Maximize your worth to sponsors

By John M. Stevenson

Not too many moons ago, the idea of a youth soccer club having over 3,000 member/participants was, for many, both incredulous and overwhelming. Nowadays, however, such a size is commonplace, and there are now clubs whose headcount exceeds even the 10,000 threshold.

Generally, those large clubs are well-organized, well-managed entities, often with full-time staff members, not limited to coaching staff. Their board positions are filled by professional men and women who fit their club responsibilities as best they can somewhere amid their workday and free time, when they're not out there watching or coaching their own children.

As these clubs grew and, as with any business, realized their bargaining power round the table with team dealers and manufacturers, negotiations often began with the club approach of "what can you do for me ..."

Today, while that approach can still be taken, the better clubs (and, it should be pointed out that these are not always the biggest!) have evolved from there, and while still trying to maximize their product haul, and minimize their expense in doing so, are beginning to look at the "how can we best partner up for each other ..." as the angle.

No doubt, the suppliers are best suited to "sweeten" the deal via discounts and/or free (or cheaper) goods - uniforms for elite teams, coaches packages, ball programs, tournament support etc., but suppliers can now also bring to the table many options from their vast resources - professional players for appearances, professional coaches for situational or summer camp coaching, elite tournament entries, partnership with other elite clubs to whom they supply product and services, and the like.

So, if your club is close to this point, or maybe has just begun to taste that kind of opportunity, how do you "get in" or how do you negotiate to a better deal? It's truly not rocket science. Bottom line for the supplier, not so differently as to how it was defined for the club earlier, is "how do we maximize sales and exposure while minimizing expense?"

As such, come to the negotiation table with facts in hand, with a definition of what value your club brings as a "barter" in the deal. It is important, too, that your club know its own goals and priorities on and off the field.

* How many players are in our program, how many uniforms will we buy annually - do we do full home and away every other year, or ... ? (Read: how much will we spend.)

* What do we see as the realistic player growth potential in each of the next few years? (Read: how much more money will we spend then!)

* What is the size of our tourney (presuming one exist)? How many teams, how many sites, what kind of sales revenue opportunity for the retailer? (Read: how much sales volume can we create as an offset?)

* What is the size of our club camp business?

* How do we coincidentally help their brand credence? Tourney wins, success in local, state and regional championships, success (of both players and coaches) with coaching programs ...

* What do we do to help brand exposure? Web site tie-in, travel to tourneys, tourney programs, local and state newspaper (and even local TV) coverage, field/complex signage.

* What creative means can/do we use to generate other income opportunities? Club fanwear, footwear programs for club players ...

These are just a few of the values you can bring to the table as part of the negotiation for you deal with the supplier - simply put, the more you have to offer, the more you can save in your total spend.

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, still actively playing - or at least trying to! You can contact him at


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