We see the finish line; athletes with arms raised in triumph, audiences cheering, towels wrapped over shoulders, and above it all a massive banner complete with sponsors’ logos. This is a common sight to most people, whether they are a fan or not. Events such as marathons, triathlons and endurance races are big sponsorship opportunities due to the high profile and large crowds they attract. Even smaller local events can provide direct contact with a desirable audience for sponsors.
However, it takes skill to find the right sponsors who will help improve the experience at these events for both participants and the crowd cheering them on. So, how do you attract sponsors to your event? No matter how big or how small, having a strategy and process to prospecting is the fundamental way to find the funding you need to meet your revenue goals. Here’s our proven formula to sponsorship for your marathons, triathlons and endurance events.
Understanding the Marathon Crowd
As we said these types of athletic events attract both athletes and fans. They are very popular with numbers showing that in 2019 there were 730 marathons held in North America alone. In the U.S. a staggering 60 million people participate in running, trail running and jogging. As well, runners in the past year purchased an average of 3.2 pairs of running shoes within the last year contributing $2.31 billion in jogging/running footwear sales.
The average runner is:
- College-educated with 79 percent having earned a college diploma
- Affluent with 73 percent reporting a household income of more than $75,000
- Training year-round
Runners spend over $90 on their running shoes and tend to choose specialty running stores for their purchases. This speaks to a higher-end audience used to the better things in life. You can go beyond the athletic wear brands and approach luxury brands as well as brands that will appeal to social consciousness and an aspirational lifestyle.
The Prospects for Running and Endurance Events
Your event will have its fair share of runners with a selection of interesting demographics. However, when you look at the primary motivation for people running you can get a better idea of some out of the box sponsors that might be interested in getting in front of your audience.
For women, their primary motivation to start running was 25.3 percent for exercise and 13.8 percent for weight concerns.
However, when looking at their reason to continue running, 75.5 percent said staying in shape, 74.8 percent said staying healthy and 62.4 percent said to relieve stress. Participants could choose more than one reason. For men, 22 percent started running for exercise, and interestingly 15.2 percent became runners in school and have continued their running regimes. Their motivation wasn’t much different than women, with one major difference – 58.9 percent of males added they run to have fun.
Other clues can be found in the pain points for runners such as 30.9 percent complaining of blisters and when looking at common injuries, they ranged from knee injuries (22.7 percent) to lower back (10.4 percent).
These insights open a lot of sponsor opportunities including:
- Bandages brands
- Sports apparel retailers
- Pain relief brands
- Pain clinics for local events
- Massage clinics for local events
- Stress relief products
- Training equipment brands
- Wellness brands
- Music brands
- Health food
- Natural medicine brands
- Sunscreen brands
Another important detail about today’s runners and athletes is a growing desire to use brands with a strong socially responsible culture. Targeting brands that might appeal to the younger, more socially conscious runner could include:
- Eco-friendly brands of clothing (not just athletic apparel)
- Fairtrade chocolate or coffee brands
- Cruelty-free testing beauty brands
- Organic personal care products from soap and shampoo to moisturizers and skincare products
It’s a matter of zoning in on the less obvious prospects, but the ones that will actually stand a better chance to resonate with your audience. This might also open the eyes of brands looking for new opportunities to raise brand awareness with an unexpected yet highly desirable audience.
Tap into Your Audience Needs to Create Sponsorship Letters and Packages
The art of successful sponsorship for any event is focusing on creating experiences. It’s no longer about providing an opportunity to plunk a logo on a banner. Instead, it is looking at the audience, the runners and the exposure you offer so you can determine what people at the event will want. Yes, there is always a need for things like water or power drinks, but what else will work for these people?
What will they consider memorable and meaningful? The key is to tap into their mindset to come up with a more targeted list of prospects and then explore their objectives. What do they want to achieve? How can you help them achieve that at your event? If you figure that out, you can create more attractive assets and packages sponsors will understand. They will more easily see the potential fit you offer and why you approached them. Sponsors will see the opportunity your audience presents and your willingness to come up with intriguing ways for them to connect with their audience.
The best way to create sponsorship packages for running and athletic events is to consider the goals of your prospects. It boils down to some pretty standard business and marketing objectives. Some examples of package offerings could be:
- Brand authority
- Reaching audience segments
- Educating to assist with training, reaching performance goals, nutrition tips, etc.
- Relevant product or service launches
- Improving PR
- Brand awareness surrounding social responsibility
- Health-focused with wellness-related opportunities
These packages avoid the standard bronze, silver, gold and platinum “levels” which tend to be focused on the cost and basic list of assets. Instead, you are selling a solution to help them meet their goals. You also have to remain focused on helping your sponsors with tailor-made packages specific to their goals. What do you have to offer them? Strong, profitable partnerships that focus on meeting the needs of your shared audience.
The types of partnerships you should be considering include:
- Media sponsors: Media sponsors invest in media coverage for newspapers, TV commercials and/or online campaigns in exchange for major positioning with your event from booths to naming rights and experiential marketing material to providing inspirational keynote speakers or celebrity marathoners.
- Financial sponsors: Contribute money in exchange for any number of marketing opportunities.
- In-kind sponsors: Products and services are donated from water to protein shakes and t-shirts to hotel rooms.
- Promotional partners: Help provide a celebrity presence which adds credibility to your event which in turn attracts more fans and participants anxious to see them.
With careful planning, you can meet all the needs of your revenue goals with different groups of sponsors chosen to pay for various functions that meet the needs of attendees. However, if you can go beyond the expected, you can help attract sponsors looking for new ways to connect with their audience such as:
- Cause marketing
- Leveraging your event in hand with other high-profile sponsors participating
- Thought leadership ops
- Unusual experiential marketing opportunities
- Becoming influencers
Before you get to the point where you can approach prospects you have to set values to what you want to offer them.
Valuation of Assets and Packages
Valuation of assets can be tough, especially if this is your first event. You have to assign logical prices to your assets and packages, so you cover your costs, but don’t scare away prospects when they revue your proposal. You also can’t undervalue your assets because this can make your event seem less desirable while also making it difficult for you to meet your revenue goals. To assign values, you first have to make a list of your asset inventory and then create your packages. Use the following categories to get you started:
- Naming rights of physical spaces and programs
- Product giveaways and samples
- Exhibiting and speaking opportunities
- Webpages, Social media, Content, Digital campaigns
- Newsletters and mailings
- Traditional media and marketing opportunities
- Employee benefits
You can then start adding assets under each category or choose to remove some of the categories that don’t suit your needs. For example, some marathons might not offer speaking opportunities or might have limited opportunities for things like employee benefits or exhibition ops. Each asset will be specific to what your audience wants and then secondly, what your prospects might value. Because above all else you are selling your audience, their needs always come first.
Now you can start assigning dollar values using marketing standards you can research. How much do ads in trade magazines cost for a similar audience? What about Google Ads and pay per click? Local papers? Digital marketing banners? Content sponsorship? Remember the value of that audience of yours. How long is your contact list? What social proof do you have of your draw such as number of Instagram or Facebook followers? How many people attended past events?
Even consider other high profile sponsors you have obtained as they add credibility to your event. Your audience is very powerful and the bigger your audience and participant potential, the more you can charge. But don’t overestimate your value. Do your research and make sure you can list benefits for your sponsors, so they see the value, not just the price!
Lead Qualification and Discovery Meetings
While your packages represent a base of your properties and assets, your proposals would focus on a prospect’s specific needs. How do you find out about their specific needs? Lead qualification and discovery meetings. With your prospect list in hand, first research the right contact with a quick search on LinkedIn. This will provide you with the best person to reach out. If it ends up being the wrong person, you can always ask them for an introduction to the right person. You then have the info you need to take things to the next level.
In most cases, you’ll be stuck with cold calls/emails. To get results don’t focus on sales, instead focus on their expertise. How do you do that? Prepare a quick intro email, (or scripted text of voice mail) that says you saw their profile on LinkedIn and could use their input on a project you are working on. Suggest a time for a call or meeting, and then use this time to qualify them for the next stage, a discovery meeting.
At the meeting, explain you are working on sponsorship packages for your event and wanted to learn more about their marketing goals. Feel them out to see if they seem like you share common goals and if your audience sounds like a good fit. If yes, mention they seem like a great sponsor and could you meet with them again to learn more.
Your discovery meeting digs deeper to confirm this prospect would welcome your proposal. Have an open discussion about what your event is about, your audience and what your prospect might be missing in their marketing plans. Show them how you can resolve their issues based on the problems they present. Then ask if you can send them a proposal that you can customize to their needs.
Proposal and Follow Up
Your proposal includes the basics such as a title page with your event logo and tag line, without mention that it is, in fact, a proposal. You want to provide a good look at your audience and a customized overview of how your opportunity and audience meet the specifics you discussed at your discovery meeting. You then list your menu of opportunities with how each asset will work for them.
Add sample activations specific to their needs and brand (we discuss experiential activations in detail below) and then end with a call to action and an invite to get their feedback.
Your meetings and proposal have established a relationship that allows you to reach out a few times to see which way they are leaning. If you want to be less salesy and more helpful look for excuses to do this, such as sharing exciting news about the industry, changes to the event, names attending, or sponsors participating to help nurture your relationship while helping to push them to purchase a package. Be open to changes they might request so you can customize their package even further to help convert them.
Experiential Activations That Raise the Bar
What does it take to connect with your audience? No more handing out water bottles at milestones. You want to offer something far more meaningful than that. What are some of the ways top fitness brands are reaching their audiences effectively?
This hot training cycle has grown in popularity because it understands its audience so well. Where is their focus? Exceptional trainers and a space for members to share their experiences and stories. Basic in its premise but outstanding in its approach.
How can you leverage this idea to suit your needs?
Seek fitness brands that have a solid list of influencers. Create co-content, offer branded livestreaming of a fitness class on your social media, have a co-event at the marathon to break a record such as a mass yoga class, or the most travelled miles on a stationary bike.
These guys make next-gen scales, weird but true. They are killing it by combining all the things their audience considers cool: tech and fitness. One way they do this is streaming a live workout podcast. Another way is keeping their audience up to date on using AR. This helps make ho-hum treadmill workouts more exciting. However, it also offers some very cool experiential marketing experiences.
How can you leverage this idea to suit your needs?
Work with a sponsor to create an exciting digital trail for runners and have an exhibit set up that allows them to try it out. You can also look at things such as Solos AR sunglasses, which combine sunglasses with a smartphone app and a GPS-enabled watch to track everything from heart rate to distance and pace. Set up a test ride course allowing people to try them out. This can be a co-sponsorship opportunity. Last but not least, give AR a try to provide a full, 3D experience on an exotic running course like the sun run in Hawaii or the Tour de France if you are running a triathlon or endurance event.
This is a heavy hitter, but they offer ideas you could definitely incorporate. At the FIFA World Cup, in Zurich, they created a VR experience at a train station that allowed passersby to create the illusion a famous soccer star was right beside them. Participants then interacted with the athlete with their own soccer moves.
How can you leverage this idea to suit your needs?
Offer sponsors the chance to provide an interactive experience like this using the latest in tech. But don’t do it at the event. Instead, create a pop-up in a busy area of town to promote the event.
Red Bull are experiential masters. They have no limits to what they will do, and they do it very well. From out of bounds things like their Red Bull Stratos jump to fun challenges like their Flugtag and their ability to partner with the perfect influencers, they know what their audience wants and takes it way beyond the next level.
How can you leverage this idea to suit your needs?
Consider clever competitions you can hold either at the site of the marathon start or finish line or prior to the event throughout the city. Align yourself with influencers who can make an impression and either have them appear or use their posts in alignment with your social media. Offer this as a sponsorship op for prospects.
Look at ideas you can create on your own or in hand with prospects such as:
Stay Fit Ideas
Work with nutrition and fitness experts who can be available at exhibits to provide free advice, onsite fitness classes, cooking classes for healthy meals, etc.
Since many want to stay in shape, they probably also care about their appearance. Have a fashion show with “athleisure” wear, have ideas for easy to manage hair if people need to transition from workouts to work, or vice versa, offer sampling for beauty products and more.
Appeal to the social conscious element of the audience with possible charitable tie ins to help provide education to kids vulnerable to child labor or sex trades. Do demos of environmentally friendly tips for energy saving. Let brands do their own eco-friendly exhibits.
Stress is a factor in everyone’s lives and something from which female runners are seeking relief. Have onsite massages, yoga and meditation spaces, holistic remedy expert consultations, etc.
All of these ideas offer excellent inspiration for experiential marketing that will resonate with this very health-conscious audience.
Create a Fulfillment Report
Once everything is said and done, your event will end, and you will have time to reflect on what you accomplished. However, you’ll need to get a fulfillment report to your sponsors within a few weeks of your event’s completion. To complete your report, you need to make sure you have people on your team recording and tracking all sponsorship activations at every site before and after the marathon. Your report will show that you delivered on your promises and should include:
- A chart showing each asset and what you delivered
- Attendee/participant stats
- Impressions or participation numbers for activations
- Metrics on social and online efforts
- Explanation of how your team ensured execution was complete
- ROI calculation
- A collection of images for all of their assets
- Testimonials from participants and attendees or screen captures of social media posts
- Survey results from your audience
With proof of success, you will be in a position to ask for renewals. When you can show your audience was happy, you can be sure your sponsors will be happy too. If you provide your report in person, you will also have the opportunity to pick their brains and see how they feel. Where did you succeed?
Are there areas they think you failed? How would they see things working next year? If you did everything right, you could outdo your sponsors’ goals and prove your worth. That makes for excellent prospects next year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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