Sponsorship Is A Two Way Street
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
Like most sporting goods manufacturers, Ashaway sponsors many players at both the amateur and professional levels. At a recent tournament, I made a special point to meet with "our" players, to hear their concerns and to express ours. I also spent time talking with other corporate sponsors, and with some of their players as well.
You'd think that sponsorships are a good deal all around: the player gets free equipment, and the sponsor gets bargain-priced exposure in exchange. Instead, I sensed much dissatisfaction on both sides of the relationship.
From players, I heard these complaints:
Surprisingly, I also heard players complain that they are not given enough information about the products and the company they are supposed to represent. These players feel they're treated like low-level employees, rather than as "part of the team."
- "Sponsors are always trying to get you to sell, sell, sell. They're only interested in what we can do for them."
- "These team meetings are a waste of time. It's all one-way communication, from the sponsor to the players."
On the other hand, sponsors' complaints included:
Both sides, it seems, have nearly identical complaints: the other guy isn't listening, and isn't holding up his or her end of the bargain.
- "These team meetings always turn into gripe sessions for our players, who don't want to hear what we've got to say."
- "All we ever hear from players is 'what else can I get from you?' They don't seem to be interested in the payback side of the relationship."
Let's step back and review the foundations of the sponsorship relationship.
Companies want to sponsor players who will represent them in a positive manner, and who will help them sell products either directly (through active recommendations), or indirectly (by providing visibility). Specific selection criteria differ among sponsors, but most are looking for players who: reach the semis or finals with a fair degree of consistency; are responsible and well-spoken; and are respected by, and influential among their peers.
From the sponsor's point of view, the player has three main responsibilities:
In addition, the sponsor may want the player to use specific equipment, in order to support the company's marketing objectives. This may mean asking the player to trade up periodically, to provide visibility for a new product model. It is never in the sponsor's interest to give the player less-than-excellent equipment, for it is by winning that the player best serves the sponsor's objectives.
- The player should display the sponsor's logo on equipment, clothing, gear bag, etc.
- The player should talk with his peers-both friends and competitors-about the sponsor's equipment, always placing it in the most favorable light. The level of direct selling and persuasion expected may vary with the sponsor and the individual player.
- When given the opportunity (such as, when winning a tournament), the player should promote the sponsor to a wider audience. This generally entails thanking the sponsor publicly (along with the player's family, coach, lucky troll doll, and anyone else who helped him or her win).
From the player's point of view, the sponsor should provide:
While players all want the best equipment available, some resist being moved into new models. They may feel comfortable using the old model, and fear that having to adjust to a new one will harm their game. Both sides should try to accommodate each other on this point. It does nobody any good if the player loses; on the other hand, there may be little benefit to the sponsor if the player wins with a discontinued product.
- The best equipment possible, in sufficient quantities.
- Enough technical information about the equipment to be able to appreciate and explain its benefits fully.
- An opportunity to become a true member of the sponsor's promotional "team," possessing real influence. The sponsor must be willing to explain marketing objectives and strategies, and must be willing to listen carefully to players' suggestions. Sponsored players are often a company's best source of input when it comes to new product development, and may be in a better position to know what kinds of marketing "messages" will be persuasive among other players.
Sometimes, sponsors provide players with equipment that is still under development and not yet for sale to the public. In doing so, the sponsor hopes to give players a competitive edge or, at the very least, to obtain feedback about what works and what could be improved. Again, the intent is to provide mutual benefits, so both parties must be willing to make concessions.
The opportunity to try development-stage products is one way in which sponsors give players advance or inside information. Team meetings at tournaments are another. Both parties should use these meetings for give and take: they are the ideal opportunity to get information and air concerns. Be prepared to talk, but be prepared to listen as well.
Should sponsors help make players famous? There's nothing sponsors like better. All sponsors hope their players will win the big ones, earn the #1 ranking, and then be able to say truthfully, "I owe it, in part, to my sponsor's great equipment." The key to getting there is working together, and remembering that communication has to flow both ways.
This article previously appeared in Badminton News / USA.