Research question: The mass media widely broadcasts scandals. However, previous literature lacks examinations of consumer reactions to athlete scandals. Given the detrimental impact, it is important to understand how athletes and brand managers can optimally respond when scandals occur. The purpose of this study is to develop the fundamental understanding of consumer reactions and the effective response strategies in athlete reputational crisis (ARC) settings. Research methods: A three factorial (performance relatedness × intentionality × involvement) experiment was conducted. One hundred ninety-three undergraduate students from a large university located in the southeastern United States participated in the experiment, with analysis based on 180 useful responses. Results and findings: The results indicate that high and low involvement spectators differ in their evaluations of scandalized athletes. The attitude of highly involved consumers is significantly more negative when ARCs are performance related and intentional. Low involvement consumers’ attitude displayed a similar pattern, but only when they perceived ARCs as unintentional. Lastly, the results indicate consumers prefer rebuild response strategies (e.g. apology) in all ARC situations. Base strategies (e.g. explaining ARC situations) and sport-specific strategies (e.g. winning to make up) can be used to supplement in performance-related ARC situations. Implications: This study contributes to the fundamental knowledge regarding the potential impact of ARCs. Athlete brand managers can estimate the extent of impact based on ARC characteristics (i.e. performance relatedness and intentionality) and consumer characteristics (i.e. involvement). Furthermore, effective response strategies can be developed by examining the interplay between ARC and consumer characteristics.
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