Public gives yellow light to sponsorship of local parks

by Jennifer Miller
June 15, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The public has given a cautious yellow light to park sponsorships, according to a recently published study by Penn State researchers. 

This study compared public opinions 14 years apart and found people are now more supportive of corporate sponsorship of public park and recreation services.

For example, in 2012, 56 percent of study participants were classified as feeling “positive” about the impact of sponsorship on their recreation experience compared to 38 percent in 1998.

“Sponsorship is often viewed as a dirty word when it comes to public parks, but our data indicate people have become more accustomed to this practice over the years,” said Andrew Mowen, associate professor of recreation, park, and tourism management at Penn State and lead study investigator.

However, the public’s increased support of sponsorship comes with caveats.

For example, participants felt the type of company factored into whether or not they would support park sponsorships. Participants were more likely to support a recreation or health-related company sponsoring a park than an energy corporation.

Further, naming rights and visible sponsor recognition at natural areas and historic sites remain contentious. The study found that negative opinions of these activities have remained generally consistent across the two time periods.

The survey results indicate that local governments proceed carefully and develop sensible guidelines to minimize the negative impact of corporate sponsorship, researchers said.

For years, researchers have analyzed the concept of corporations sponsoring public parks as local governments struggle with dwindling tax bases and increased expenses. Often, local recreation and parks programs are the first line items to see cuts during a difficult budget season.

Since 1998, the public has been more exposed to corporate sponsorship, which could explain why the 2012 study shows there is increased support for sponsorship at local parks.

“It’s possible that our daily exposures to corporate sponsorship have simply desensitized us to them across a range of settings, including public parks,” Mowen said. “Still, the public remains leery of obtrusive sponsorship activities such as facility naming rights.”

The article outlining the findings appears in the summer 2016 edition of the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, which published June 15.

Co-investigators included Nate Trauntvein at the University of New Hampshire and Luke Potwarka at the University of Waterloo. Nick Pitas, a graduate student studying recreation, park, and tourism management at Penn State, served as co-author.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 28, 2017