Play ball! Make local sports sponsorships work brand magic

| by S.A. Whitehead
Play ball! Make local sports sponsorships work brand magic

Since well before the time of the gladiators, sports competition has always set off a kind of "crazy circuit" in our brains. We love the stuff because it's steeped in fun, camaraderie and even community connection. You know, everything great restaurant brands want customers to associate with them? 

That's why sports of all kinds - but particularly, team sports, tend to go with restaurant brand marketing like peanuts and popcorn in Cracker Jacks. As we enter the heat of summer and all those outdoor games of competition, every community and its restaurateurs are swimming in sports action, presenting all kinds of opportunities for restaurateurs. 

Large mega-brands presumably have lots cash and in-house expertise to make decisions and wise investments in this segment of marketing. But, smaller chains and independents may also want some of the sports marketing action to build rapport and love with customers. 

To that end we recently fielded some questions with sports marketing company, Open Sponsorship founder and CEO Ishveen Anand on how restaurants can best take advantage of local sports sponsorships to work a little marketing magic at the hometown level. 

Q: What role does local sports sponsorship play in a brand's location-specific marketing plan?
Sports stadiums are often the highest footprint area for a city, thus being involved with not only the team, but also being visible in what we could call "the heart of the city" is so important. Likewise ... how can you be a chain and not want to be present in the venue ... that is synonymous with entertainment and consumption? 

Sports sponsorship allows [restaurants] to do [three] things: 

  1. Increase brand awareness through highly visible stadium signage/logo on website.
  2. Directly promote offers and incite action, through teams' social media and email.
  3. Drive sales through concessions.

Q: What value, if any, do large national teams bring to local chain and independent marketing?
I think there are a number of [benefits]: 

"How can you be a chain and not want to be present in the (sports stadium) venue ... that is synonymous with entertainment and consumption?" 

  • The "rules" benefit: Even the national teams in the NBA, NFL or MLB teams are only allowed to promote the association within 75 miles of the stadium. Outside of this circumference they are not allowed to use the team logo, player images or partnership marks. This means that the best partnership for a team is a regional partner who can take full advantage of the local rights offered. 
  • The TV benefit: Of course the partnership can come with rights that have TV visibility which can increase the contract value to [more than] what a local chain might be willing to spend. But [keep in mind that] these partnerships are a little "a la carte," so as long as you hit a minimum value, you can define which rights you want plus the eventual value.
  • The hidden benefits: The reason we are such advocates for sports (marketing) is the multiple benefits [it offers] beyond neighborhood marketing, including improving the healthy image of your company, being part of the exciting conversation that sports initiate, and being able to leverage assets from the partnership for your customers, like tickets, [team] merchandise and player access.
  • "Friends" with benefits: Another form of marketing that allows for great engagement locally includes using athletes as [local stars]. Sports is the one industry where even the biggest [names] stay local thanks to their team's location. Athlete deals can include appearances at the restaurant or where ever the creativity of your brand's marketing team takes them. Think Andrew "Beef" Johnston's deal at Arby's

Q: What is the cost of entry into this type of marketing typically?
For minor league teams, associations start around $10,000, and for major league it's $100,000. 

"The emotional attachment between fans, teams and players is unparalleled by any industry. Fans want to support businesses endorsed by their team and favorite player."


Q: What works best for the single restaurant versus the franchise group versus the entire brand's system when it comes to sports marketing?
In the case of a single restaurant location, we have found that player appearances have been greatly successful. Typically, the athlete will come to the location, participate in a "meet-and-greet," then [restaurants] post it on social media shortly after. Usually these deals are one-off. 

In the case of a larger group, team deals can make better sense because of the varied benefits that are available. 

The beauty of sports marketing is the way in which the restaurant can connect with the fan when they are most passionate. ... The emotional attachment between fans, teams and players is unparalleled by any industry. Fans want to support businesses endorsed by their team and favorite player. This is why sport sponsorship marketing on average has seven times the return on investment that traditional marketing strategies do.  

Q: How do brands successfully "scale up" this type of marketing for use at a system-wide level?
We work with brands like Verizon, who have more than 50 brand ambassadors and dozens of team and league deals and to efficiently scale up you need processes in place to ensure you are taking on the right sponsorship opportunities, by calculating the ROI and having a system to ensure deliverables are completed. 

Q: How does this all pay off for restaurants? 
Companies get involved in sponsorship to gain brand recognition. This could be small companies looking to gain market share through [this kind of] exposure or even slightly "tainted" or faltering brands seeking to change their image. So for instance, think Subway using sports to be perceived as more healthy by customers. 

Driving sales is also an end-benefit. That could mean using social media to push out discount coupons and offers to get customers into the restaurant, sales through a concession at the stadium, or even [connecting with] customers in restaurants during an event with an athlete.

A good example is Papa John's half-off discount on pizza when the Rangers score three goals. This type of promotion creates a positive connection between the Rangers fan and the brand, while also driving sales. 


Photo: iStock


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Marketing, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Social Responsibility

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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