So You’re In a Brand New Market…Here’s How to Kickstart Your Sponsorship Sales

Let’s face it…if you work in the sports industry you are bound to move a ton. Many of us have racked up the miles as we grow in the industry, especially in the sponsorship sales realm.

But in the sponsorship industry, which is heavily relationship-based, sometimes it can be tricky when you jump from one geographic market to another. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to get grounded in the business community of a new city.

How can we jumpstart our sponsorship sales as we land in a new area?

Well luckily for us, Rich Franklin just went through this process and has a game plan to share.

This week on The Inches podcast we’re diving into starting in a new market as a sponsorship salesperson and how you can hit the ground running.

You can listen to the full episode HERE, but as always I dive into a few key points below.

A quick background on Rich’s recent experience changing markets.

Rich, who I am lucky enough to host The Inches podcast with, recently made the shift from 10+ years in the Portland Oregon market working with the Winterhawks to taking a position at the newly formed Coachella Valley Firebirds in the AHL.

Trading clouds and rain for 80 degrees and sunny was one shift, but the other one was landing in a brand new city & environment. While he had spent time in the area on vacations, he was fairly new to the market.

Not only was he new to the market, but the team also didn’t even have a name at that point. They had just announced the arena and AHL team in the area.

Talk about starting from scratch.

In this process, Rich shared his key points below for how to dive into a new market.

Before you arrive, know the market

No matter where you land, demographics are the first key thing to understand as you dive into a new market. Luckily this is something that you can find out before you arrive in your new city.

What is the population? What are the demographics like age and gender?

What population are veterans? What is the median mortgage compared to the median household income?

These may seem like weird items to know…but it tells us a lot about which sponsorship messages fans in these communities might react best to.

It also arms you to understand how different your fan base is to the general population. With this information when you see the team report of fan demographics, you can see if say the median income is higher for your fans compared to the general population. This is valuable information before you dive into the market to have.

Where can you find this information? There are many different sources…but I love leaning on Uncle Sam here and using Census data. You can find this information at www.census.gov.

You can filter information for most cities, I love the Quick Facts sections they have to scroll through.

Overall, your first step in moving fast in a new market is getting a baseline for what the market and population look like. If you have this information before you step into the office for the first time, you have better context for the information the team has on hand.

Know your organization

The next step is to learn & know your organization. This seems like a no-brainer, but often we skimp on this step and want to get right into the action.

What are your fans like? What are some key “game culture” items? What inventory has worked in the past? What inventory has never worked?

This step needs to come with a bit of help from the staff that is currently working there. You can watch game videos all you want, but the best information comes from the people who have worked there the longest.

Hopefully, you have an onboarding meeting set aside for exactly this to ramp up your knowledge before you talk to a single sponsor, but if you don’t have this there is always the lunch model.

Find the employees that have been with the team the longest and offer to take them out to lunch. It’s a great way to 1. Connect with them & 2. dive into the ins & outs of the fan base.

Obviously, you’ll want to do this with the sponsorship staff, but don’t forget the ticketing & marketing staff. These two departments are two of the most fan-facing ones on the teams. They are having conversations with fans each day, which makes them great resources.

Once you get that done, you’ll want to understand the deals your team has done in the past.

Looking at inventory and deals your team has done in the past with sponsors is a great insight into what your sponsors see as most valuable and where there may be openings.

Has your team sold a ton of boothing and tabling at games? Diving into why local sponsors have loved that inventory can tell you a ton as you get started.

Have sponsors shied away from Facebook promotion or posts? If so, thinking into why this may be the case can give you a lot of information on the market OR insights on how you can boost this.

Getting an understanding of your fanbase and inventory from the people already on the ground is vital once you get to the new market. I would advise this honestly before you jump in with too many sponsors. 

Know the business climate

After getting a feel for the city demographics and team & fan culture, the last step comes with understanding the business climate of your new market.

What does this entail? Diving deep into the businesses that employ & sell in the city.

A few questions you will want to ask and find answers to:

  1. Who are the biggest employers in the city? (great for understanding to sell hospitality assets).
  2. What are the biggest industries in the city?
  3. Where are the hot spots in the city?
  4. Which companies are buying sports sponsorships?

If you can understand who the big players are and who are the “small” but powerful ones in the city you can really create a business strategy around that landscape.

For example here in Portland, Oregon we have the big five companies that employ most of the city; Nike, Columbia, Intel, Adidas, and Daimler. They are the big players in this market and should be big targets for your sponsorship sales.

BUT there are certain smaller businesses that hold arguably just as much cultural power in the city. There are bars, restaurants, and small businesses that on paper may look like it is not worth contacting, but a partnership with them can do wonders for your portfolio and reach in the city.

It is also vital to understand which businesses are spending on sponsorship in your city and which are not. This will help you shift your strategy and adapt to each. 

For example, someone who already spends in partnership with other events and teams in the area you… you don’t have to explain why sponsorship is valuable. They already know as they are spending there and those types of sponsorship sales should be easier.

You will however need to pitch why your team’s demographics and assets are worth them opening their sponsorship budget up for.

On the other end, if a brand in the city has never spent on sponsorship…you will need to spend a decent amount of time convincing them of the benefits of investing in sponsorship of a team as they have never done it before.

Understanding these elements can be the difference between a closed sale and a closed-door in sponsorship sales.

A great tool for this is SponsorUnited. On the platform, you can see on a per sponsor basis which teams and events they are sponsoring along with the exact assets they are purchasing. It is an outstanding tool to do research as you land in a new territory and look to jumpstart your sponsorship sales

Overall, make sure you take the time to understand the business climate of the city. The easiest way to do this is when you land, get out into downtown and meet people and businesses. You’ll get a good idea of who employs most of the city and most of the hot spots that should be on your radar (also a great way to meet new people personally!).

Last, what are the other big events & teams in your city?

In all of the above processes, you will probably start to see which events are the big ones in your city. Other than the other sports teams, there are bound to be events that are a big magnet for sponsorship money.

It is vital to understand where your assets fit and differentiate from these other competitors, especially if you are a smaller team.

As Rich and I have dove into before, sometimes a head-to-head battle with another competitor is the worst thing you can do. Touting your attendance compared to theirs can be a killer if your numbers are much lower.

A big example of this came with the success of the Toyota Trivia & the Portland Winterhawks. By understanding their needs as a sponsor, he was able to reframe and offer a great activation that fit their goals to get the sponsorship sale. This would have fallen flat had he gone head to head with the other teams in the area and had a package full of signage.

The key is always to frame the value of your assets to make the head-to-head comparison irrelevant. You want them to look at your assets as a new value, not comparing to others.

In order to understand how to frame this, you need to know the value and assets that the other events are pushing.

There are a couple of ways to do this:

  1. Talk to businesses in the community about the event or team. You can get a sense of their overall feeling about advertising with them. For example they might say something like “you get a lot of reach…but it is expensive.” This gives you vital information on how they frame the partnership.
  2. Go to the event. Yup…head there and see how brands are activating. You can really understand how attendees are engaging with the sponsorship inventory and see firsthand what the benefits are for the brand.
  3. Use SponsorUnited. Again can’t say enough about the platform. You can see all the assets that the team offers and which sponsors are buying them.

An example with Rich is when he headed to the Coachella Valley, the big two events are the music festivals with Coachella and Stage Coach.

Should he compete head to head with them in sponsorship sales? No.

That would be foolish as an AHL team. You won’t be able to beat the Buzz of Kanye West gracing the stage and people coming in from around the country and world.

But what those concerts don’t have is year-round reach. It’s one shot then you have to wait for next year. This is something his team and arena have over that event in selling. 

By understanding small items like this, you take the comparison away and create a new conversation. “I’m not trying to say don’t spend at Coachella, but if you want to reach residents year-round, you want to look at our assets. We are the best way to do that in town.

Again, this is not a recon mission to see how you can win head to head…it is one to understand their value and how to frame your assets so the competing options aren’t an option. They are making the purchase for a whole other reason.

Overall, have fun when looking at a new market.

It is a right of passage in sports to move to a completely different city with a new team. Most of us in the industry go through it. Sometimes it can be a scary voyage.

BUT, it can also be extremely rewarding and fun. New challenges, new opportunities, and a whole set of new relationships to build in a new city with your sponsorship sales.

Don’t just stay in the office when you get to the new city. Head out, meet people & fans, and get a good pulse of the culture. It will help you immensely when you get into your first pitches with sponsors.

Good luck!

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