Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Magazine
Hambone, Gotham Girls Roller Derby
For many derby leagues the title “Sponsorship Chair” is a hot potato which gets passed from one sucker to the next, season after season. It’s not hard to understand why; no one joins derby to make cold calls. Sponsorship sales can, indeed, be a tedious parade of rejection–but that could be a sign that you’re doing it wrong.
Break down the sales process to give your league the best shot at success. Identify the right prospects, develop engaging ideas, and focus continuously on sponsor retention. Treat sales as relationship development, and you’ll have happier sponsors who are easier to renew–and, hopefully, more skaters volunteering to pitch in.
partners, not sponsors
Why does your league want sponsors? Obviously, you want cash, but treating sponsors simply like bags of money can stunt your thinking and limit your opportunities.
Leagues need cash, but they also need partners. Partners enhance the audience experience with raffle prizes, giveaways, and halftime entertainment. Partners enhance the skater experience, with product samples, drink specials, or retail discounts. Partners enhance exposure for your league with shared media exposure or in-store advertising.
The most desirable partners are those who put their own skins in the game. A partner who simply writes a $1000 check is nice, but a partner who spends $500 on you and another $800 on local radio to advertise their support of roller derby is better. It raises the profile of the league and should add to the cachet of both brands.
So, when initially talking to a prospect, don’t use the word “sponsorship.” You’re not “selling a sponsorship”–you’re “developing a partnership.” Strike the “s-word” from your sales brochures.
finding potential partners
Stock your list of prospects by looking at firms already partnering with similar organizations. Who’s sponsoring the minor league baseball team, or your local college teams? Who’s buying ads in the entertainment weekly? Who do you spot being a good sponsor by advertising their relationships with their other partners?
Focus on the businesses with the shortest decision-making cycles. Don’t spend all your time writing Proctor & Gamble to pitch a partnership with Venus Razors. Instead, stop by a local newspaper to talk to their sports editor or graphics department about co-promoting a photo booth at your bouts.
It’s also fair game to find sponsorship leads hiding in your league’s emailing list. Our league uses ConstantContact to send out monthly updates to our fans, and every few weeks we scan recent additions for addresses from local businesses. Reaching out to an intriguing email address is easy; we already know it belongs to a fan.
Anyone your league buys anything from is already a partner. Evolve those relationships. Turn your league’s bank or accountant or favorite physical therapist into an “official services provider” in exchange for a fee discount. Start small if you must–get permission to put season schedule posters in their office.
Search YouTube for the terrific spots made by ACU (America’s Credit Union) featuring Tacoma’s Dockyard Derby Dames, and let them inspire your thinking in terms of finding local brands to which you can lend your league’s image.
Whether they start big or small, keep frequent exchanges of value flowing. Your partners might not be sending cash to you today, but if you actively manage the relationships, everything can escalate.
what can you do for your partner?
Before calling, visiting or emailing any prospect, do your homework. Flatter your prospects; show them you understand and believe in their brand. Look at their existing marketing efforts. Who are they trying to reach, and how, with what goals? What’s their strategy?
How will partnering with your league further those goals? Will they simply gain eyeballs for their logo? Could they add to their brand by leveraging your league’s image? Do they want testimonials from skaters? Do they want access to your fan contact lists? Do they want to get product samples into people’s hands? Do they want vendor space directly at your bouts?
Work with your new partners to create some goals, like coupon redemption rates, product samples given out, or attendance at a co-promoted party. Reference these goals next season when discussing renewal. You don’t need to set complicated goals–just some simple targets which get you both actively thinking about bringing value to each other.
Perhaps your partner has no specific numerical marketing goals, and simply wants to enjoy the novelty and emotional charge of supporting a derby league. There’s nothing wrong with that! A lot of league sponsors are likely to fit in this category. Find out what rings those partners’ bells, and make it happen in your execution and follow-up.
making a pitch
Be organized and clear about what league assets you have to offer partners, but don’t forget to be creative. Be ready to quote prices for program ads, banners, and announcer mentions, but before talking to an individual partner, have a couple of off-beat and custom ideas in your back pocket.
Suppose you own Toot Uncommon, a musical instrument shop. How would you respond to these two pitches?
“Hi, I’m the sponsorship chair of the Water City Rollers, and I’m calling to find out if Toot Uncommon might be interested in being a league supporter in 2010.”
“Hi, I’m from the Water City Rollers, and our skaters have a fun idea for a fan contest at our next bout, and we’d love to do it to promote Toot Uncommon. We’re planning a halftime air guitar contest, and it would be a great tie-in to award a Toot Uncommon gift certificate toward a real guitar. We would send all our fans to your store in advance to sign up for a guaranteed performance slot.”
The second introduction doesn’t make any scary cash investment implications, and it paints a clear picture of an entertaining program with a winning concept, along with measurable benefits for the store. You can always loop back to explain additional offerings like banners and program ads which bring in the cash. Those offerings are easier to sell when you have a portfolio of partners who appreciate your creativity and understanding of their brand.
Of course, it can be dangerous to over-commit the league’s resources toward partner happiness. Don’t create elaborate custom programs which put a big burden on the league–at least not without a clear reward that your volunteers understand and believe in. Our league had a brief partnership with a beverage whose distributor wanted skater photos, testimonials, and exposure at bouts and parties. But our skaters simply hated the stuff and wouldn’t pose with it for any cash price. If the skaters don’t believe in a partner, or in the terms of the relationship, ultimately the partnership will fail.
How will your partners know what they got for their investment if you don’t tell them? After every bout or major party, send sponsors a few copies of your program and links to photos. Add a personal note with some engaging details about the game and the fan experience. Send photos of partner banner ads as a backdrop to skating action. (Prior to the bout, assign a photographer to capture these images.)
Is there a strong prospect who you’re disappointed didn’t buy a sponsorship? Send them the same post-bout reports. Tell those prospects you hope they can be part of your league next year, and remind them that your skaters feel very strongly about their business.
Don’t sugar-coat unsuccessful promotions. Agree that something didn’t work, and use that data point as an opportunity to fine-tune and try something else. And don’t leap to take all the blame for a lackluster outcome–a promotion may have failed because your partner didn’t add enough of their own extra support. Is your partner promoting you on their web site?
Major sports sponsors understand that money sent to leagues has to be supported with additional spending. Coca-Cola might spend five million dollars to be the official soft drink of the Olympics–and then another ten million to advertise the investment and to make sure the partnership succeeds. Smaller companies new to sponsorship may need to be directly prodded to take their own responsibility for success of their derby partnership.
developing partners: a league challenge
Organizing sponsorship around long- horizon relationship development creates a side benefit: bite-sized chunks of palatable work for league volunteers. You probably have skaters in your league who detest “doing sales,” but they can still brainstorm ideas, do homework on your prospects, and document what your league is doing for your partners. It might not be as fun as skating (or reffing), but with any luck, sales won’t feel like sales at all–and, better still, you won’t be hearing “no” all day long.