Feb 9, 2015

How independent sports retailers are harnessing the power of sponsorship

By Louise Ramsay

Turkish Airlines and Chelsea FC, McDonald’s and the Olympics, Red Bull and virtually any extreme sport you can mention. That huge global brands sponsor sports teams and events in order to improve their image is accepted as par for the course. The big boys know that by associating with a major star or activity, some of the glory will rub off on them, raising their profile and ultimately boosting sales.

But can independent sports retailers get involved in sponsorship? While it’s true that you’re unlikely to have the name of your shop emblazoned across the chests of the UK’s next Olympic team, it’s also true that however small or local you are you can still benefit from a sponsorship deal. Indeed, being small is a bonus - you need to make only a minimal investment to reach the majority of your community and, thereby, your potential customers.

A company’s brand and logo need to be where their customers’ eyes are watching. For sports retailers, this is presented almost on a plate through local sports events. Football and rugby are obvious choices, but the increased popularity of running and triathlon has seen a corresponding increase in the number of running and triathlon events - particularly as events management companies, realising there is money to be made, are getting in on the act.

Hence the upsurge in fun runs, colour runs, mud runs and almost any other kind of run you can imagine popping up - all providing marketing opportunities for retailers.

Nicky Donbavand co-owns Run to Live in Surrey with her partner and husband Alan Burrows and has sponsored local running events since they opened the shop seven years ago.

“We love to be involved in the local community anyway, but if getting involved in events helps us to make more sales, then all the better,” Donbavand says. “We do things like provide race numbers printed with our logo and a discount offer on the back, which is a very small investment. We also put on our own race events, but that’s such hard work, it actually detracts from the business in our shop. But it all undoubtedly helps to raise our profile.”

For larger businesses, an investment of hundreds or even thousands of pounds, might not be significant, but for smaller organisations such sums can be hard to come by. Don’t, however, be put off.

Specialist retailer The Jog Shop in Brighton also provides race numbers for local races, but while owner Sam Lambourne sometimes pays up to £30 for 100, often sales reps donate them for him to print the shop logo on.

He explains: “I’ve been sponsoring in this way since we started out, so it’s hard to tell how much of a benefit it actually has, but even if it’s only small the outlay is more than affordable.”

Graham Thompson, founder of branded sports clothing and workwear specialist Xamax, which is based in Wakefield, has been in business for over 20 years, but only considered sports sponsorship two years ago when the company began manufacturing football and rugby league kits.

“We did it as a direct response to the obsession with the internet,” he says. “We sold kit up and down the country online, but not much locally. We wanted to tap into that market and saw sponsorship as a good way forward.”

Thompson started providing football and rugby league teams with half-price kits in exchange for having the company’s branding on them, but then went one step further by working with other businesses in the local area to shoulder the cost and provide kit to amateur clubs for free.

His business further benefits from add-on purchases such as Xamax branded hoodies and tracksuits, which are popular with local fans.

“It’s a brilliant way to raise the profile of the business in the local community,” Thompson says. “Not only does everyone attending a match see our company name on the kit when teams play, but also in the local press when matches are covered. The bigger the sponsorship deal, particularly if it involves another high profile business such as PlumbCenter, the more coverage we get in the local papers too.

“We even made it onto Sky Sports when Leeds Rhinos’ captain Kevin Sinfield presented our free kit to Waterhead, which was the first team he’d ever played for.”

Xamax’s sponsorship strategy has certainly paid off. Primarily working in the immediate locality, in the first year the company sold 250 football and rugby league kits. In the second year this rocketed to sales of £400,000 and in 2015 Xamax predicts sales of £600,000 and have secured sponsorship deals across the north east.

“We’ve focused on football and rugby until now and in the future plan to move into hockey,” Thompson says. “But really this could work with any sport.”

Signing up the stars of tomorrow
Everyone wants to back this season’s winner and the most cost effective way to benefit from sponsorship is to find the stars of tomorrow. It’s a strategy Rutland Sports in Lincolnshire is investing in.

The retailer is sponsoring Market Deeping triathlete Abi Schofield, who runs for the Nene Valley Harriers, in the run-up to this summer’s European Sprint Triathlon Championships in Geneva. The deal involves providing her with access to high level sportswear and, in return, she flies the Rutland Sports flag.

“As a small, independent sports retailer, we look at different ways to promote and develop the business which is meaningful to our local community,” Rutland Sports owner Hedley Stroud says. “We were very impressed by Abi’s determination to succeed in what is one of the ultimate athletics events and to qualify for the European championships is a fantastic achievement.

“I’m a massive sports fan myself, so this drives my interest in giving young people access to great sports coaching and facilities. But sponsorship isn’t just about doing the right thing, Abi’s also helped us to make contacts in running clubs and now we have more people following us on Twitter. Our sponsorship deal was covered by the local press and I’m hopeful for more of that in the future.”

Sponsorship ties into a decision Rutland Sports made a year ago to stop advertising in local media and use the budget elsewhere - though they do still advertise selectively.

“We also sponsor our local cricket club with discounted kit, which is printed with our logo,” Stroud says. “It supports the club and helps the shop. When the club won the premier league, there was a big photo in the paper with the team wearing kit with our name on it. Gray-Nicolls were very pleased too, which meant I’ve been able to negotiate a discount with them too.

“More people have since approached me for sponsorship. I’m staying where I am for now, but I’ve offered them discounts, which has also helped to increase sales.”


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