During my work, both as a volunteer and as a professional in sports, the most frequent question I get is how a sports organization can get sponsors. Let me give a couple examples:
This federation organizes a competition for amateur clubs. They didn’t write press releases and at that moment they didn’t even publish schedules. The focus was on playing the game, making use of the resources that already were available. They had an audience though, but just didn’t know how to leverage that.
My daughter (almost 8 years) has been practicing aikido for 6 months now. This is a pretty small club, with their own dojo, and they have lessons for adults and the youth. During a barbeque one of the instructors told me that they just are not succeeding in getting any new training mats. He said that it is very difficult to get sponsors.
I was thinking about this afterwards, and I found it strange as I saw some very dedicated and serious people involved in the club. They had nice publications on the bulletin board, they have a digital newsletter and recently they even had a school delegation participating in a clinic.
It was remarkable though that none of the school kids (that I saw) became a member. Personally I also didn’t read anything about the club in the press. I felt that a strategy to attract new members was missing.
I once had lunch with the president of a boxing association. He had problems with getting funding for his sport. He asked my opinion on an idea he had about raffling a car to generate funds. He had good contacts with some car dealerships, and even showed me the calculation of how he expected to make some money. My initial reaction was to just try the raffle to see if it would generate any income.
Looking at the context though, this association didn’t organize any local boxing championships, nor did they have any international boxers for at least the last 5 years. And there was no real board, but it was more 1 person running things.
I noticed that the raffle until now never took place…
Apart from the frequent question of asking how to get sponsors, I am also hearing another common remark from many officials claiming that their sport is so different and specific, that general tips and advice will not work for them. I can’t count the times that I’ve heard
[box] “But you have to understand that our situation is specific……”[/box]
So let me go back to the examples of Soccer, Aikido and Boxing. Can I compare these situations? My answer to that is YES and NO.
NO, you can’ compare these sports!
Of course you cannot compare a team sport like soccer with individual sports. The surroundings are completely different. Not only cost wise, but also due to the big difference in practicing the sport outdoors or indoors. Soccer is the most practiced sport around the world, so it goes without saying that getting attention should be easier.
Another reason for being very careful of comparing the mentioned sports is that martial arts/boxing can be perceived negative by certain persons/ organizations. A sport like boxing has to deal with prejudices that a sport like soccer simply doesn’t have (to not speak about the supporters’ violence).
YES, you can compare these sports!
On the other hand there are also reasons that justify any comparison between these sports. First of all they are sports, which are characterized by being a leisure activity, especially focused on younger people. They all take place in a structured way, by licensed instructors, governed by an association or club. Additionally, these sports have international bodies responsible for the overall regulation of the sports. The international official definition of a sport (according to the umbrella organization Sportaccord) is:
- The sport should have an element of competition.
- The sport should in no way be harmful to any living creatures.
- The sport should not rely on equipment that is provided by a single supplier.
- The sport should not rely on any “luck” element specifically designed into the sport.
So based on this context my advice will be the same for the above mentioned sports, as they are in the beginning phase of marketing, and therefore need to have a strong basis.
What I mentioned before in another website article is that you NEED to start re-evaluating your internal organization. You simply need to have a strong internal organization, before you will make it out there in the sports marketing world. Does this mean that you cannot get any sponsors, if you just started your sport organization, or if you are internally not so strong yet?
No, of course you may have the luck of getting sponsors through a friend of a friend, or perhaps even based on a direct mailing. But I have my sincere doubts whether this sponsor will stay after they have become familiar with your sports organization.
My biggest advice to anyone is to give marketing time, and especially start asking yourselves some questions, like…
1. What do you stand for?
Every sport club should have a constitution or bylaws that stipulates why the organization exists. This ‘core activity’ should be your number one priority. You’re whole organization should know this and also agree on this. Stick to your core activity, and DO IT GOOD!
I am not talking about having the best trainers and facilities of the world, but more about a healthy environment where the fun is clearly visible. The training sessions should be planned structurally, and there should be a BACKUP for each person active in your organization. If the trainer gets sick, who will step in?
This seems so simple but is often overlooked. Looking at the examples above boxing was definitely not covering this part.
2. Create a community
Whether you are in an individual sports or not, the social aspects between the members are important. It is a fact that most of your members are active because they like the sport. BUT THIS IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE.
Some of your members are simply there because their friends are. Others because they want to identify themselves with the specific group participating in your sport.
So think of ways how your members and athletes can identify themselves as being part of the community. You can have your members write and publish a newsletter, or you can have a Facebook fan page only for your members. With the creation of a community you realize having a common goal, which goes further than just training together. Your members feel at home in your sports organization, and in the long run sponsors will aim to also be part of your community.
3. Communicate what you are doing
There are so many volunteers working their tales of, but outsiders just don’t know what they are doing. Without being cocky about it, you should communicate constantly what you are doing as a sport organization, and whether you are making small successes. This communication should be towards your (internal) members but also to (external) stakeholders. The newsletter mentioned before is an excellent tool for this, but don’t forget to send press releases at least once every 3 months. Email messages and sms text messages also are a frequent used way for communication.
4. What image do you have?
Have you ever thought about what image your sports organization has? How does the ‘outside world’ perceive your organization?
This is very important, as potential sponsors also see you this way. The best way to analyze this is to do a short survey once a year. Any student can do this for you, where he/she makes a short list with questions, and then approaches people (of course non-members).
You should make a strategy based on this survey, in order to either improve your image, or perhaps do some promotion so that people know of your existence.
And if you are part of a fighting sport/ martial arts, you already know that you need to take away the prejudice of your sport being aggressive.
In the same scope as building your image, you can use diversification to get some attention. This means that you are actively looking for a group of new members. You could organize special training sessions for girls, deaf athletes, prisoners or perhaps even elderly people.
Yes, this takes extra time, but you will have different advantages. One of them is having more members, and supposedly more income from contribution. With these kinds of projects it will be easier to get press coverage, which then has a direct influence on your image building.
5. You’re colleagues are your competition!
Remember that whenever you approach a company, there are x other sport organizations who probably also approached them for sponsorship. So that means that your proposal has to compete with the ones of table tennis, archery or badminton. The one who has a combination of a clear core activity, a tight community, communication, a positive image and a diversified group of members will win!
These 5 tips are only the start and I am sure that many sport organizations are already doing this. But are they doing this strategically, planned and are they making conscious decisions?
What kind of tips do you have for sport organizations who want to make their first steps towards sports marketing? You can leave them in the comment box under this article.