Attitudes Towards Event Sponsorship

Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City
National Puerto Rican Day Parade  (photo credit: Roland Soong)

Cultural and sports events cost money to operate.  To the extent that they do not generate enough revenue to be self-funding, corporate and government sponsorship become essential to their successful operation.  But of course such sponsorship comes at a price.  The primary motive behind corporate aid is sales, and cultural and sports events are advertising vehicles to broaden the consumer base and reinforce customer loyalty.  Sometimes, the advertising can become so overblown as to overwhelm the events themselves, and leads instead to resentment by the consumers.

We will now cite some data from the TGI Puerto Rico study.  This is a survey of 2,055 persons age 12 years or older in Puerto Rico conducted in February-April 1999 by MediaFax Inc.  According to this survey, when presented with the statement "There is too much sponsorship of cultural and sports events", 19.4% of the respondents 'definitely agreed.'  The table below breaks down these numbers by demographic characteristics.  There is not a great deal of difference by standard demographic characteristics.

Demographic Characteristics

% Definitely agree that there is too much sponsorship of cultural and sports events

     12-17 years old
     18-24 years old
     25-34 years old
     35-49 years old
     50-54 years old
     55-64 years old
     65 years or older

TOTAL 19.4%

(Source:  TGI Puerto Rico, MediaFax Inc)

Puerto Rican Day Parade floats
National Puerto Rican Day Parade floats (photo credit: Roland Soong)

Of course, not everybody attends these events regularly.  In the following table, we show the responses from those people who have attended such events.  Generally speaking, those who attend these events are more likely to agree that there is too much commercial sponsorship.

Event Attendance

% Definitely agree that there is too much sponsorship of cultural and sports events
Attended cultural events last 3 months

Attended concerts last 3 months

Watched on television in last 12 months

Attended event in person in last 12 months

TOTAL 19.4%

(Source:  TGI Puerto Rico, MediaFax Inc)

One of the biggest events for Puerto Ricans is the National Puerto Rican Day Parade held annually in New York City.  The parade itself consists of groups, bands and floats marching up the Fifth Avenue watched by a crowd of hundreds of thousands, if not millions.  The parade itself is highly commercialized, as the floats are mostly sponsored by various corporations (Sears stores, HBO channel, People en Español magazine, the newspaper El Diario, Colgate/Total toothpaste, VIM jeans, La Mega radio, Amor FM radio, etc).  By comparison, the other major parade in New York City is the Thanksgiving Day parade, which is sponsored by a department store (Macy's) but the individual floats are not as commercialized.

Puerto Rican Day Parade floats and bands
National Puerto Rican Day Parade floats & bands (photo credit: Roland Soong)

The highly visible presence of corporations in the parade is not accidental.  Some of these companies represent authentic Puerto Rican presences, such as the Spanish-language media in New York City.  While other global corporations such as Colgate and Coca-Cola are usually thought of as transnational and not solely Puerto Rico, they have been marketed in the Puerto Rican community by positioning themselves as being part of Puerto Rican daily life and culture.  Compared to elsewhere in the world, this appeal to Puerto Ricanness is much more important because of the important role of national identity, fueled constantly by the debate over independence, statehood and commonwealth for the island.  Language, sports, cultural events and commercial products have all been politicized by the colonial situation.  Here is a quote from Morris's book:

Increasingly, cultural activities organized by independent groups throughout the island are funded by corporate sponsors.  Featuring commercial rhythms and departing from the official cultural policy, these events are often shunned by government funding sources, making them candidates for less discriminating commercial sponsors.  

Despite its close involvement with cultural festivals, corporate sponsorship in Puerto Rico remained diverse, ranging from classical-music concerts to beach-volleyball tournaments to tours by amateur comedians.  Sponsors drew from similar promotions used throughout the world whereby products are associated with modernity, enjoyment, entertainment, and Western lifestyles.  However, the pro-Puerto Rico advertising histories of Budweiser and Winston have earned them reputations as 'culturally sensitive' companies that are concerned with Puerto Rico's culture and its gente de pueblo (common people).  This is one of the goals of advertising, which, if successful, transforms the meaning attached to the goods so that "the viewer/reader attributes certain properties he or she knows to exist in the culturally constituted world to the consumer good."

The new cultural activities provided corporate sponsors with new venues through which they could associate their products with pleasure and entertainment while reaching their target consumers, the "common people."  In return for a contribution of between two and five thousand dollars, companies obtain the exclusive right to sell their class of product (cigarettes, beer, soft drinks and liquor) as well as to display and distribute items bearing the company's logo --- tents, T-shirts, hats, sunglasses, banners, and inflated balloons shaped like beer cans or cigarette boxes.  Benefiting the most from this arrangement is undoubtedly the product representative, who, at the nominal cost of a small monetary contribution and free marketing paraphernalia, can make thousands of dollars from selling his or her product free from competition and enjoy maximum exposure for the duration of the festival.  I was told by one product representative that festivals are "the best advertisement.  People come and they know your product and they associate it with the community.  It makes my product a household a household and community item, and they are thankful to you for making that possible."  In this way, the promotion of cultural festivals becomes an extension of the companies' identification with Puerto Rican culture, one that allows them to maintain their cultural image while diversifying their advertising strategies.

In the case of an event such as the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, the potential audience is much more than just Puerto Ricans living in diaspora, for this is a festive occasion for everybody (see picture below).  For that one day, everyone becomes Puerto Rican, just like everyone becomes Irish on St. Patrick's Day, Italian on Columbus Day, ...

Puerto Rican Day Parade watchers
National Puerto Rican Day Parade watchers: two Italians and a French-Canadian
(photo credit: Roland Soong)


(posted by Roland Soong on 6/8/00)

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