By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
Players like Natalie Grainger and David Palmer represent Ashaway (and their other sponsors) on the court and off. As top pros, they have earned reputations for expertise in both how the game is played and what equipment works best. That they choose to use our string obviously speaks well for it, but more than that, by articulating how the string or other equipment helps their game, they help others make correct decisions for their games.
Players and tournament organizers are always interested in sponsorships. As this is a subject that is often talked of, but seldom written about, I thought it would be of interest to offer a few observations. The first, of course, is that contrary to popular perception, sponsorships are not about lavishing cash on pampered players and industry insiders. At least, not in our sport! The other thing is that much as we would like to, we cannot sponsor every leading player or deserving event. We often can't even do as much as we'd like with the sponsorships we do provide.
The key here is that manufacturers do not offer sponsorships solely out of charity or as acts of philanthropy or kindheartedness. We are kindhearted and philanthropic, to be sure, but sponsorships are business activities. They are part of our marketing programs, and like any other business activity, they must be accounted for and meet specific objectives. They must generate a return. In so doing, they create visibility and that great buzz word of marketing, "brand awareness."
In the squash world (at least for Ashaway), sponsorships are more organization oriented than player oriented. We do sponsor top players like Natalie Grainger, David Palmer and the like, as well as a number of club pros, but for us, the best value we can get for our sponsorship dollars is to put our string in players' racquets. Our bet is that once people try Ashaway string, they'll stick with it.
So we focus our efforts on providing string through different tournaments, charitable events, and urban youth squash programs like those of the National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA). Sets of string can be included as part of a player's registration package, offered as prizes for tournament winners at various levels, or given out as prizes at banquets, dances, raffles or other tournament-related events. For urban programs, the goal is simply to help put string in the racquets of kids who might otherwise not be able to afford it.
As tournaments increase in size and participation, our sponsorship activities become more ambitious, with major ranking and international tournaments providing the most visibility. Here we will negotiate a number of different packages, often getting to display Ashaway banners near the courts, print logos on shirts and hats, and be listed in tournament literature and promotions as part of the deal. Occasionally, we will even set up a full booth and offer a complete stringing service. At last year's World Open, for example, we strung over 150 racquets for both the professional participants and tournament spectators.
But as noted, there are always more deserving events than we have sponsorship resources. For an organization or tournament to qualify, we look at a number of criteria related to the ability of the event to generate visibility. These include its reputation and track record with us in the past, the number of players participating, the number of similar events in the area, and what we see as the future potential of the event. We don't always work with the biggest and best events, but with those we feel hold the best promise for Ashaway and the sport in general.
In selecting professional players to sponsor we also look at factors like integrity and character, as well as their likelihood to get deep into the tournaments they enter. Again, it's a question of visibility, which is a good part of our return on investment. But sponsored players have another role as well, one often described by the word 'ambassador.' Players like Natalie and David represent Ashaway (and their other sponsors) on the court and off. As top pros, they have earned reputations for expertise in both how the game is played and what equipment works best. That they choose to use our string obviously speaks well for it, but more than that, by articulating how the string or other equipment helps their game, they help others make correct decisions for their games.
So sponsorships are a good thing, well worth the investment we and other manufacturers make in them. And they're good because unlike advertising or other strictly promotional activities, they are win-win propositions. Manufacturers win with increased visibility; tournaments and organizations win with valuable product to support their activities; players win by becoming the recipients of those products; and the sport as a whole wins by the synergy of all participants working together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
This article previously appeared in Squash Magazine.