Should my business sponsor a local youth sports team?
Professional sports and corporate sponsorships go together like the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. Can you imagine the New England Patriots’ playing anywhere other than Gillette Stadium? Or the Super Bowl Halftime Show brought to you by anyone other than Pepsi?
With big brands like Budweiser, Toyota, Nike, and AT&T each spending more than $200 million per year on sports sponsorships, most small businesses can’t hope to compete on the professional level. But you can get a piece of the action and reap similar benefits — albeit on a smaller scale — by sponsoring a local youth sports team.
Why should I sponsor a youth sports team?
Few professional achievements can match the excitement you feel when you see your business’ name printed in big bold letters on the front of a jersey for the first time. But with razor thin margins and a super lean marketing budget — those feelings of pride probably aren’t enough to rationalize even the $100 donation that it takes to get a pity shout-out in the post-game huddle.
But if you keep your eye on the ball and use your sponsorship budget strategically, a small investment can have a tremendously positive impact on your business. Here are three ways your business can benefit from sponsoring a local sports team:
1. Supporting local teams can increase brand awareness
Whether you’re sponsoring a Little League team, a soccer tournament, or even a local dance troupe, supporting youth activities can be an easy way to develop a positive reputation in your local community. It can be particularly valuable if your target customer base includes kids or young families, and if word-of-mouth is an important part of your marketing strategy. Believe it or not, some parents get a little bored watching little Timmy take 15 attempts to get the pitch over the plate, so if you can get them talking to each other about your business while they wait, you’re not going to strike out.
These kinds of sponsorships also have the power to create intense customer loyalty — if Timmy gets in the habit of going to your pizza shop after every home game, he could keep coming back long after he tires of Little League and swaps his baseball mitt for karate lessons or a spot in the school band.
2. New sports sponsorships can create buzz for a new location or product launch
Local sporting events tend to create captive audiences full of people with similar interests who all live within a few miles of each other. That’s the ideal environment for a company looking to make a local splash by announcing a new brick-and-mortar location or introducing a new product line. Because youth sports sponsorships often have more flexible price-points than a newspaper ad or a roadside billboard, it can be a cost-effective way to compete with more established players and get the news out quickly.
3. You might knock it out of the park with free press
Local reporters and bloggers are always looking for feel-good stories featuring scrappy underdogs and come-from-behind victories. If you bet on the right horse, your name could get added to that Cinderella story and published all over the state.
Even if your team doesn’t make the playoffs, at the very least cute pictures of kids running around the bases in their oversized batting helmets with your company’s banner hanging over the right field fence presents a nice social media opportunity.
How to make the most of your youth sports sponsorship
Let’s say you’ve stepped up to the plate and are ready to put some money towards a sponsorship. How do you make sure that money is being spent in a way that will actually help your bottom line? Here are 6 simple steps:
1. Don’t get last pick
Even the smallest towns in America can have dozens of youth sports teams. You might choose to back a team because your own kid is on it or one of your employees is the coach. But if you’re seeking out a team to sponsor as part of an intentional marketing strategy, make your pick wisely.
First, think about your target audience and select the sport that they are most likely to support. Then consider the age group, the competitiveness of the league, and how much they travel. A soccer team with competitors all over the state will probably get you broader exposure than a basketball team full of first-graders, but if the parents of that basketball team line up with your target demographic, it might be a slam dunk.
2. Think outside the (batter’s) box
If you’re simply handing over a check in exchange for your name on a shirt, it’s time to get your head in the game. Sponsorship can take on many forms — think of ways you can do something that’s unique for your business.
Maybe you own a print shop that can provide “trading cards” and a post-season program featuring photos of the players in action. Or maybe your restaurant can host a pre-tournament carbo-loading feast with an all-you-can-eat price just for the players and their friends and family. Even if you’re in the service industry, ask if you can hand out branded swag after a home game or bottles of Gatorade with a coupon taped to the lid.
3. You don’t have to go for the gold, but don’t come in last
Many sports teams with experience raising money will offer different tiers of sponsorship. If you’re contributing purely out of the goodness of your heart, there’s no problem starting at the lowest tier. But if your goal is to provide a measurable return on your investment, it’s probably a good idea to get your name up in lights. Second place isn’t always the first loser, but very few people remember the names of the people Michael Phelps beat on his way to 23 gold medals.
4. Control the messaging and get on the schedule
With the rising cost of jerseys, pads, gear, tournament fees, and everything else, youth sports teams are often desperate for sponsorships — which means they probably need you more than you need them. That can give you the edge when it comes to negotiating a sponsorship package.
Make sure your brand standards will be met with everything your name goes on. And if they’re asking what they can give you to sweeten the deal, tell them you want ad space on the team’s recurring email newsletter or the season schedule. The game and practice schedules receive prime placement on household fridges all over town, and they are checked constantly by frantic parents shuttling their kids between after school activities. Getting your name and logo on those essential spots is like getting your face on a box of Wheaties.
5. Investigate the tax incentives
Depending on the type of team you sponsor and the state in which your business is incorporated, you might be eligible to write off your sponsorship as a business expense or as a charitable donation. Speak to a tax professional before you do this, and remember to get proof that the sports team is registered as a 501(c)(3), because the penalties can be steep if you make a mistake.
6. Remember the intangibles
Many of the reasons why you would sponsor a youth sports team align with the reasons you became a small business owner in the first place. By giving back to the community that supports you, you can create real connections that make the daily grind worthwhile. The positive feelings can also radiate outward, inspiring your employees who may have kids of their own — that might play for the team you sponsor.
Take pride in your sponsorships and post the team photo in a place where customers and employees can see it. Employees who feel they are working for a compassionate, value-driven company tend to be more loyal and motivated workers.