Looking back, if I had to pick the one position we’ve created recently that had the most impact on our soccer league, it would be one that had nothing to do with the game of soccer. That’s not to minimize the absolute importance of most league officers and committees by ANY stretch. But I’m not sure we expected the impact creating this position would have.
Our league is funded approximately 60% by registration fees and 40% by local business donations, primarily uniforms. Some leagues, tired of the hassles of lining up business sponsors for dozens of teams or realizing they’re competing with too many other sports for limited community outreach dollars will start paying for uniforms out of registration fees. There is nothing wrong with that strategy at all, since in many cities, you may not have a choice.
But if your area is one that has a number of small businesses looking to get their name out or larger businesses looking for worthy local causes, sponsorship can work. It can also implode. If you recognize the warning signs, appointing a sponsorship coordinator can have a marked impact on your ability to raise sponsorship dollars.
If your city has a soccer league, there’s a good chance there is a baseball league, basketball league, [insert popular sport here] league trying to get sponsorship too. If you aren’t careful, you can turn more businesses off to sponsorship than you recruit. The first problem arises when new teams form. Many leagues rely on the scatter-shot approach. Just let the coaches handle sponsor recruitment. If you live in a smaller town or city, every new team will probably call the same businesses. This can upset the business owner, especially if they already sponsor a team or aren’t keen on sponsoring in the first place. If you require your coaches and parents to notify the sponsorship coordinator first, they can track contacts with businesses centrally and say ‘Well that business is already sponsoring’ or ‘They are dead set against sports teams – don’t waste your time’ If other sports leagues in the area rely on sponsorship as well, establish ties with them as well. No you don’t have to share your sponsor list with them, but alerting each other to sponsors who have been approached or who have turned down requests can be very helpful and possibly eliminate some of the negative feelings business can have toward youth sports because they’re always being asked for money.
This highlights a key benefit of a sponsorship coordinator. By tracking who sponsors already, who has been approached, who is still interested, etc. you can get a much better handle on things like:
- Who already sponsors and is happy
- What new businesses have NOT been approached
- Are there sponsors looking to do more?
- What businesses do we have on deck for unexpected new teams?
Just asking parents and coaches to send a quick email to the coordinator anytime they make an approach or even contact their existing sponsor will allow the coordinator to have a very good handle on each sponsor. If a sponsor starts to complain, they can quickly discern what has happened previously and figure out how best to approach the problem, in close coordination with the sponsor’s coach.
Stewardship involves keeping your donors happy. It’s a fact of life in fund raising. And like it or not – if you rely on sponsors, you are fund raising. It is the simple things that often mean the most. A coordinator can work with your coaches to ensure things like end of season team pictures are delivered, ensuring the sponsor is notified of their team’s schedule, help approach a sponsor that is in the food service industry about catering the team party, maybe even for a discount. But by having all your sponsor data centrally located, you can do things beyond this. Thank you letters before and/or after a season are key. Let them know how much it means to the league, what their dollars did (it’s not just "thanks for the uniforms" – it’s "Thanks to your generous support of our children, your team took the field in professional looking blue uniforms and it showed in their level of play") or something like that.
A coordinator can also track troublesome sponsors – and trust me you will encounter them. They may involve more hand-holding than normal. Having a coordinator who can relieve the coaches of some hassle when a sponsor is needy will be good for all involved. I’m not advocating the transfer of the sponsorship relationship from coach to central coordinator at all. The coach HAS to be their key contact. But if a coordinator can help deal with more mundane issues that’ll keep a sponsor happy – that gives them more time to coach.
You can go even farther. If you have a league website – you need a sponsors page thanking them for their support. A simple list with business name, address, phone, and website is great. Send an email to your parents once the matches start thanking all the sponsors and encouraging the parents to support them in return. If you have the technical resources, you can take it even farther. Our league is just about to go live with a banner advertising setup so our sponsors get banner ads on our league website which is checked often for schedules, weather updates, and match results.
A coordinator should maintain a handbook or checklist for coaches and for sponsors. A coaches handbook might include basics for dealing with a sponsor, pitfalls to avoid, things that need to be done and when, etc. A sponsors handbook should list out what a sponsor can expect from your league for sponsorship. Explain what the average cost is to sponsor a team, let them know what else they’ll get. It doesn’t have to be huge, just let them know what to expect.
Don’t limit yourself to uniforms either. Do you need new goals for your field? They aren’t cheap! But that bright white 4" crossbar is an ideal place to put a businesses name or website. Thinking of putting up a scoreboard? Sell ad space above and below it. Need soccer balls for your coaches? Maybe you can get a business to help pay for some in exchange for their logo printed on the ball. The possibilities are endless but if you don’t have someone overseeing it, you can over commercialize or end up with a very disjointed effort. Another neat idea are those ball bags with draw strings that can be used like a back pack. They are inexpensive and ideal for a business logo. But doing any of this requires organization and someone to follow through – your sponsorship coordinator.
Obviously the success of a position like this depends on who fills it
as well. You need to find a volunteer who is very patient, well
organized, has a good demeanor on the phone, and can handle difficult
people. But it doesn’t require an PR person.
It may not seem like much, but if you treat your sponsors right, the indirect payoff can be huge. You can leverage this position into more sponsors as well. Business owners talk to each other. Word gets around. If your league treats your sponsors right, you may find other businesses contacting you about sponsorship opportunities. When we first got going we really had to beat the bushes hard to get sponsors. Now they call our soccer line and email us asking if we have teams available for them. When we sat down to add up what our sponsors were spending on our league each year, we were stunned to find that a league like ours (650 players) was getting close to $20,000 in sponsorship money. It really has been quite a turn around. Plus not having to stress over finding sponsors each season has allowed the rest of us to focus on other things.