The athlete as hero and celebrity endorser

Date of Completion

January 2002


Business Administration, Marketing|Education, Physical|Recreation




There is a profusion of literature calling for the differentiation between sport heroes and sport celebrities (Burton, 2001; Brooks, 1998; Chalip, 1997). Much of the hero worship literature focuses on the great emotional appeal of heroes, particularly athletes (Klapp, 1969; Harris, 1994). Nonetheless, Smith (1973) and others suggested that the sport hero is dead. ^ The first purpose of this study was to assess current sport heroes in American society, and to determine whether college students could discriminate between sport heroes and sport celebrities. Secondarily, the possible relationship between sport enthusiasm and propensity to having sport heroes was explored. A third goal of the study was to adapt Ohanian's (1991) celebrity endorsement framework to the sport setting. ^ The research was divided into two phases, Phase One (n = 102) and Phase Two (n = 120), all University of Connecticut undergraduate students. The results of Phase One made it possible to categorize athletes into one of four matrix quadrants: high hero/high celebrity, high hero/low celebrity, low hero/high celebrity, and low hero/low celebrity. Eventually, eight exemplary athletes were chosen, one male and one female from each quadrant. Respondents were asked to indicate their likelihood of purchasing a standardized product—Ultima Sports Drink—from each endorser. The Phase Two administration found a similar pattern for sport hero selection as was observed in the Harris (1994) investigation on high school students, but found no significant differences among college grade levels. ^ It was hypothesized that those scoring highest on both scales, in the high hero/high celebrity quadrant, would prove to be the most effective endorsers of the product. This was found to be true, as the top overall endorsers were Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods and the top female was Venus Williams, all athletes from the high/high quadrant. As expected, the low/low quadrant proved to be the least effective. Of note was the low hero/high celebrity quadrant, which was comprised of very well-known but non-heroic athletes. Included in this category were Mike Tyson and Anna Kournikova, two athletes with current endorsement problems. ^