More Meaningful Sponsorships

By Bonnie Schiedel

Sport organizations and corporations have a long history when it comes to sponsorship—the corporation gives the funds, goods or services, and the sports organization gives the exposure. However, the equation is not as simple as it used to be. 

“I think there have been two main changes,” notes Brent Barootes, president and CEO of Partnership Group, an Alberta-based sponsorship consulting firm. “Companies are now requiring some kind of return on investment, some kind of measurement.” 

The second big change is the shift to digital: Online instantaneous information when you’re watching a tournament, for example, or digital player card apps. It’s still an unrealized opportunity for sports organizations and sponsorships, Barootes says: “We’re seeing digital signage at [sports] events, but they’re not integrating their sponsorships that way. It’s still hanging a banner and handing out a paper flyer.”

If you’re a sports organization looking to up your sponsorship game, consider these key points to ensure your corporate partnerships are valuable and effective for everyone involved. 

“Rink boards are likely not going to drive business to a local restaurant and bar, but BOGO coupons that must be used by 10 p.m. the night of the game will.”

Understand the company’s business
To really get a company’s aims, you need to spend time with them and build a relationship. The example Barootes likes to give is a car dealership—we think their focus may be about selling cars, but it’s actually about funnelling customers to the service end of the business, and their sponsorship of a sport event has to reflect that. A sponsorship pitch also has to be customized. For example, a home improvement chain and a clothing company “have completely different audiences and marketing objectives. If you give them the same [sponsorship pitch], you don’t really understand their business,” Barootes says. 

Give the sponsor what they need
If you’re asking for sponsorship from a satellite office with few local staff, don’t give them 150 tickets to your event just because you’d like to see the seats filled. And rink boards are likely not going to drive business to a local restaurant and bar, but BOGO coupons that must be used by 10 p.m. the night of the game will, and can create a customer habit that lasts after the promotion ends, notes Barootes.

Tracy Fahlman, president and CEO of the Regina Hotel Association (RHA), which sponsors about 25 sport events annually, says that pre-planning time is essential. “A year… provides adequate time to think together, to plan together, to budget together for what could really mutually benefit both organizations,” she says, adding that because a sports organization recently came to her with plenty of advance planning for one event, the RHA was actually able to sponsor three events.

Communicate, communicate, communicate
“The biggest flaw that I see in most not-for-profit organizations is not communicating,” says Barootes. If the top-ranked team isn’t able to show up for the tournament, the sponsor needs to hear that from you, not the media. Relationship building goes beyond just communication associated with the event or season. If the company is in the news for making a donation or acquiring an asset, email to say “Hey, congratulations!” Barootes says. Fahlman is in favour of face-to-face meetings whenever possible. And, if the initial contact doesn’t quite pan out, don’t close any doors, she says. “Maintaining a respectful rapport is key. It may not be the right fit now but opportunities to partner may be just around the corner.”

Deliver what you promised
It’s possible for things to fall through the cracks, especially in a volunteer organization, but simply completing what’s agreed to—displaying all 10 banners, not just five—goes a long way to sponsor satisfaction and renewal. 

Put it in black and white
Barootes is in favour of writing a fulfilment report when the event or season is over. “Tell them what you promised them, what you actually delivered, what you failed to deliver and what you over-delivered on.” Understanding and tracking metrics—accurate and comparable numbers about attendance, social media engagement, app users and more—is usually an important part of the process too. 

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