5 Keys to Securing Sponsorships | Sports Destination Management

5 Keys to Securing Sponsorships

May 12, 2021 | By: Ashley Whittaker

Photo © Josepalbert13 | Dreamstime.com
Sponsorships or partnerships  – whatever you may call them – represent a unique opportunity to drive revenue, engage with audiences and enhance your brand presence. In the world of youth and amateur sports, this opportunity expands far beyond a local sponsor logo on a jersey into the world of multi-year naming rights, pouring rights and on-site activations. Whether you choose to partner with an agency to represent your assets or manage the process in-house, developing partnerships is a mix of art and science that requires patience, creativity and stick-to-it-iveness. 

Attracting and signing brand partners isn’t as simple as having a great destination city or fantastic facilities, though it helps. It’s a rare day when sponsors show up, check-in-hand, ready to invest in you and your assets – but if they do, it’s best to be ready. Know your inventory, your audience and how they relate to your prospective partner, as well as your asset valuation and implementation plan. Developing great partnerships begins with a sales-focused team leading an outbound campaign to generate buzz and interest. 

Here are five keys to securing sponsorship dollars for your destination.

Dig Into the Data

You’re excited to start talking to big brands and local businesses about partnership – but are you ready? Savvy CMOs, marketing executives and other decision makers are going to want to know who is coming to your destination, how long they are onsite or in the market, for what sport or event, and from what cities they are coming. Before you pick up the phone, dig into the data and get ready to answer those questions. 

Not sure where to start? Your event registration and ticketing software, social media accounts, industry reports and Google Analytics are a great place to find this data if you don’t have it ready at your fingertips. Begin with establishing the “big buckets” (macro) of information and then getting into specifics (micro).

Macro data:

• Number of events per year

• Number of visitors per year

• Number of athletes/participants per year

• Seasonal considerations – When are they visiting your market?

• Economic impact of these events and visitors – demonstrate the dollars flowing through your destination

Micro data:

• Demographics about your core audiences/visitors – by income, zip code, ages, etc.

• Events, visitors, athletes/participant data broken down by sport or event type

• Insights into associated consumer behavior

Understand Your Inventory

With your data in hand, the next question to answer is this: What are you going to sell? What are the items that are “low hanging fruit” in your destination that could be sold and executed tomorrow? What items would require permission or collaboration? What items are off-limits? Your inventory is the product you are pitching to a prospective partner. They will want to know locations, sizes, audiences and restrictions of those items.

Tangible Inventory Examples:

• Signage

• Displays

• Hospitality

• On-field or on-court presentations

• Tickets

Media Inventory Examples:

• Email campaigns

• Website activation

• Social media

• Digital feature/collaboration (webinar, blog)

As you define and understand your inventory components, consider how you will package them to create incremental value for your partners. The old “gold-silver-bronze” packages aren’t exactly the goal – but what components are considered part of a naming rights deal? What items would be considered as part of a more local-user focused activation versus tourism focused? 

An especially artful part of building your inventory is valuation. How much is that scoreboard worth to a partner? How much would someone pay to set up a tent at your next tournament to sample a product or interact with your visitors? If only there were a pricing directory! The value of your assets is in the eye of the brand and is dependent on what the market is willing to bear as well as competitor pricing. By researching advertising pricing in your market, leveraging your network of peers in the industry and reading industry publications, you can create benchmarks for assets similar to yours. Other factors that go into this value include your market reach, demographics and audience as well as more intangible values like brand association and community goodwill building. 

Create Your Outreach List

Time to pick up the phone. But, who you gonna call? Before you get dialing, take time to create an outreach list with targets by category and compile any notes or insights you have about that business. Categories are often broken up into business segments such as car dealerships, banks/credit unions, retail, grocery, restaurants, medical/dental and insurance.

You’ll want to do some research on the business prior to your outreach. Have they previously spent money on sports marketing? Does your audience and their target market overlap? Do they have a previous relationship with you or other local businesses?

Successful prospecting comes with practice. If you’re new to prospecting, start with smaller opportunities so you can warm up before approaching key targets. Building and practicing a script for both calls and voicemails will help you feel more comfortable and confident with outreach. Of course, you’ll want to make your script professional, but also authentic to who you are; don’t feel like you have to change yourself to get the sale. 

Relationship building is also key in the outreach process. With research in hand and a polished, natural-feeling script, you’re set up for a successful prospect call – but don’t forget to empathize with the prospect, be likeable, take your time and be patient! In many cases, the larger the deal or opportunity, the longer it takes to close. Your relationship “and trust” will be built over time by fulfilling small commitments, offering support or consultation, getting to know one another and holding their best interests at heart.

Ask Them What They Want

Unwanted sales advancements are a daily occurrence – someone thinks you are a prospect and jumps right to telling you what you should buy and why. The thing is, though, they never asked you if now’s a good time to talk, what your needs are, your budget or even what business you’re in. 

This is not the kind of prospecting that bears fruit when it comes to partnership development. Once you’ve gotten a meeting or made contact with a prospect, it’s time to get into inquiry. Rather than laying out your good-better-best packages, take the time to learn about their challenges and opportunities so you can tailor your approach. The following questions can help you reveal what solution would have the most impact (and therefore be the most likely to be purchased).

• Who are your target customers and where do they come from?

• What are two or three primary marketing or advertising challenges?

• What is the value of a new customer to your business?

• What are your expectations of a partnership?

• Can you tell me about your competition?

• What’s your marketing and advertising budget?

Design a Solution

This is the fun part. Through your research and conversations, you now know your prospect’s business, goals, budget, target market, competition and advertising challenges. By designing a solution custom to them, you can maximize the value of your assets and create a win-win. Closing the sale becomes significantly easier when you’re not really selling but instead, creating a solution for your prospect. 

Here we end with the ABC of business development – Always Be Closing. When delivering your proposal, set up the meeting in person so you can review it together. If that’s not possible, then suggest a time to follow up two to three days after you send it to the prospect. You will always want to establish a next step until you get the sale.

Closing the deal is just the beginning of your partnership. How you and your team manage the fulfillment process, share stories and observations, and report on results will ultimately define whether or not the relationship is a success – and whether or not sponsors renew with you once their contract term is up. SDM