How many soccer players fit in a Smart Car? Not nearly enough! That’s why you never see any of these tiny models in the parking lot. Look around and you’d think you were standing in the minivan section of CarMax. It’s not that sedans and compacts aren’t viable automobiles; it’s just that most soccer families need a seven-passenger vehicle to handle carpools, soccer equipment and the sideline paraphernalia of parents. While we may want to be as green as possible, our loyalty has to be to the green of the pitch for those years we act as soccer parents. We need those minivans, SUVs and crossover vehicles to facilitate our family activities. I’d like to challenge dealerships to offer a "youth sports" discount to purchasers or at the very least sponsor some youth sports teams.
This got me thinking about all the products that enjoy a symbiotic relationship with soccer families. Companies benefit from not only the on-going popularity of youth sports, but also from the explosive growth of sports like soccer. Giving back to the very families who support their products and services seems almost expected. I suggest we families could have a huge financial impact by controlling where we spend our money. Here are some logical products and services — which soccer families would use — that give back to the community with sponsorships.
Starting with US Youth Soccer, its sponsors include Baymont Inn and Suites, Degree deodorant, Fox Soccer Channel, Kohl’s Department Stores, KwikGoal, Liberty Mutual Insurance, National Guard, YoCrunch yogurt, SKLZ and Sports Authority. These sponsors offer products and services that soccer families use and need. I am particularly drawn to Degree because with two sons who sweat, having that protection pre- and post-game is invaluable in a closed car on a three-hour trip home from a tournament! I got to try YoCrunch recently, and it is a great way to start the day or add some energy in the middle of the day. There’s a container of yogurt with various flavor options topped by a container of different toppings such as cereal, granola or even cookies. Pop them in the cooler for a snack on the road or after the game. These companies have stepped up to provide money to support youth soccer on a national level. Families should support these sponsors as much as possible.
I looked at various clubs around the country to see who they had for sponsors. I was amazed at some of the great contributors these clubs got. Oshkosh (WI) Youth Soccer, for example, has more than 100 sponsors (kudos to the club for getting out there and soliciting those sponsors). The list includes two car dealerships, wisely supporting those who will be seeking new vans, and restaurants where families often gather after a practice for dinner and some conversation. Durango (CO) Youth Soccer Club has sponsors from a landscaping company (someone has to cut the field grass), restaurants and a college (eventually those youth players will move on to higher education). Middletown (RI) Youth Soccer club’s sponsors include a dentist, contractors and a screen printing company (for those tournament t-shirts). Big Sun Youth Soccer in Ocala, Fla. has sponsors from sports equipment stores and Ocala Recreation and Parks.
So how do you get sponsorships for your club? First think about local businesses that enjoy a benefit from a connection with your club. They would include sporting goods stores, sports facilities (especially indoor facilities), the maker of your uniforms and restaurants nearby your practice fields. Also consider businesses that might benefit from your membership because of services they could offer, such as insurance, car repair, dentistry, legal services and accounting. Finally, any companies with which your club directly does business should be added to the list, such as the firm that insures your club’s property, the landscaper who maintains your fields, plumbers who maintain and repair your bathrooms and clubhouse, and any vendor who stocks your snack bar or vending machines. Once you know who you want to specifically target, brainstorm further to find other businesses "outside the box" that could have or benefit from a connection with your club.
You will need to call the businesses to find out who makes decisions concerning sponsorships so you can target a sponsorship letter. In the letter, explain the levels of sponsorship available and what the business will get at each level. For example, you might display banners around the fields, give naming rights to permanent goals for the life of the goal, provide a mention and link on your website, print ads in a tournament program and, of course, print ads on uniforms. Create a tier of prices. Design your letter to clearly identify the prices, what businesses get for those prices and the length of the sponsorship. At the end of the letter, let the business know that someone will be personally following up on the opportunity. Once you send out the letters, wait a week and then contact the businesses by phone to set up a time to meet. Be prepared for rejection, but also be prepared to argue the benefits of a sponsorship. It would be a great idea to send someone from your club who has a personal connection to the business. For example, I got my mechanic to agree to an ad for our tournament program because our family took three cars regularly to his shop for more than 12 years. He could hardly say no to such a good tripled chunk of his business.
Have a sponsorship agreement that the sponsor and club signs, so there will be no confusion on what each party is getting. Most importantly, follow up all contacts, whether they result in a sponsorship or not, with a letter. For sponsors, it should be a thank you for the donation, and for non-sponsors, it should be a thank you for the meeting while expressing hope that they will reconsider during the next push for sponsorships. These letters show that businesses are dealing with professionals, which helps them justify spending money. If you have a club website, have a link to your sponsorship information and a downloadable sponsorship contract. You never know who has a nephew, granddaughter or neighbor in the club who will be surfing the web and come across your plea. Once you have the sponsorships, encourage the club membership to frequent the businesses or purchase the products.
Don’t be shy about asking big companies to be sponsors. It helps to find a connection, but that’s not always necessary. If you don’t ask, you can’t get a reply. You never know if a company is looking to make inroads in your community because it plans to build a store there or expand its product line to fresh markets. If your club sends teams to lots of out-of-state tournaments, use that to get sponsorships from restaurants and hotels that may not be in your area but do exist where the tournaments are. See’s Candy, for example, doesn’t have any stores in Wisconsin, but it considered a sponsorship because during major holidays it opens a temporary kiosk at a large mall just outside Milwaukee. Contact outlet malls, amusement parks and tourist locations that are on travel routes to tournaments. In other words, be creative in how you identify potential sponsors and don’t rule anything out as impossible if you can find a good reason for the sponsor to consider your club. After all, most sponsorships are an inexpensive way to reach hundreds of possible consumers multiplied by word of mouth, and a good marketing director will consider it a bargain to buy that exposure and a great way to be a good neighbor.