By Paul Clapham
If you talk about sports sponsorship, everybody instantly tends to think about the mega bucks deals done in the Premier League. That, indeed, is the reason why sponsorship has achieved high profile as a marketing technique. It applies, too, across other major sports, in particular televised ones.
At the top end, the principle is to get your brand on the telly on a regular basis at a lower cost than a TV advertising campaign and probably better targeted. But that’s just the top end of the market and TV coverage isn’t what it’s all about by any means.
Connecting with people
The key benefit of sports sponsorship is connecting with real, live people - dyed in the wool sports fans. And don’t those people offer the most value to your store?
The commercial reality of sports sponsorship is that there are zillions of ways to make it work for you. Inherently, all sports sponsorship activity can recruit new customers. But, you are entitled to ask, how many and how valuable is it?
Sponsorship comes in many forms with many variable price tags attached, just like product in your store. For a small businessman, the extent of the opportunity can be truly daunting. Which is why many throw their hands in the air and decide not to bother.
But that looks like a mistake because the fit is so good and I doubt you’ll find that quality of fit from any other expenditure. The simple fact is that 100 per cent of the people you reach via sports sponsorship are enthusiasts.
In essence, there are two basic routes into sponsorship - with the heart and with the head. Given that you will be putting up hard cash, ‘with the heart’ looks like a non-starter, only appropriate for millionaires and upwards. That may well not be true because of the huge breadth of choice.
The bottom of the pile - not least in cost terms - is sponsoring a junior team or club. This is invariably driven by the heart - your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter is a member of that team or club and you want to support them. Quite right, too. So with the heart fully engaged, now engage brain.
Evaluate the opportunity
Before you part with a penny, assess the opportunity. Instead of just following every step your grandson takes, next Sunday check out how many people - both adults and children - are watching. If it’s two men and a dog plus you, clamp your wallet.
If the rain’s going sideways and there are 30-plus shouting themselves hoarse, you’ve got a valuable route to customers. If those people toeing the whitewash interact at half-time and full-time, so much the better.
The next element of brain engagement is, does your daughter’s commitment to tennis fit with the focus of your store? If it does, great. But if your summer focus is cricket, sponsoring a tennis team or club is an indulgence, unless you can genuinely see the opportunity to expand into tennis. Sponsor and support your daughter all you like, but, I suggest, not her club.
So what’s this going to cost? Sorry, I don’t know. The variety is infinite and from my experience has little connection with commercial value. Trust your gut feel and assume prices quoted are about ‘what we want or need’ rather than ‘the value we offer’. Be ready to walk away, however much your heart is involved.
There is a downside to the publicity benefit. As soon as your sponsorship deal goes public, you will get letters and emails inviting you to sponsor all sorts of other teams and clubs, plus other activities. The answer is no. You have a limited budget and you’ve chosen where to put it.
Let’s look at the upside - and it can be massive. Walkers Crisps renewed its sponsorship of Leicester City when the club was struggling in the Premier League. At the time of writing, the Foxes are flying.
Merchant Investors, a life assurance company, was the shirt sponsor of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club when it went on a roll, winning seven one-day titles over four years. The value of that TV exposure was on the big side of massive compared to the cost.
You don’t have to have the TV benefit to have the sponsorship benefit, but sometimes it comes knocking. Over time, three lads from the junior football team you sponsored end up in the academies. Bingo.
A lad or lads from the team you have sponsored play at Wembley in the FA Vase final. Double bingo. You couldn’t write a better PR scenario yourself.
What will you get for your money?
Any assessment of the potential of sponsorship should be based on numbers, just as would apply with an assessment of other marketing routes. Until you get quite high up the pile, the likelihood is that there will be scant information. Small clubs will know how many members they have and that may be about it.
This is actually an advantage to you. When the seller has few numbers or can’t quantify the value of their opportunity, the buyer is in control. Be clear in your own mind what you want out of the deal, as there are lots of options.
You want your name on their shirts. You want your name on the clubhouse, if there is one. You want perimeter boards (even if you have to bring them along each week). You want access to the members’ mailing list and in particular their email addresses.
What facilities are available to you as sponsor to sell product on match days? I referred in a previous article to having a mobile shop. Even if you don’t go the whole hog, you could have product for sale from the boot of your car. Don’t forget those loyal fans. Hand and foot warmers could sell like hot cakes when people have actually got cold hands and feet.
If there is a clubhouse, when can you use it and for what? Can you run new product demo evenings as part of your deal? That would enable you to reach all members, not just the junior team you sponsor. Can you use the bar as a place to meet corporate or school customers?
Nobody should be shy about asking for any of this, plus other wants you may have. The people running the team may be commercially minded, but they also may not be. So you have to ask. Do it at the outset. After they’ve banked your cheque, they won’t say yes with such alacrity.
What else do you get? Publicity opportunities and a good number of them. ‘Smith’s Sports new sponsors of Anytown Wanderers under 11s’ is the sort of story local sports journalists should lap up. While some small clubs are very good at putting this information out, most are very poor. Assume you’ll have to do it yourself.
If you or staff members are social media enthusiasts, sponsorship is made for it. You’ve got a regular update that will encourage people to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It ticks lots of virtuous boxes - commitment to sport, to young people, to your community. All the above also applies to your website and a weekly update helps improve your Google ranking.