What is Sponsorship?
In order to know what you can offer a race sponsor, its important to know what sponsorship is, and what it isn’t. Sponsorship is not charity. It is not a donation nor is it a “favour”. Sponsorship is a commercial arrangement, meaning both parties are in it for some form of commercial gain. This is made between you as a race organiser, and a company looking to benefit from the event with brand awareness and visibility.
Your job in sponsorship is to leverage all the marketing and engagement opportunities your race could provide, in the service of the sponsor‘s commercial objectives.
As sponsorship is a 2-way street, below we’ve summarised some of the benefits for you, and the sponsor, respectively.
- Having sponsors for your event can help with the following things:
- Building awareness of your race
- Increasing sales numbers
- Improving race image
- Funding your races event costs
And likewise, you as an event organiser can offer some of the following to a sponsor for being a part of your event:
- Tapping into an audience which they want to get in front of for efficient lead generation
- Increase brand awareness and grow their reputation
- Engage in community goodwill or meet corporate social responsibility targets (CSR)
So with these in mind, let's delve into what sponsors are looking for from you in a bit more detail, the type of sponsorship options you could provide them, and including these in a sponsorship pack.
What are sponsors looking for?
What sponsors look for in any sponsorship is a good return on their investment of time, funds and other resources – commonly known as the sponsorship ROI.
That said, different sponsors might evaluate their ROI differently, particularly big companies vs small companies as they will value things differently. The appeal of any sponsorship asset (aka what you can offer to sponsors, like branding rights, direct selling opportunities etc) you offer will depend on a number of things, including the sponsor’s objectives, line of business, business cycle and their ability to activate those assets. (Sponsorship activation involves all the initiatives the sponsor would undertake to best leverage the sponsorship assets you offer, e.g. by issuing press releases around their involvement with your event, making the most of sales opportunities you may offer through a race expo etc)
The bottom line is that sponsors will have specific business objectives they hope to achieve through a sponsorship agreement. It is your job as a rights holder to understand what these objectives are and how you can best serve them.
Types of race sponsorship
Before you offer what you have available, you should know what you want in return, or at least have an idea to negotiate from. Sponsorship can come in a number of forms, depending on the type of contributions the sponsor makes to the race. Some of the more common types of sponsorship are:
- Cash sponsorship: Fairly straightforward – you make your assets available to the sponsor in exchange for cash. This is the kind of arrangement most people have in mind when they speak of sponsorship.
- Title sponsorship: This is any kind of sponsorship where the sponsor gets the privilege to include their brand name as part of the event name (also known as granting the sponsor “naming rights”), such as in the Vitality London 10k. Some organisers are reluctant to accept title sponsors, due to the commitment required to them, others see them as an opportunity to get the most value out of their major sponsorship relationships.
- Product or service sponsorship: Instead of the sponsor contributing cash to the event, they contribute products or services instead (still not a donation).
- Media sponsorship: Media sponsors are typically publishers who provide media exposure for the event in exchange for exposure of the sponsor through the event. Generally, media sponsorship is a narrow type of sponsorship where rights and benefits are confined to a mutual exposure arrangement. For example, Heart Radio offers opportunities where they could advertise your event in conjunction with the sponsors' business.
“What does my event have to offer to potential sponsors?”
This is the juicy part, which needs to be the starting point in your sponsorship strategy.
Answering this question well will allow you to identify sponsors that stand a good chance of responding to your approach, while making the most of your sponsorship assets.
Usually, in order to answer this question, it helps to conduct some kind of audit of your sponsorship assets. This basically means compiling as comprehensive a list as possible of all the things you can offer that a sponsor may take an interest in. These can include:
- Branding opportunities: This is usually the first thing people think of when they go through their sponsorship assets and it’s something sponsors have come to expect. Although it’s dubious how effective branding alone can be these days, you should offer sponsors prominent placement on event materials, participant swag, bib numbers, leaflets and other places where it’s possible to have your sponsor’s brand identity exposed.
- Product placement & onsite sampling: Nutrition supplements and sports equipment brands are particularly well-suited for onsite sampling where a participant can get to sample a product or service your sponsor has to offer, e.g. at an aid station or in a goodie bag at the finish line.
- Marketing opportunities: You have a mailing list, a bunch of Facebook or Twitter followers, perhaps a Facebook group or other channels available to you for marketing. Sharing your sponsor’s products or services with your audience is a fairly basic part of a sponsorship arrangement your sponsor will likely expect and appreciate.
- Content: For sports equipment and other brands, content you may be able to provide through your race could be hugely attractive for the right sponsor. For instance, if your race in an aspirational challenge and you can create video footage of athletes using your sponsor’s equipment, that content could be invaluable to your sponsor.
- Media exposure: As part of your event, you will likely be generating media publicity, e.g. by appearing on radio shows, the local paper or TV. Exposing your sponsor’s brand through those channels, by praising their involvement or mentioning one of their company initiatives, are valuable assets to bring to the sponsorship table.
- Race expo opportunities: If you organise a pre-race expo, you can offer sponsors exhibition stands or marketing access to expo attendees in other forms.
- Survey data: Helping sponsors conduct consumer surveys of your race audience (participants mostly, but also spectators) can be a very valuable offering.
- Direct sales opportunities: A bit obvious, but no sponsor will ever pass on an opportunity to sell their product or service directly to your audience. Whether this is sports equipment, nutrition products or insurance, you can always think of ways you can expose their products for sale to your audience of participants and spectators during your event.
- Endorsement: For a sponsor, simply being associated with your event may be valuable to their image or overall brand positioning. So your endorsement is something to leverage, under the right circumstances.
- Race entry/experience/VIP opportunities: The value of free entry to your race, special VIP packages for sponsor ambassadors, employees and other stakeholders, should not be underestimated. These all help provide tangible value your sponsors can use directly or indirectly (e.g. by offering these up to their customers) to help them achieve business objectives.
- Race announcement opportunities: Putting a sponsor in front of your audience as a ‘guest speaker’ to set off your race can be a good way to merge with the pre-race start buzz. This can help them communicate their brand identity and values- But only do this briefly if at the start of a race! If your event is catering for PA systems and staging areas, you could offer longer speaking opportunities provided the sponsor has something to say that would be valuable to your participants – don’t just do an infomercial!
Getting sponsors is daunting and time-consuming… but they will really help you stand out from the competition, help you enhance your participant's experience and can ease the financial load for you as an organiser. So use your assets wisely!