Six Tips To Unlock Community Sport Sponsorship

Capitis Consulting - Paul Varian MBA, C.Dir picture
Paul Varian MBA, C.Dir
Capitis Consulting | Article - Six Tips To Unlock Community Sport Sponsorship

Ask someone about sponsorship in sport and you'll be told about Emirates on Real Madrid's jersey or Nike and Lebron. Yes, this the high end, glitzy, multi-million dollar end of the sport sponsorship business. But what about the less glamorous end? Community sport may not be able to command the reported $192m per year Los Blandos raise in corporate sponsorship from their jersey rights alone. But corporate sponsorship is an important, at times essential, revenue source for many small sport clubs who give kids the chance to play sports.

Many sport clubs struggle to raise corporate sponsorship. Yet corporations and community sport should be a match made in heaven. Community sport has that wonderful consumer connection. A chance for corporations to get close to their market when kids are having fun and sales barriers are down. Indeed, community sport holds the keys to the door to the most lucrative consumer market segment of all - young families.

So why aren't there far more higher-valued sponsorships and long-lasting partnerships in community sport?

It starts with community sport executive leaders and Boards taking corporate sponsorship more seriously. No, I don't mean wanting it. I mean how they go about raising it and managing it.

You can't manage a successful corporate sponsorship program without putting resources in. Corporations don't care that you're amateur sport. It doesn't cut you a break. Start by ensuring you have the resources to not only sell sponsorships but also service and fulfil them. That means people, ideally staff, and time. If you want those ambitious sponsorship revenue targets in your annual budget met, you have to commit capacity to it.

If you've done that, or are prepared to, great! You're ready to get in the game. Here are my six key pointers on how to manage community sport sponsorship, now that you've taken the plunge!

#1: Corporations Care About Your Market, Not Your Sport

I am full of admiration for any corporation that sponsors amateur sport. But be clear on their motive. Corporations are sponsoring you to better their organization in some way. They don't really care about your sport. Sorry if that sounds harsh. But you must understand this if you are to properly show the value they need.

Sponsorship at community level is usually a marketing investment. It may fall under the corporate social responsibility file. But this is still effectively marketing or PR. There is no group management meeting of executives agreeing that they should sponsor your program because your sport is just so great. Businesses see community sport as a means to get to the people who play, coach, administer, watch and volunteer at your sport programs. They want your people, not your program.

So know your people. What are their demographics? What age cohorts do they fall in? What is their geographical distribution? Are they families? On average how many kids? What are their consumer wants and needs? What household income brackets do they fall into?

Don't complain that you don't have this information. Go and get it! Start with basic census data about the community your sport club is located in, which will be publicly available. Then talk to your members and sport users, a simple survey will do. Yes, its an investment of time. But when you have this core consumer information, you will be able to speak with far more authority on what sponsorship potential you can offer.

#2: Sell Sponsorship Where You Can Offer Value, Not Where You Need Cash

In amateur sport, if a revenue gap appears, the usual solution offered is to 'find a sponsor'. Sorry. Sponsors aren't there to be your financial White Knight. If you need cash in a certain program, don't think a sponsor will have any interest in providing it, unless they can see marketing value.

So don't waste your time looking for sponsors in loss-leading programs. If these programs must be run, run them at a deficit. Follow the core rule that capital flows to value - it applies to community sport sponsorship too. No matter how great your cause is, your best chance of sponsorship success is in your programs that can connect corporations to your sport users.

#3: Good Marketing Partnerships Strengthen Your Sponsorship Value

Virtually every community sport organization I have worked with is dying to get their hands on sponsorship cash! But they've only passing interest in building good marketing relationships with local media outlets.

Wake up! Marketing and media reach is not a 'nice to have' for you, no matter how modest you may deem your sport club to be. This capability is an important asset you can sell on as a benefit to your sponsors. If you have guaranteed, demonstrable local media profile that your sponsors can piggy-back on, your property inherently becomes more valuable.

So take marketing partnerships seriously! They aren't very hard to strike. Most community media outlets are crying out for content that your sport club offers on tap. Meet up with them and strike a simple marketing deal - agreed coverage or advertising priority from them in return for some sponsor benefits and maybe guaranteed advertising spend from you. It's not only good for the profile of your club, it fundamentally strengthens the value of your sponsorship assets.

#4: Fulfillment Is Your Key To Sponsor Renewal

How do you decide your sponsorship program is a success? The dollar value on your Income Statement, right? But is that really the right measure?

Of course, financial return on your sponsorship investment is important. But once your program is up and running, the longer term measure should be your sponsor renewal rate. You'll learn far more about your program's performance by looking at how many of sponsors come back than what they paid to become a sponsor in the first place.

You see, the clichéd adage of 'fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me' rings true here. You can produce an impressive one-off sponsorship revenue haul by offering disingenuous value commitments to sponsors - markets you have no real access to, benefits you have no capacity to fulfill, profile you can't give. And you may fool the sponsor to sign up - but only once! Once they see there is no substance behind what you offer, they won't renew and will be gone for good.

Sponsor renewal rate measures more than the securing of sponsors. It also shows the satisfaction of sponsors. If they renew, you've shown value, they're happy. And renewing satisfied sponsors is far cheaper and easier than sourcing new ones.

So invest in sponsor fulfillment and over-deliver on it! Make it impossible for them to not re-sign with you! Just sell sponsorship and leave them unfulfilled once you've got their cheque and your sponsorship market will quickly dry up and be very hard to rebuild.

#5: Don't Snub Value-In-Kind Sponsorship!

Too often, when community sport thinks of sponsorship, they think of briefcases full of cash, free to be used for whatever they want, solving their every financial challenge! Of course, cash sponsorships are great. But they are harder to secure and can come with significant fulfillment obligations.

Far more corporations will work with you if you are prepared to do a value-in-kind deal where they provide you with their services or products in lieu of cash. And as well as opening up your prospect field significantly, value-in-kind sponsorships are usually far easier to strike.

While there are many of these deals that may be of little use to you, don't immediately rule all value-in-kind opportunities out. Just make sure that the products or services you get receive definitively cover costs you would otherwise have to bear on your Income Statement.

Sports equipment value-in-kind sponsorships are the most common. Media partnerships mentioned above also commonly work this way. But why can't other items of operating cost be eliminated through value-in-kind sponsorships? Look at what you spend money on and see if you can get a value-in-kind sponsor to give it to you for free in return for some sponsor benefits. Removal of cost is exactly the same as raising revenue from a bottom-line perspective, right? So focus on it!

#6: Sponsor Activation Can Be More Valuable Than Your Sponsorship Fee

When you do secure a sponsor, congratulations! But while you're in line at the bank waiting to deposit your cheque, think carefully about the value you have just acquired in your sponsorship partner.

Sure, there is the cheque in your hand, or maybe some value-in-hand product or service as well. But have you thought about what your sponsor will now do to activate your partnership?

Many corporations, particularly those with significant sponsorship portfolios, will have resources set aside to develop their sponsorship with you to their benefit. This may mean promotion and advertising that tells their market of their sponsorship, plus possibly staff behind the scenes looking for ways they can make your sponsorship a success outside of what is agreed to in your sponsorship deal. In amateur sport, staff is a precious commodity, and unearned advertising buys are very rare. So these activation investments are valuable to you! Make it your business to know what activation your sponsor is planning and take advantage of it.

Help your sponsor craft their advertising message! Flood them with images, interviews, athlete access, whatever them need to promote you in the advertising they are going to pay for! Earned media value from sponsor activation can often be of higher value than the cash from the sponsorship itself. So get close to your sponsor once they are on board and see if there are ways you can leverage these opportunities and make the value of the sponsorship way beyond the cash you receive.


Corporate sponsorship in amateur soccer is one of the many challenges amateur soccer executive leaders will be debating at ExecuSoccer, Canada's first seminar series specifically geared to Executive Directors, General Managers, Business Managers and Presidents of amateur soccer clubs. Four one-day seminars will tackle four key themes - Governance, Planning & Finance; Marketing, Communications & Revenue; Technical Oversight & Evaluation; Staff & Volunteer Leadership.