By John Stevenson
For sponsors attempting to reach the soccer player "masses" -- and their moms and dads - at the grassroots level, there is no easy method to touch everyone. And there's no simple media approach, either. Simply put, it's all about "grunt work." Being very specific initially in defining your target market and the value of spending money and committing resources is vitally important, whether at local, statewide, regional or national level.
There are three viable and accessible grassroots vehicles worth targeting that reach larger groups of consumers: tournaments, leagues and clubs. In this edition of Soccer Business Insider, tournaments are the focus.
There are hundreds of soccer tournaments in the U.S. ranging from eight teams to 800 teams. Here are some main points that prospective sponsors need to consider about the tournaments they are evaluating:
Tourney overview: Is the tournament a stand-alone or is it connected to a club? What is its "reason for being" -- to offset funding for registrations, field building, improved facilities, scholarship programs or simply to generate revenue? What is the tournament's reputation/brand -- as a good local event, nationally renowned, highly competitive, play for fun? What are the event's future goals -- team expansion, multiple dates, split gender, expanded age brackets or...? And most important what, if anything, makes it different from the rest?
Marketing: How far does the tournament reach? To local states, within region, nationwide and/or international? How well does it communicate in team recruiting, pre-registration, post registration, during the event? How attractive/ effective is its website? How functional and appealing are the onsite printed tourney programs and other onsite materials?
Fields/Complexes: From a sponsor point of view, the less the better. Everything on one site is ideal both for visibility and execution. Multiple sites usually means more work, less overall affect. How big is the "HQ" complex in number of fields? How many total soccer complexes are used? How many fields, how far apart, and what distance from HQ and other fields? Are there any club buildings? Are vendors on site? Any field signage restrictions? Do parents and players stay on site between games? Note: the ability to keep people onsite (with food, activities, entertainment, retail, etc.) is an obvious big plus.
Teams & players: How many teams competing? What is the team breakdown of host club, local league, in-state, out of state, international, and rec vs. travel? What is the player breakdown by age brackets and gender? Here, the more all encompassing the better, especially for companies with a wide age bandwidth. The younger the player, the more parents, grandparents and other family are likely to be involved. For soccer companies, however, the offset is that brand loyalty is often lower, and spend per item is probably less on average. In the mid-age youth brackets, brand loyalty has begun/evolved but is not concrete, and spend is probably at its highest. And while the older youth brackets are often very brand loyal and don't spend openly, they are usually the tourney status-building brackets. Two other general "rules of thumb" are that females can be expected to spend more than males, and likewise the spend of travel players over rec will traditionally be greater, particularly on high ticket items.
Game-day organization: Is there full time event staff, well-informed and helpful volunteers, and good quality officiating? Timely result updates? These are all huge plusses. Executional capabilities, too, are vital to evaluate. Do games stay tight with the schedule? Are there good plans for the usual mini-disasters of injuries, excessive heat, rainouts, etc?
When you know the answers to all these questions, then you can truly evaluate the opportunity on hand and its worth/return. It's also the information you need to figure out how you will execute your sponsorship, and how you can best support and benefit the event.
John Stevenson recently stepped down after nine years as VP/GM Performance Sports for Puma North America to pursue other business opportunities. He led the growth of the brand from 9th to 3rd in soccer market share. Before joining Puma, he was with Umbro USA for 17 years as VP/GM Teamsports. He joined the company in its infancy, and was part of the team that grew it to $125 million and the nation's then leading soccer apparel brand. He is a past chairman of the Soccer Industry Council of America and a former player, coaching director and referee. He still actively plays - or at least trying to! You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org