One of the most appealing aspects of grassroots sports sponsorship is the chance for a business to give something back to the local community. It’s a win-win situation: the sponsor gets exposure and goodwill, while the club receives much-needed funds to invest in lower-level sport. It’s also one of the easiest ways for a company to change how consumers think and feel about its brand.
In this post, the third in our Sports Sponsorship Vs. Online Ads series, we’ll explore how sponsorship can help brand image and look at some grassroots examples of brands using sponsorship as a springboard for community projects and activations.
For small or medium-sized businesses without internal strategy or branding teams, it can be difficult (and very expensive) to change how customers perceive their brand. Without the help of a branding agency and costly ad campaigns, it can be hard to communicate to customers what a business stands for. We’re not suggesting that sponsoring a local sports team can help a business with a bad reputation, but it can be a very effective tool when a business wants to change its reputation from a brand that people feel indifferent about to a brand they love and respect. This is especially true when sponsoring women’s, children’s, or underfunded community sports where even a small amount of money can have a significant impact.
Many international insurance companies and financial institutions sponsor a wide range of sports, partly because of the sterile nature of their products and services. Being closely associated with sport helps soften their image and increases brand recognition. When faced with a choice between ten different faceless insurance products, consumers will subconsciously choose the logo they see most often. Local businesses can create an even stronger connection as the often fanatic followers of small clubs are always grateful when a local firm puts cash into their club.
It’s common for small and medium-sized businesses to struggle with creating engaging content for social networks. Building a close relationship with a club or sport can solve this problem. If a company can make a genuine connection with a club and its fans, then the problem quickly becomes deciding which stories to tell, rather than having nothing interesting to say.
It’s important not to flood your followers with sports content, but if you choose the right community sports club, then their involvement in the local area goes beyond sport. There are many stories to tell: facilities are often used as a venue for community groups to meet; there are programs to get local kids active and reduce obesity and anti-social behavior; while clubs also help out local people in need with food banks and other charity work.
As well as being sponsors of top-tier sports such as Rugby Scotland and Premier League soccer clubs such as Chelsea FC and Leicester City, British insurance firm Vitality also invests heavily in women’s sport. The brand was the title sponsor for the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019, and they are the official wellness partner of Cardiff City F.C. Women, Chelsea Women FC, England Cricket, England Hockey, England Netball, and Scottish Rugby.
Vitality supports its sponsorships with a social media content strategy that focuses on women’s health and fitness. In the post below to celebrate International Women’s Day, Vitality created a video celebrating their support of women’s sport.
Equality in sport has been a big story over the last few years, and Vitality has been a big supporter of the movement. This sends a message to female sports fans that Vitality cares about issues that are important to them.
Not every sponsorship tie-in has to be about good causes. Sometimes, it can just be about giving away free products. Jersey Mike’s Subs sponsors several college football teams, including Michigan State and Oregon. Pre-pandemic, they supported this sponsorship with their Tailgate Tour, giving football fans a chance to sample their subs across the country.
A map showing the locations for Jersey Mike’s Tailgate Tour. Source: QSR Magazine.
Jersey Mike’s branded food truck. Source: QSR Magazine.
This is an excellent example of how sponsorship works best when it’s backed up with real-world activations. As an awareness campaign, it works much better if they get out there and give away samples so that fans can remember what the subs taste like whenever they see the company’s ads.
Founded in 2018, Ultra Football is a Sydney-based retail and online store dedicated to soccer merchandise. Since 2020, Ultra Football has sponsored Football Victoria, the state governing body for soccer in Victoria. The sponsorship deal includes Ultra Football supplying Football Victoria’s Talented Player Development squads with Nike apparel and balls. This shows that, at a grassroots level, sponsorship can include products and services as well as fees. Businesses that make essential products for running a sports club can make a big difference by donating merchandise as part of a sponsorship deal.
Quality equipment means a lot to lower-level players. Nike has a long history of supporting young athletes with equipment, and Ultra Football uses the same strategy here. Also, parents will be more likely to spend money at ultra football knowing that the business supported the development of their children.
Sponsorship should be seen as a starting point. Think about ways that your business can work with a sports organization to create mutually beneficial projects. Ad campaigns that talk about empowerment and equality can help to change opinions, but these campaigns become more potent when businesses can back them up with investment in the causes they support.
If you’re interested in sponsoring a local team, our next post in this series takes a closer look at how to approach this: Choosing a Club to Sponsor and How to Get the Most From It (coming soon).