Netting New Prospects

Trying to nab corporate sponsors can sometimes seem like chasing wily butterflies. Here are 10 tips to making a clean catch.

By JinBae Hong and Dr. Mark McDonald

JinBae Hong is a PhD student in the Sport Management program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He previously worked on the overseas marketing team for Samsung Electro-Mechanics in Korea. Mark McDonald, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at UMass.

Athletic Management, 14.3, April/May 2002,

Securing corporate sponsorship is both an art and a science. The science entails listing what you can offer and charge prospective partners. The art comes in assessing the potential sponsor's needs and how you can creatively meet them. In this article, we provide 10 tips to combining the arts and sciences into a done deal.

1. Take stock of your inventory.

What do you have to sell? Before approaching potential sponsors, take inventory of all sponsorship opportunities. This may include event signage, public announcements, media exposure, special promotions, program ads, customer lists, and hospitality. Be creative in coming up with what you can offer.

Every available activity or event that sponsors can acquire by buying your sponsorship should be listed. Keep in mind, that based on their objectives, different companies will be interested in various combinations from your buffet of opportunities.

2. Carefully identify prospects.

What companies might be interested in associating with your athletic department? Research industry groups to understand their objectives, target markets, and current marketing communications. Don't waste your valuable time approaching organizations that would never consider sponsoring athletics.

You can research current business trends through the business section of national and local newspapers, sports business journals, and documents published by the local Chamber of Commerce. After conducting your initial research, rank the sectors before selecting specific organizations to approach.

3. Understand sponsors' objectives.

As a starting point, you must understand what businesses want out of a sponsorship. Here are common objectives that corporate sponsors are looking for:

Increase public awareness of the company and its products.
Enhance corporate or product image.
Establish association with particular market segments.
Become involved in the community.
Build goodwill.
Achieve sales objectives.
Create exclusivity in sponsorship.
Entertain clients.
Secure naming rights.
Increase employee morale.

4. Think like your prospect.

When selecting specific companies to approach, you must put yourself in their place. To do this, you'll need to find out the following:

What types of products or services does the corporation provide?
What is their marketing structure?
What are their general marketing approaches?
What types of programs are successful for them?
Where does the corporation stand versus their competition?
Have they previously sponsored sports (or other) events and, if so, was their experience positive or negative?
Does your athletic department fit the potential sponsor's image?
Does your demographic profile fit their current or future target markets?

Then, think about what a company with this profile may need in order to bolster its image or meet its objectives. What could you propose that would make them smile?

5. Provide added value.

Since companies receive endless sponsorship opportunities from sport properties each month, your proposal must provide clear added value to have a chance in this lottery. If you fail to catch their immediate interest, your proposal is likely to be thrown in the circular file. You should include the following items to capture a potential sponsor's attention:

A detailed description of the sponsorship: Introduce your athletic department and events that companies can sponsor. Include the department's history, mission and vision statements, organizational structure, and sport team information. Also, emphasize remarkable events or news regarding your athletic department from past to future.

Proposal benefits: Clearly present how the sponsorship will bring benefits and answer likely questions. Essentially, make your proposal a best-answer sheet for issues such as target market demographics and psychographics, image opportunities, awareness strategies, market growth, and business partnership.

Components and pricing: Include inventories of all sponsorship opportunities with associated pricing. When packaging components, keep clearly in mind the benefits of most interest to your prospect.

6. Let prospects test drive your product.

Sport is experiential and subjective. Consumers experience and understand sport from their unique perspectives. Why not let your potential sponsor get to know your product before making a critical purchasing decision? Invite them to tour your athletic department. Have them attend your exciting athletic events (with innovative promotions) as your guest. Put them in touch with your current sponsors.

When introducing your products, it's also important to educate your potential sponsor on how it might best use your offerings. If you've done your homework, you'll know the prospect well enough to have at least some starting suggestions. This is the first step in building a solid relationship.

7. Learn from your sponsor's experience.

While your prospect is test driving your product, ask questions and listen carefully to what they are saying. Ask them how they feel about your products, and if your products match their objectives. This feedback should be used to help improve your proposal. Remember, your goal is to create an offering that matches their needs. Thus, customize your proposal based on knowledge obtained directly from the prospect.

8. Listen, sell, listen.

After laying all the groundwork and climbing the learning curve, follow this strategic process for offering your proposal:

Schedule a meeting with the sponsorship decision maker.
During the first meeting, listen 80 percent of the time and sell only when you have to do.
Before exiting this meeting, arrange a follow up for the presentation of your proposal.
Create a marketing partnership proposal.
Present the proposal as a "draft"that you will gladly modify to meet the organization's needs.
Negotiate the final deal and get a signed agreement.

9. Provide after-marketing.

Once the sale has been made, what's next? Do not forget the importance of after-marketing. In reality, the critical part of the process comes after the sale, and not before.

As a consumer, you will purchase products again and again if you feel satisfied with the after-service from a vendor. The same applies with sponsorships. Show your continuous interest in the sponsor, provide information on your products, and strive to build a long-term relationship. Your sponsors will be more satisfied if they believe you will always take care of them.

10. Continually improve.

What do most sponsors do during and after the execution of the deal? They measure the impact and evaluate their sponsorship. You should actively participate in sponsorship evaluation or even lead them through the process. A real partnership means mutual belief and cooperation with each other.

Do not be afraid of receiving a negative evaluation from your sponsors. On the flip side, do not be overly proud of a positive evaluation. Constantly seek ways to add value to the sponsorship and over deliver.