Corporate Sponsorships: Working With Athletes
by Jeff Hilton Integrated Marketing Group

Every time you see a famous athlete on TV or their picture in the paper, chances are you will also see a large logo either plastered on their hat, strategically stitched into their shirt collar or dominating the center of their t-shirt. It's called maximizing your sponsorship dollars for the best possible exposure, and it's working.

Athlete sponsorships have gone mainstream. All of the top athletes in the world are now associated with major corporations and the exposure generated from these high-profile individuals has become a vehicle for communication and a successful means for targeting particular groups of people. Sponsorship is an important element of the marketing communications mix and ultimately should positively impact a consumer's purchase decision, so sales of the sponsor's products will multiply.

While there are many different levels of sponsorship opportunities, there are also many different types of athletes to sponsor. Whether your company is large or small, whether your potential sponsorship dollars are in the millions or in the thousands, there are several elements that should be evaluated before entering into any athlete sponsorship agreement.

As with any other business endeavor, the bottom line with sponsorship is what it can do for you. First and foremost, an athlete will immediately endorse your company, product or service. This will greatly increase the public awareness of your product or service as well as establish reliable third party credibility. After all, if XYZ athlete uses it, it must be good.

Any recognizable sponsored athlete will provide significant logo exposure. Your company logo should be as visible as possible, as often as possible. Place the logo on uniforms, training clothing, equipment, travel bags, casual clothing, business cards etc. Be creative and don't miss out on any opportunities. As you have seen, athletic icons will often appear on television, be featured in magazines and newspaper articles clearly displaying their sponsor's logos. This is the type of exposure that your company could never buy.

The sponsored athlete should be an integrated part of your overall marketing campaign. Incorporate the athlete into your print, television and radio advertising. Schedule them for appropriate events, public speaking opportunities, charity events, trade shows and VIP functions. But don't stop there. Form a foundation in the athlete's name. Utilize their knowledge and experience for product testing and design. Include information on your Web site, updating it with your athletes? Current schedule, accomplishments, photos and live chat sessions. Include major television appearances in the form of streaming video that visitors can watch directly from your site. With all of advancements in Internet technology, the sky is the limit.

Recognizing the potential of an athlete sponsorship, how much is it going to cost? There is no simple formula that can identify the right sponsorship for a company. Product and sport should obviously be compatible and both partners should feel comfortable with each other.

To determine what your company is willing to spend you must do your homework. What are you really looking to get out of the potential sponsorship and is it really worth it? Then, put together a realistic budget within your means. Typically, the marketing budget for a sponsorship project will double the cost of the sponsorship. A common format for a sponsorship agreement is to develop a monthly project and retainer fee allocating bonuses for additional exposure opportunities.

At first, the finances allocated to sponsorship may appear large, but in fact they are not nearly as high as the budgets dedicated to advertising in the mainstream media. You also want to make sure that you have someone who can manage the program. Realize that you cannot just pay the sponsorship fee and sit back and expect things to happen for your company.

Once you have your bases covered and are ready to move forward, you need to develop a contract that clearly explains the general terms of your agreement, the specific sponsor needs and the athlete compensation. Make sure all terms are thoroughly developed and be willing to negotiate for the best offer.