"Proceed with Caution": Public Perceptions Regarding Corporate Sponsorship of Park and Recreation Services
Keywords:Corporate sponsorship, funding, public opinion, qualitative research
AbstractIdentifying and securing reliable funding has long been cited as a major challenge to growth by recreation and leisure professionals (Crompton, 1999; Walls, 2009). Whereas municipal park and recreation agencies have traditionally relied on tax-supported revenues, fiscal conservatism and recent economic conditions have necessitated entrepreneurial park funding strategies such as corporate sponsorship (Mowen, Kyle, Borrie, & Graefe, 2006; Walls, 2009). However, a greater understanding of constituent perspectives is needed for park and recreation agencies to effectively pursue, design, and manage sponsorships. This study seeks to add to the understanding of how park constituents perceive corporate sponsorship in public parks. Specifically, this study assesses how park constituents personally perceived advantages and disadvantages of corporate sponsorship of a public park agency. A qualitative method was utilized in order to allow constituents a chance to express their opinions in their own words. Data were collected through three open-ended questions attached to a larger online survey of park users about corporate sponsorship activities by the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA). Data were analyzed using a constant comparison method (Corbin & Strauss, 2007). Participants identified both potential positive and negative outcomes of corporate sponsorship activity, as well as reasons for support or nonsupport. Monetary benefits, and the resulting service, facility, community, and economic benefits were identified as positives. Negatives involved a perceived loss of public ownership, increased commercialization, poor sponsor/agency fit, and negative impacts on the park setting and experience. Respondents also provided advice for pursuing sponsorships, including pursuing other options first, creating a well-defined set of limits to sponsorship activity, emphasizing public benefits, and restricting where sponsorship activity could occur. Results from this study reinforce the notion that corporate sponsorship is a complex and potentially divisive issue. Sponsorship benefits often come with strings attached, and for many respondents the negative impact of sponsorship on these public spaces outweighed the potential positives. Park and recreation agencies wishing to pursue corporate sponsorship should tread carefully when initiating or expanding sponsorship programs. Soliciting public opinion, emphasizing public benefits to sponsorship, proceeding with caution, and establishing a set of guidelines is recommended. Certain areas within and services of the agency may be more suitable to sponsorship than others, and the location and context of the situation should be considered.
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