By Warren Mersereau
My wife and I include an RSVP request in the invitation to our annual holiday party. We want to know how many people are coming so we can plan accordingly. In addition, the RSVP is the key to future parties. If an invitee does not RSVP, they don't receive an invitation next year. But, send back an RSVP and you can invite friends next year. That's how the party grows!
It's time to apply this RSVP rule to the soccer industry, particularly to soccer sponsorships.
In other words, it's time to get real about the numbers we use to invite potential sponsors to the soccer "party." Our industry's reputation suffers every time a sponsorship proposal is built on claims that are not delivered.
Look at some of the numbers publicized to promote soccer in the United States:
· A recent business report discussing commercial opportunities claims "numerous avenues available to reach the 60 million plus people in the U.S. who are estimated to have a connection with the game."
· FIFA's latest global soccer census, titled "Big Count 2006", claims in "statistically proved values" there are over 24 million players.
· The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) claims there are over 17 million soccer players.
· U.S. Youth Soccer claims to have over 3 million registered youth players.
· MLS claims an average per game attendance over 15,000.
How would these claims respond to an RSVP request? Can any of the organizations actually deliver to sponsors the numbers they publicize?
No. And, that's a problem for prospective soccer sponsors and the integrity of our industry.
Does this mean the soccer marketplace is not viable and not vibrant?
Absolutely not. Soccer is thriving in the United States. But, actually reaching soccer players and soccer enthusiasts requires focused effort and a clear understanding of the marketplace dynamics and nuances.
For instance, over 3 million youth soccer players are registered with various organizations in the United States. However, the largest organization, U.S. Youth Soccer, does not have a standardized registration process and, therefore, does not have a readily deliverable national data base. So, to reach U.S. Youth Soccer registered players, it sometimes makes more sense to go directly to states or even clubs.
On the other hand, U.S. Club Soccer, another organization which registers youth players, has a national registration process. So, while U.S. Club Soccer has far less registered players than U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer can more readily connect to the players it does register.
As another example, take MLS attendance figures. Last year a controversy developed because MLS' published attendance figures apparently include a mix of no shows (e.g. season ticket holders not in attendance) and attendees. So, what happens to the sponsor looking to access the MLS' stated average of 15,000 fans per game? In Kansas City, the odds are that this is not going to happen because Kansas City only averages about 11,000 fans per game. But, the Los Angeles Galaxy report over 20,000 fans per game, so even if this number may be somewhat inflated, the odds are that a sponsor can count on 15,000 plus fans per Galaxy game.
The point is that for the soccer industry to remain healthy, it needs supporting sponsors. And, for sponsors to be healthy in supporting soccer, the soccer industry needs to deliver on its numbers.
It's time for soccer organizations soliciting sponsorships to use numbers that accurately reflect the soccer players and soccer enthusiasts they can actually reach and deliver to sponsors. The only way to treat sponsors fairly is to be honest in the projections that the sponsors will use in planning, funding, and implementing their multi faceted sponsorship programs.
And, it's time for potential sponsors to demand RSVP responses from organizations soliciting sponsorships. If a soccer organization making a sponsorship proposal will not guarantee the number of soccer players and soccer enthusiasts that it will deliver per marketing platform (i.e. television, direct mail/email, on site), then the potential sponsor needs to move on to another proposal.
In other words, if a sponsorship proposal cannot provide an RSVP, it should be left to RIP.
Warren Mersereau is the American counterpart to Mick Hoban (originally from England) and Juergen Klinsmann (originally from Germany) in SoccerSolutions (www.soccersolutions.com), a sports marketing consultancy focused on brand and business development for companies and organizations with an interest in soccer. Warren's very limited playing ability led his college coach to politely call him a "modest left back". Nevertheless, Warren turned his love for the game into a career. Having served as head of global brand development for Umbro International and then head of global soccer and rugby marketing for adidas International, Warren has developed, evaluated, and implemented sponsorship relationships in 30 countries from the local youth club level to FIFA and the World Cup. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.