Tips for Running Your Sponsorship Program
Summer and high school swim teams are typically volunteer run, non-profit, organizations that try to keep membership costs low. How can teams afford to buy or upgrade the equipment needed for running meets (chairs, tents, stop watches, timing systems, flags, the list goes on), and maintain a coaching staff, on membership dues alone? A healthy sponsorship program is a great way to generate the income your team needs to keep things running smoothly all season.
Swim Teams Have a Huge Asset – Your Members
Sponsoring your swim team provides a fantastic benefit to local businesses, it gives them exposure to a key market segment of the local community: your members, and visiting teams. Many swim teams have 100-200 swimmers or more and a swim meet might bring the same number again to the local pool, and you can multiply that by however many meets you have in a season. If you give local businesses visibility on signage, swim team gear, tents, and anywhere else appropriate, you’re doing them a favor!
Getting Started – Plan Your Levels and Benefits
You’re going to need some ideas on what kind of benefits you can offer sponsors, and you’ll need to group them based on value with the most valuable benefits going to the top dollar sponsors. Most teams have Gold, Silver and Bronze levels in their sponsorship programs, but you could create more categories and come up with your own names. The FAST Frogs have a table on their website displaying their levels and benefits if you want to see a great example.
It’s common for sponsor logos at the different levels to be displayed in different sizes on your materials, from biggest for the top dollar sponsors, to smallest, or even no logo (just name) for the lowest levels. It’s nice to offer sponsors perks, like some free team merchandise (see more below), but your sponsors are going to be most excited about opportunities for visibility in the community.
How and where will you display sponsor logos and links?
- Website: Your team website is another major asset when it comes to sponsors. Think about different places on your site that you’ll display sponsor logos. You could have only your top-level sponsors displayed at the top of your sidebar on the homepage, and all other sponsors on a dedicated “Sponsors” page. Or there are plenty of other options; the “Sponsors Snippet” from the SwimTopia snippet pallet will help with automatically displaying logos of the different levels in different sizes, wherever you want them.
- Signage: Can your team display a banner or two at the pool all season, or even just during your swim meets?
- Merchandise: It’s most common for team sponsors to be listed on the back of the team t-shirt, but there are plenty of other logo positioning options you could offer sponsors. Perhaps the top-level sponsors are also displayed on other merchandise, like a team hat or sweatshirt. Our team displayed sponsors’ logos on the grocery tote bags we used to deliver each family’s team merchandise order, so every family on our team now has a reusable tote bag with the sponsor logos on it.
- Heat Sheets: if you’re team sells heat sheets, or even if your team members print their own, consider displaying sponsor information on the heat sheets.
Are there other benefits you can provide?
- Can your sponsors have a booth at a meet?
- Can they be part of a team spirit night or end of season award night somehow?
- Would you consider letting each sponsor of a certain level send an email message through the team’s SwimTopia admin account to your team parents once during the season (i.e the sponsor gets a message to your members but you haven’t shared your contact list with them)?
Get creative to think of ways you can ‘add value’ for your sponsors:
A local frozen yogurt shop in my area sponsors our team’s “Swimmers of the Week” and our coaches award gift cards for a free yogurt to special swimmers in each age group, each week of the swim season. This is actually a huge perk for the sponsor because for a small investment in the gift cards the “Swimmers of the Week” usually come in with their whole family – and they all buy yogurt! You could consider offering this type of sponsorship as a separate category to the “levels” in your sponsorship program.
The Parent “Call Out”
I’ve seen teams that offer parents the opportunity to place a “call out” to their swimmers in heat sheets, on the website, or over the PA system at the meet. You might want to considering setting up a page on your website for weekly “call outs” to the kids. Parents could pay a set price to have their message displayed on the site and read out over the loud speakers at the meet each week.
Perks and Giveaways as an Added Benefit
If your team has some cool team merchandise then adding different items to each sponsorship level can be an easy way to offer a nice perk for sponsors. Some teams create a special line of merchandise items just for their sponsors, with “sponsor” monogrammed on the items, which is a very professional touch. If you don’t want to go that far, giving some of your regular, but more valuable, merchandise items away with your sponsorship packages is still a nice incentive for sponsors.
The Big Ask
You’ve set your levels and come up with some great sponsor benefits. You’re excited to get started, but here comes the scary part for some – you need to start asking for sponsors. For most teams, your team parents are a great place to start. Often teams have local business owners in their ranks that are excited to support their kids’ team. You might be surprised how many team parents come forward. For team parents, you can even sell your sponsorship levels and call outs during your team’s SwimTopia registration process, or in the team’s online store (just set each level up as a merchandise item).
The next easiest place to go is to the businesses and stores in your local area; these are the businesses that have the most to gain from the local exposure a swim team sponsorship provides. Imagine seeing the logo of a local eatery on a banner right by the pool exit as you’re leaving a meet hungry? It might make you want to drive straight there for a bite!
Larger companies and chains might surprise you. Don’t be afraid to call around. Many companies have sponsorship programs and might be willing to offer you sponsorship, or possibly in-kind donations of goods, services, or gift cards that might come in handy throughout the season as raffle prizes or end of season awards.
I think we’ve covered most of the bases on starting and running a sponsorship program… The big things that are left to do are a) make your sponsors feel valued and b) show them value for money. Make sure their logo displays nicely and is easily readable, even at the smallest sizes, on your website, merchandise and signage. Hand deliver the merchandise items to your sponsors and provide them with a meet and event schedule when you do, so they can come to events and feel connected to the team if they want to. At this point in the process, as coordinator of your team’s sponsorship program, you want to be thinking about repeat business: keeping your sponsors happy, so they keep coming back year after year!