Sports sponsorship: what’s in it for small businesses?

Sports sponsorship: what’s in it for small businesses?

When sports sponsorship hits the headlines, the players involved are usually global brands. Look beyond the big stories however, and it becomes clear that sponsoring a team or an event is not something exclusive to the likes of Coca-Cola and Nike. For a small business or startup, it can be a useful way of getting your brand out there – and showing your potential customers what’s important to you.

More than a luxury gimmick…

In case you needed reminding, sports sponsorship is serious business. For instance, a Key Note report predating the 2012 Olympics predicted that the UK sports sponsorship market would reach £1.9 billion by 2015. More recent data suggests the global sponsorship market has risen steadily over recent years and is predicted to exceed the $55 billion mark this year. The World Cup, Premier League, Olympics, Tennis Grand Slam, PGA Tour: this type of event is where the lion’s share of the market lies. For a multi-national, the hope and expectation is that at least some of the ‘glitter’ of an elite event will stick to it via association. Such occasions also provide the opportunity for big names to become even bigger through exposure to a global audience.

On a more local or amateur level, there is a subtle difference in emphasis. Certainly, sponsorship offers the opportunity for general exposure. More than that; it shows you are engaged. Winning isn’t everything – and you don’t necessarily have to source a budding superstar to gain benefit from sports sponsorship.

Finding a way of getting involved that matches your resources

There is no such thing as a ‘standard’ sponsorship arrangement – especially at non-elite levels. From a one-off donation of a couple of hundred pounds to help fund a junior athletics meeting, through to a long-term arrangement to provide support for a team or individual athlete, there are many different ways firms can get involved. From shirts and equipment through to providing general support and facilities for venues, the need is always there. The beauty of sports sponsorship is that it offers a variety of ways for businesses to help meet that need to suit every budget.

What do you want to achieve?

Sourcing a sports sponsorship opportunity is the easy part. In fact, receiving a steady flow of requests for sponsorship tends to be part and parcel of life for any business with a visible local presence. For a more detailed roundup of teams and organisations looking for assistance, your local chamber of commerce so often a useful port of call.

The challenge is in narrowing down your choice. A good starting point is to ask, “What are we, as an organisation, interested in?” The obvious follow-up question is, “Where do our customers’ interests lie?” Sponsoring a dragon boat team is clearly going to capture the imagination of a certain customer profile – and leave others cold. The same is true of helping to fund renovation of your local bowls club. If your marketers are doing their job, you should already have a pretty good idea of your customers’ tastes. If not, find out!

Are you looking for a one-off arrangement or the opportunity to build a long-term relationship with a team, individual athlete or club? How hands-on do you wish to be in your involvement? Do any of your firm’s team members have any close associations with a sports club that you could possibly foster? These are the questions you should seek to answer before entering into any arrangement.

Are there any downsides?

To some extent, there’s an element of ‘you get what you pay for’. If you are one of many minor supporters of a particular organisation, the visibility (and hence, value) of your involvement could be drowned out in a sea of sponsorship clutter.

There are reputational issues to consider too. We could all name instances of athletes – and sometimes, entire teams who have fallen spectacularly from grace, causing corporate supporters to jump ship. It pays to carry out a certain amount of due diligence before deciding to lend your support to any particular sporting association. For instance, is it recognised or is it regulated by a governing body? Does it have appropriate sports insurance in place? Are its accounting procedures transparent?

In a crowded marketplace, sports sponsorship can be a useful way of highlighting your brand. Make sure you enter into arrangements that send out the right message about your particular organisation.

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