What Baseball Can Teach Us about Sponsorship
Baseball season is officially upon us. I’m sure lots of you are excited for promising meetings between the Dodgers, Rockies, Phillies, Cardinals, Cubs, and the Braves. To be completely honest with you, baseball isn’t my thing. Now hockey, on the other hand…
Yet today, baseball is exactly what I want to talk about. Not only because the season has started, but because America’s pastime can help you improve your sponsorship program. I’m sure you’re wondering how that can be the case, right? Then you’re definitely going to keep reading.
The Connection Between Baseball and Sponsorship
Just because I don’t enjoy baseball doesn’t mean I’m unaware of the basics. I learned a lot of the ins and outs of baseball not from playing, but from watching Moneyball. You know, the 2011 movie starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics’ general manager.
If you haven’t seen the movie, let me give you an IMDB-quality synopsis real quick. Billy realizes that all the conventional wisdom in baseball doesn’t work anymore. He wants to do better with the Oakland As, but he’s also tight on cash.
So his goal in the movie is to outperform the teams with more money by partnering with Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate with an economics degree. The two begin doing everything that baseball tells you not to do, such as recruiting “flawed” players with untapped potential onto their team.
Some of the points in this movie sound applicable to your sponsorship program already, right? In the movie, Billy finds that he needs base hitters that can cross home plate and score points (which is how baseball works if you’re as oblivious to it as I am).
I’ve had a lot of clients call me up frustrated because after one cold sales call with a target sponsor, they failed to close the deal. Some of these clients had had prior successful sponsorships, so they should have known this isn’t how sponsorship works.
So why the sky-high expectations? Well, let me put it to you in baseball terms. In baseball, everyone wants the heavy hitters, the home run strikers, the point-scorers. Yet the pressure that comes with that role is astronomical.
If you ever do sit down and watch a baseball game, pay more attention to the heavy hitters the next time. You’ll notice something. They tend to strike out a lot more than base hitters due to that immense pressure. Yes, that’s right, those so-cold home runner hitters aren’t living up to their monikers.
How to Set up a Sponsorship Strategy Using Moneyball as Inspiration
Remember, the crux of Moneyball is analyzing conventional wisdom and then bucking it if it doesn’t work for you. I won’t describe the whole movie for you here, but in the end, the Athletics become a successful team and Billy Beane gets offered a multi-million-dollar deal to be the general manager of the Red Sox (which he turns down).
Even better is that this isn’t some Hollywood treatment where everyone gets a happy ending. Moneyball is a true story with real people. The successes shown in the movie actually happened in real life.
Keeping that in mind, how can you take the concepts from Moneyball and apply them to your sponsorship program? Let’s talk about that now.
Do Your Research
Using baseball terms, you have to identify who your base hitters are. These are the ones who will produce consistent results over the long term. If you’re not sure who I’m talking about, your base hitters are your audience.
No sponsorship program can begin without identifying your audience. You need to issue audience surveys to learn who your audience is, where they come from, how old they are, whether they’re married or single, what they do for work, and why they care about your business or organization.
Once you understand your audience inside and out, you need to move on to researching target sponsors. Yes, you have to do more research, but it’s crucial. You’re looking for sponsor companies that are a match to your target audience, as these sponsors will be the most receptive to you.
Track Realistic Metrics
It’s easy to get discouraged in sponsorship if you’re not tracking the right metrics. Right now, start small. Like, really small. When you send an email to a target sponsor, having completed the above steps, do you get a response?
Even if it’s not the reply you were hoping for (a resounding yes), any response is better than dead silence. Let me remind you not to fall into the trap of trying to be a baseball home run hitter here. Everyone wants to knock it out of the park with one magic phone call or email, but it’s unlikely. For now, if you get a response, consider that a win. You’re on first base, so to speak.
Don’t Be the First to Introduce the Sponsorship Proposal
The conversations with the target sponsor should move away from phone or email and into a physical meeting (or a Zoom meeting) sooner than later. Although it might take more than one meeting, the next metric you want to track is whether the sponsor is interested in seeing your sponsorship proposal.
I always say this, but you have to leave your sponsorship proposal in the office during the first meeting and possibly for a few subsequent meetings as well. Think of this like another sport, poker. If you play your hand too soon, you could blow the whole game and lose.
Keep your ears wide open during the meetings. If the sponsor says something like “just send me a proposal,” that sounds great, but it isn’t. Instead, you want to ask the sponsor what they want in the proposal. Make sure there’s a follow-up meeting after you send the sponsorship proposal so you two can discuss its contents. Now you’re on second base.
Wait for That Verbal Yes
Third base in the sponsorship program is that dream moment where your target sponsor affirms that yes, they want to work with you. This sounds like you’ve won the game, right? Yet you’ll require a few more meetings and phone calls before you can say that you’ve truly crossed home plate and scored a home run.
During this time, the target sponsor might have to review their budget or have discussions with other internal staff. That’s why a follow-up meeting is a good idea after the sponsor has had the time to do these things, as you two can talk about any potential lingering concerns or questions. At that point, feel free to run to home. You’ve earned it.
Everyone loves a home run in a baseball game. It’s so dazzling to watch the ball soar as the home run player jogs effortlessly across all three bases to home plate. As impressive as home runs are, they’re not the only way to win a game of baseball. You can also use base players to fill the bases and keep scoring point after point. This is the better way to go, as the results are more consistent than relying on one superstar player.
In sponsorship, you’re not trying to chase home runs either. You need those base players who can take steps gradually but still make the progress you need to get to home and secure sponsorship. Baseball games can last for hours, and sponsorship is an equally long game. Instead of planning for a one-hit success, be ready to put your nose to the grindstone and follow the steps above to accomplish your sponsorship goals slowly yet surely.
If you need some help with that, I recommend my free on-demand training called How to Grow a Sponsorship Program. In my program, you’ll learn Moneyball-level strategies, like how to stop using outdated transactional sponsorship methods and embrace newer acquisition methods instead.
Are you ready to step up to the plate?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.