulty in predicting the likely effect of the Internet on their marketing and in deciding what they should do to establish a presence on the Internet [40]. Some analysts have contended that the rapid pace of technological change has made industry analysis less valuable. As the costs associated with developing, implementing and maintaining a web presence can be high, e-business projects need to be well thought, evaluated and monitored carefully to determine whether they are delivering what they are supposed to deliver. This means that they should first of all understand and decide which objectives they wish to achieve through their web pages.

In Greece, where most internet presence efforts, especially in the sport sector, are still in their early steps, customers should not only evaluate the website performance but actually propose which marketing variables should be provided by the sport websites in order to satisfy or attempt to satisfy their interactive needs and wants. This is mainly the reason why the instrument developed included only marketing variables appearing on sport teams’ websites and not other variables dealing with the site’s speed, navigation style and design.
By creating an instrument to provide greater rationality for website development and maintenance it is believed that Greek sports teams may attain a higher level of confidence in their decision making as it pertains to internet usage. Through a literature review, this paper wished to record the marketing variables that should exist in sport teams’ websites. It then aimed to create the SIMEvI – Sport Internet Marketing Evaluation Instrument, a valid and reliable tool with which Greek sport teams’ fans could evaluate the marketing variables appearing on the websites and not the variables dealing with the design, navigation or speed of the site). By satisfying the needs of their sport fans, the teams should at least feel confident about the marketing techniques that they develop through their websites.
The research questions examined were as follows:

• RQ1: How many dimensions are there and in what respect is the Greek fans’ evaluation of the teams’ website marketing?
• RQ2: What are the most desirable aspects appearing on sport teams’ websites?
• RQ3: How gender affects the Greek fans’ evaluation of the marketing dimensions appearing on sport teams’ websites?

Data were gathered during three basketball and three football games that took place in Thessaloniki (Greece) during April 2006. Games were selected from the Greek schedule of both basketball and football leagues. All three games for each sport were played at different stadiums in order to eliminate the possibility of asking the same fans. In order to select the subjects at each game randomly, the interviewers obtained a seating chart of each of the facilities and selected 150 seats from all sections of each venue prior to the games, using a random chart number. At Greek basketball and football stadiums, ticket prices are not a limiting factor as they do not really vary. With a possible exception of the VIP lounge that guests and sponsors occupy without paying, almost all Greek stadiums have a general admission charge. In cases when the chosen designated seats were empty, alternative seat numbers were selected. If those seats were also empty, the subjects were marked as “Non-Respondent”. The researchers believed that by using random procedures and a rather large sample size, the sample would be representative of the total professional basketball and football spectator population in Northern Greece.

One hundred and fifty subjects were randomly selected among the spectators in each of the six games, building a total sample size of 900 subjects. If a respondent declared himself/herself as a non-internet user, he/she was excluded from the sample. Only five fans answered that they had no internet experience and they were substituted by those who agreed to participate in the study and were sitting next to the seats selected on the seating chart. The sample was skewed towards well educated (49.8%) males (61.8%), within an age range of 19-30 (60%). Finally, 71.6% of the respondents declared that they used the Internet more than frequently, and 55% that they often visited their sport team’s website. Considered from a marketing perspective, it should be noted that all three teams whose facilities were used for the survey had quite organized websites.

The basic purpose of this questionnaire was to evaluate the Greek fan’s perspective of the marketing variables that appear on the teams’ websites. In order to assemble these items, an extensive study of the existing bibliography on internet marketing in general and on sport internet marketing in particular was conducted and concluded to 41 variables. Moreover, a content analysis of 100 randomly chosen European and North American professional football and basketball team websites was undertaken. The list of all the first league basketball and football teams included all websites except for those that had no English version. As a result of the content analysis, nine more variables were added. The list finally included 50 items. The questionnaire consisted of 5 categories taking into consideration: Brown [9], and his segregation based on the 4Ps; Mullin et al. [27] and their segregation of the marketing mix based on the 5Ps; and the propositions of five sport marketing experts. The categories were “Product” (11 variables, which provided information about the team), “Price” (3 variables, which provided options of electronic sales of tickets and of the team’s merchandise), “Place” (3 variables that presented each team’s ground services), “Promotion” (16 variables with promotion options offered by the team’s website) and “Public Relations” (17 variables concerning the communication that the team develops with its fans) for a total of 50 marketing variables (see Table 1).

The choice of all 50 items and their categorization was determined by the literature review, by the content analysis made of the teams’ websites, and by the experts’ propositions. Especially in the case of “Place”, defined in general as “distribution of the product to the right place at the right time to allow ease of purchase” (p. 262, [33]), the researchers included variables related to the distribution of the core product, that is the presentation of the stadium services through the team’s website.

As mentioned above, the development of internet marketing by the sports teams in Greece is still in its infancy; out of all the professional basketball and football teams (a total of 30), only three offer the alternative of purchasing tickets online and just four sell the team’s products through their websites. Furthermore, it is revealed that Greeks have only recently discovered the potential of this new mass medium [22], both in terms of getting generally informed and dealing with their transactions. By using the marketing mix proposed by Mullin et al. [27], the researchers tried to fit the new standards of internet marketing to the Greek reality described above and tried to create an evaluation tool which may be used by all sport organizations worldwide which do not feel really confident about their developing a marketing presence on the Internet. Referring to the previously described Greek circumstances, and after a thorough literature review, the researchers concluded that the marketing mix should be the foundation for the creation of the internet marketing variables evaluation tool. Future research may build on it or may expand it to new models and theories concerning the evaluation of the sport website marketing efforts.

The fans were provided with questionnaires which sought responses to questions related to the perceived importance of each variable, which allowed them to respond according to a 7-point Likert style scale (7: “very important” to 1: “not important at all”). A pilot test was conducted at two basketball facilities in Thessaloniki and 100 sport fans, aged 15-55 years old, completed the questionnaire. This first data collection showed no comprehension problems regarding the questionnaire variables.

The evaluation tool was then complemented by 200 sport fans at five amateur games. These fans voluntarily offered their phone numbers so that a re-test could be conducted. The measure was purified through Exploratory Factor Analysis and Reliability Analysis (Cronbach Alpha test). Twenty eight (28) items had high factor loadings and belonged to four (4) variables. “Product” (with questions such as: “Which of the following do you think is most important to appear on a team’s website?: 1. The team’s history, 2. The results of the team’s games”, etc), “Price-Place” (e.g. “1. Online ordering of tickets, 2. Directions to the ground”, etc), “Promotion” (e.g. “1. Products that the team provides, 2. Free downloads”, etc) and “Public Relations” (e.g. “1. E-mailing the team, 2. Forum-chat room”, etc). The alpha for the whole scale was found to be 0.96, which is satisfactory, while the sub-scales reliabilities ranged from 0.75 to 0.90. The first part of the survey – as described above – was conducted on-site while the re-test was conducted two weeks later by phone. The results of this test – re-test analysis were more than satisfactory (ICC=0.880, p<.05).

Having concluded the pilot tests and modulated the evaluation tool, the researchers collected the data from the sport fans of six basketball and football installations using the 28-item evaluation tool (from now on called SIMEvI).

The internal structure of the fans’ evaluation of the Web as a sport marketing tool was examined through an exploratory factor analysis based on the 28-item inventory. The extraction method employed was principal component followed by Varimax rotation, to enhance the interpretability of the extracted factorial model. The results from this analysis gave a model of four factors (KMO: 0.884), with each factor’s eigenvalue greater than 1.0, which explained 63.2% of the total variance. The rotated component matrix for the above factor model is presented in Table 2.

The internal consistency reliability of the four factors was assessed by computing Cronbach’s alpha coefficients (Table 3). All factors were given names according to their loaded variables. More specifically, the first factor, “Product”, which accounted for the 23.2% of the total variance, was constructed by variables such as “history of the team” and “the program of the team’s games”. The second factor, “Price-Place” (17.4%) was developed from variables related to online sales and the presentation of the organization/installation (e.g. “online ordering of the tickets” and “directions to the ground”). The third factor “Promotion”, which explained 13.5% of the total variance, involved items such as: “free downloads”, “interactive games”, etc. Finally, the fourth factor, “Public relations” (9.1%), revolved around items related to the communication of the sport organization with its stakeholders.

As Table 3 shows, the Greek fans rather positively evaluated the “Product” variables (Mean=5.53) that appeared on the teams’ websites. However, given that the evaluation instrument used a 7-point Likert scale for the data collection, the remaining variables (i.e. “Price-Place”, “Promotion” and “Public relations”) were evaluated rather indifferently by the fans. This result should be taken into account by managers and web designers of teams’ sites. More specifically, the sports fans’ evaluation of each of the variables embedded in the four factors is more clearly evident in Tables 4, 5, 6 and 7.

With regard to the first research question, the results of this particular inquiry process indicate that the evaluation by the sport fans of the marketing variables that appear or should appear in Greek sport teams’ websites is a multidimensional concept. The data analysis leads to the conclusion that all four factors “Product”, “Price-Place”, “Promotion” and “Public Relations” are equally important. This was confirmed by the research by Pope and Forrest [30], Brown [9], Feather [17] and Chang [11] about the multidimensionality of the evaluation of sport internet marketing.

The “Product” factor is perceived as important as it provides fans and other website users with all the possible information concerning the Greek professional team (e.g. the team’s history, the athletes’ presentation etc.). According to Aaker and Joachimsthaler [1], a website is an effective tool for brand building and providing authoritative information. It is an activity which bolsters brands with credibility and authenticity in an authoritative way that would be difficult to emulate through other means. Each sport organization should pay attention in its attempt to bolster the appearance of “Product” marketing variables.

That means that variables as the team’s history, photographs and interviews of the players and the coaches, programs and statistics should appear in each and every team’s website. According to Welling and White [40], the Internet is mostly used by customers and businesses for information and research. A survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life [29] found that the Internet was most frequently used by consumers as a primary source of information. An overwhelming majority (97%) of internet users said that they expected to find the information they sought online. This highlights the importance of providing multiple and various information about the teams through their websites.

The “Price-Place” introduces a convenience factor between the fans and the team by providing online merchandising and information about the team’s facilities. This allows fans and customers to save time and effort finding the team merchandise, tickets and information on sport websites. Unfortunately, Greek professional sport teams still do not really offer these features through their websites, with the exception of 3-4 teams out of the total of 30.

The “Promotion” factor includes variables such as “e-addresses” for their sport fans, “interactive games” and database creation. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, sport teams must find a way to create lasting value in their fans’ minds. This is accomplished by creating positive online experiences using activities noted above to build and maintain the fans’ engagement. According to Mullin et al. [27], promotion is a “catch-all category for any one of numerous marketing efforts designed to stimulate consumer interest in, awareness of, and purchase of the product” (p. 176). Following the above definition, the researchers and the marketing experts included in the “Promotion” category those marketing variables that should be used by sport teams’ websites so as to attract their Greek fans’ interest and keep them attached to the site or give them the stimulation to visit the specific website over and over again.

Finally, the fourth factor, “Public relations”, is essential for an organization’s reputation and the way it is publicly perceived. Ashcroft and Hoey [4] suggest it also concerns the control of information through effective communication. In this instance the team’s communication with its stakeholders (e.g. through “forum-chat room”, “links”, “e-mails”, etc.) is critical. In a web environment, fans, customers and sport organizations communicate more readily with one another and share their knowledge and experiences in various forums. The website can be used to raise the profile of an organization, thus increasing awareness of it amongst diverse market segments, both user and non-user. This can be achieved in various ways including the promotion of a new initiative, a change of image or through enhancing the customer experience.

Concerning the second research question “What are the most desirable aspects appearing on Greek sport teams’ websites?” it is obvious that the marketing culture of the Greek teams’ websites needs to be reconsidered. Dale [15] argued that companies focused on quality and developed marketing actions so as to satisfy their customers. As a website is part of the connection between a company and its customers, it is obvious that it should reflect the quality efforts that are in place throughout this company. This is as applicable to sport teams as it is to any other organizations. In this research the customers, i.e. sport fans, regarded the basic marketing variables within the teams’ websites as important and the results verify this fact.

The exceptions are those variables dealing with the team’s sponsors/associates, online purchases and provision of personal information for the creation of databases. However, this reluctance is explained by research which concludes that web users find internet shopping awkward or confusing [2]. Moreover, they are concerned about privacy and are reluctant to send credit card or personal information needed for online transactions or for registrations [9]. Especially in the case of the Greek professional teams’ web sites, most of them, as already mentioned, do not even offer the option of online sales.

Concerning the third research question, the results showed that the only factor which men evaluated as more important than women was the “Product” factor. This is probably due to the fact that men seem to be more interested in the information concerning their team’s program, statistics, players’ CV’s and players’ and coaches’ performance than women are, although some scholars [34] insist that in the last few years more and more women have been attending games and purchasing the merchandise offered by the organizations. Although this is true, men still make up the majority of sport fans and thus are interested in their favourite teams’ activities [23, 36]. Moreover, many experts have shown that in general, men report that they use the Internet more significantly than women or are more likely to be heavy users [5], even though in some samples there were fewer men than women [2].

Most sport organizations in Greece are still using the Internet solely to provide information about themselves or to generate awareness of the organization. Very little emphasis is placed on interactive marketing. At the same time, internet usage in Greece is growing rapidly. While only 1 million Greeks used the Internet in 2000 [21] by 2006 this number had reached 3.8 million, a penetration of 33.5% of the whole population [36]. It is clear the sport marketers in Greece need to emphasize the online consumer/seller relationship and should focus on developing the medium as an effective marketing tool. Without this focus, sport teams in Greece will need to outsource the development of interactive marketing plans.

The rapid development of online computing technology makes it imperative for businesses and sport organizations to consider using the Internet seriously in order to avoid losing competitive advantage. A website gives direct contact between the sport organization and the sport fan/consumer. The fundamental objective of this research was the development of an instrument (SIMEvI) to evaluate the effectiveness of the marketing variables that appear on Greek sport team’s websites.

For this reason this study is important, considering the advance of the Internet and its growing impact on sport. The scale developed not only has face validity but also displays adequate construct reliability, convergent validity and nomological validity. It has 28 marketing variables and 3 demographic-gathering questions (gender, age and educational level). It is easily implemental and particularly appealing to web and sport managers, who are interested in evaluating their sport sites in terms of marketing in Greece. Moreover, it has the potential to offer a competitive advantage that would possibly increase their fans’ satisfaction with the websites.

The Internet has clearly established itself as a means of mobilising fans in a variety of ways. A website is an inexpensive, simple means of broadening the exposure of an issue [2]. The impact of the Internet on sport continues to develop at a rapid pace. Assael [5], argues that due to the high penetration rate of the Web, marketers can no longer merely rely on targeted profiles of internet users. As a result, the development of demographic and lifestyle profiles by level and type of Web usage assumes more importance.

This research made an attempt to enlighten the development of internet marketing through sport teams’ websites by asking their fans for their opinion. With successful e-marketing through their websites, the teams may gain a competitive advantage to their customers. Moreover, they may experience significant improvements in many aspects, such as their fans’ databases, financial gains, customer value, innovations and efficiency in business processes.