Competing As A “Smaller”​ Team In A Crowded Market In Sports Sponsorship

For most of the sports teams in the U.S. & Canada, we are the smaller teams. Whether a “niche” league, “minor” league, whatever it may be, there are more of us than the larger Big 5 league teams.

Most of the time we are competing with larger market teams in our city or region. Sometimes that seems like an unclimbable mountain.

This, though, is not true.

I’m blessed in the fact that I get to work season in & season out with, what I think, is one of the best in the game at this: Rich Franklin.

Rich has consistently worked in crowded markets as the smaller dog in both the radio business and now with the Portland Winterhawks.

And each year he punches above his weight class. Grabbing competing clients and driving value and revenue for his partners.

This week on The Inches Podcast we tackle the topic of how you can compete with the big dogs in your market.

You can listen to the episode HERE but below are some of Rich’s key strategies.

Know what you are and what you aren’t

The first step Rich brings up here is to take a step back and understand who you are and who you aren’t.

Rich battles it out with a few giants in Portland. We have the Blazers, Timbers, Oregon Ducks & Oregon State Beavers all vying for Portland brand dollars.

Rich puts it beautifully “ I don’t have a 4 state reach for my radio deal, I don’t have 20,000 fans in my arena each night. But I do have a passionate fan and an intimate environment.”

“If we think like the Yankees in here we’ll lose to the Yankees out there” (sorry had to throw a Money Ball quote in here). But this is how you have to think.

Many times teams will show the same viewer stats as their giant competitors. This is how you lose. you will never be the juggernaut of a media machine that an NBA team has behind it.

But what you can do is understand where you can be better than your competitors and execute on it.

One way Rich accomplishes this is with exclusivity.

His attendance average might only be 8,000 a game…but he tells the story that in my great experience of the game you will be the ONLY car dealer.

This is something that a lot of his competitors don’t offer. He understands that this is where he can win.

By the way, this isn’t by accident. He knows that exclusivity is the #1 most valued aspect of a partnership by brands.

When you look at how you can drive sales, find what you can offer to where others can’t.

We don’t ask Shaq to shoot 3’s… if we did we would probably lose (sorry Shaq).

Don’t expect your team to compete on a metric or aspect that other competitors do and win.

Understand what you can offer where others can’t

This goes hand in hand with the above..and is kinda the action step to it.

Once we understand what we are & aren’t, we can focus on what you can offer where the bigger teams can’t.

Some key examples:

Access to the players.

Kids and adults love to interact with pro athletes no matter what stage they are. Many big pro teams hold interaction with their players back. This is something where the bigger teams can’t…or at least not at scale.

Rich & the Winterhawks do a great job with this on the New year’s Eve game. After the game fans can skate on the ice with the players and count down to a balloon drop at midnight.

These players are young, but man are they high caliber. Players like Cody Glass (first ever 1st round pick by the Vegas Golden Knights) and Seth Jones (NHL player) have graced fans with their presence and autographs.

Rich has the entire thing sponsored. And again…it is something that none of the other teams can offer at scale.

Digital Assets

I know what you’re thinking…Nick all you ever talk about is digital. Well, it’s because you can win with it.

Many of the teams in the area didn’t offer digital assets to sponsors, even though it’s the #2 most valuable asset in your packages for sponsors.

Rich saw this and doubled down. He started building the assets we build at SQWAD into his pitches and packages…and he won.

With just this, he was able to steal sponsorship revenue in the 6-figures from the larger competitors in his market.

By simply understanding that he needed something different to compete he was able to win in the market.

Again this is not by accident. Digital media and assets are the #2 most valued aspect by brands of your sponsorship package. Rich knows this and knows that others don’t see that opportunity.

These are just a few examples, but understanding that you can offer where the others can’t…usually because you have less red tape than the bigger guys…you can win a ton of business.

Service is something you can control and win at in sales

“People don’t remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel” — Some famous person (I think Maya Angelou).

Ok, enough of the cheesy quotes… but my point is one of the most overlooked things I see in all of sales is service.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the big guys really poop the bed on this.

Why? Well, they are the big dogs…they aren’t used to clawing for the business. It’s like the top-round pick who is a flop…he isn’t as hungry as the undrafted free agent.

Rich does an amazing job on this aspect. He does unscalable things to make the prospect feel a connection.

Some of the little things include never letting a question go 24 hours without an answer by a client or prospect. I know, extremely small but makes waves in your relationship with the customer.

But this is probably my favorite…and extremely easy to execute. It works because 99.9999% of people won’t do it.

When a few emails or calls go unanswered while prospecting, Rich doesn’t keep nagging them more digital follow up.

Instead, he breaks the cycle.

Rich will either drop by a game puck with a handwritten note or mail it to the person he is looking to connect with.

In Portland, very few people have held a regulation puck. It’s unique and stands out.

The best thing is this is crazy on brand…obviously, because it is a puck and well…the Winterhawks are a hockey.

This little action gets Rich a crazy amount of meetings. These are the tactics that can help you stand out.


The biggest thing here is most of the time it is just a bit more effort, and most of the time is free. You can set yourself apart just by focusing on how you serve your customer & prospect.

The easiest way to start now is through digital

Eyes are rolling again. But this is the fastest thing you can implement today to stand out against the bigger teams.

Why? Well, most of the big teams aren’t building this into their DNA. A lot of times it is because they are nostalgic with the assets that got them there (in-stadium signage etc.).

The second why is digital is being specifically asked for by brands and a lot of big teams aren’t listening. Again they are nostalgic to what got them there and have too much investment in it.

The third why is 54% of the total ad spend by brands in 2019 will be spent on digital platforms.

Money is FLOWING to digital assets.

Lucky for you as a smaller team, you can pivot faster than they can.

I guarantee if you start adding & offering these to brands at a higher rate than the bigger teams…you will win.

With the stats above it is really just math at work. If more than half of the money is flowing to digital and you are only offering 10% digital you lose.

If you are offering 30% more digital to brands than your competitors you will win because dollars are flowing there.

Overall, know who you are. Know how you’re better. Offer amazing service. Double down on digital. With these aspects, you will destroy the bigger teams.



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