Examining an Intervention for Identity Formation in Corporations: The Benefits of Sports Sponsorship



When one considers the benefits that sports provide to society, one may initially think of the health benefits of sports participation. Sports participation has been found to reduce the rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and risky behaviors (Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2006). Can sports provide an equally influential outcome in the context of work motivation for corporations? What may not initially come to mind when thinking about sports are the attributes that sports spectatorship through corporate sponsorship can have on social identity formation.


In corporate American today, the level of employee engagement is on a sharp decline (Saks, 2006)This “engagement gap” is estimated to cost U.S. businesses an average of $300 billion a year in lost productivity (Saks, 2006). In addition, when commitment to companies is low, there are high rates of turnover, which significantly decreases productivity and profits (Futrell & Parasuraman, 1984). This retention issue thwarts companies immensely due to hiring and training costs for new employees. Thus, there is a great need among corporations to develop effective solutions to this problem of how to keep employees engaged in the company ideations and goals. 



Social identity theory is based on a foundation that as humans, we are social beings who are trying to find our place in society. Indeed, society creates a system of organization in which we can simplify our understanding of our surroundings and structure our social interactions. Tajfel defines social identity as “that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership in a social group together with the emotional significance attached to that membership” (Tajfel & Turner, 1986, p. 43). According to Tajfel andTurner (1986), individuals derive their self-image from the social categories to which one perceives the self as belonging. These categories formulate an in-group and an out-group that depend on whether an individual defines themselves as a member or not a member of that group, respectively. In effect, people try to maintain a positive social identity through favorable intergroup comparisons, which enhances their self-esteem.



Basking in reflected glory (BIRGing) was first introduced to the literature by Cialdini, Borden, Thorne, Walker, Freeman, and Sloan (1976), and is described as the tendency for people to attempt to share in the glory of a successful person with whom they are in some way associated. This phenomenon is especially intriguing in that the person who basks in the reflected glory of another typically has done nothing to bring about that other person’s success.


  • Watching sports together gives fans an opportunity to socialize and spend time with other who share your affiliation
  • Fans share a body of common knowledge, commitment, and enthusiasm for the game and sports in general
  • Fans share their emotions with their companions in a manner this is unprecedented in other social encounters
  • It is one of the few outlets where you can experienced a shared emotion through camaraderie and allegiance
  • Sports are a unique avenue to build identification among employees in a corporation


I am investigating the effectiveness of a sports sponsorship intervention on employees’ identification with a company called SafeAuto in Columbus, OH using an experimental approach. Employees’ work motivation will be assess to examine the consequences of organizational identification for a work-related outcome that reflect engagement in the company. Participants will be recruited from SafeAuto and assigned to one of three conditions. The first condition is the sports sponsorship condition in which employees were given season tickets to the Columbus Clippers minor league baseball team. The second condition was the control condition who did not receive any tickets. A third condition was included in which employees are given a comparable reward (an extra week of vacation) to assess the degree to which provision of any reward by the company might lead to increased identification or work motivation. We examined whether the sports ticket could influence the level of identification and motivation to work for SafeAuto.


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