Sports sponsorship: how to score

sports sponsorship
Sports sponsorship is good for business

Sponsoring a local sporting team can deliver new business to your practice, but your objective should be community involvement before profit. By Shane Conroy

When Dr Franck Page is not overseeing the operation of his network of thriving dental practices on the NSW North Coast, you might find him dressed as a giant tooth at a local soccer game.

Coastal Dental Care sponsors local netball, soccer, rugby league and touch football teams, but for Dr Page, these sponsorships are about much more than signing a cheque once a season.

“It’s about community involvement, and you can’t get involved unless you’re present and engaged,” he says. “The Big Tooth is a hit with the kids. Our dentists usually take turns in the costume. It’s a great laugh. There’s nothing funnier than watching a dentist getting pummelled by a soccer team while dressed as a giant tooth.”


A culture of giving

Dr Page first got involved in local sponsorships through his kids’ sporting club, and soon expanded his involvement when he saw the benefits of these relationships for his practices. “Like most dads, I got roped into volunteering at my kids’ club, and once I  was involved that was it,” he says. “I soon realised that what they needed most was money, so a sponsorship was a natural fit.

“It just began as a feel-good thing. We do get some benefits out of our sponsorships, but our primary driver is the desire to do something good in the community.”

Dr Page says one of the most valuable benefits of sponsoring a local sporting team is not so much about getting more patients in his chairs, but rather boosting staff morale at his practices.

“I’ve found it’s an effective way to create a culture of giving at our practices,” he says. “We encourage our staff to get involved by attending club events and meeting people. But it can’t become a chore—it must retain an element of fun. That’s where the Big Tooth comes in. We draw straws to get into the costume and we all get a good laugh out of it together. It’s more or less a team-building exercise.”

The slow burn

While Dr Page’s motives are pure, there are also financial benefits associated with sponsoring local sports clubs. However, Dr Page is quick to warn other dentists not to expect a flood of new patients immediately after sealing your first sponsorship deal.

“It just doesn’t work that way. It’s more of a slow burn,” he says. “Sponsoring a sports club gives you an opportunity to get out there and meet people in your community. You build relationships and trust over time, and while I’m sure our sponsorships have delivered more business, it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.”

Dr Daniel Andrews at Hobsons Bay Dental in Victoria agrees. His practice also sponsors a range of local sports’ teams, and is the preferred dental partner of the Western Bulldogs AFL club.

“There is a lot of social value to our sponsorships, but it requires a commitment to long-term relationship building,” he says. “It’s about being an active member of your community. You can’t just hand out a cheque and expect the benefits to come flowing in. We’re out at club functions getting to know people, and if people like us, the word-of-mouth advertising follows.

“It’s about being an active member of your community. You can’t just hand out a cheque and expect the benefits to come flowing in.”—Dr Daniel Andrews, practice principal, Hobsons Bay Dental

“If you’re not interested in investing your time, then you’re better off just spending the money on advertising,” adds Dr Page.

Bringing in new business

Both Drs Page and Andrews are usually on hand at registration days to assist with mouthguard fittings for the players at the clubs they sponsor, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to leveraging their investments.

Mark Brown, chief content strategist of Engage Content, suggests putting some strategy behind your sponsorship plans. “You need to look beyond the players themselves,” he says. “Most kids will get a mouthguard and that’s that. It’s their parents and older siblings who are the ones that may need dental work, so you want to target them.”

Brown suggests offering players’ family discounts, free check-ups, or targeted offers to get the ball rolling. “You need to think about your audience,” he says. “Mum might be interested in a whitening treatment, and an older brother or sister might be looking at getting some orthodontic work done, so you want to target your offers to these different groups that exist within the clubs.”

Then it’s a matter of getting your message out there. Brown explains that you should consider leveraging the club’s communication channels, as well as your own.

“Can you post on the club’s Facebook page? Do they send out a newsletter that you could potentially publish an article in? These types of communication channels are going to help get your brand out there,” he says.

“And don’t forget your own social media channels and newsletters. Go beyond just announcing the sponsorship, and give your customers updates about how the team is going. People want to see that you’re engaged with the local community and are an active part of it.”

Show me the money

When it comes to determining the size of any financial investment you are going to make, Brown says it’s important to think about the potential return on investment.

“You need to understand your goals,” he says. “If you think a new sponsorship might bring in half a dozen new families, you need to work out how much that is worth to your practice, and therefore how much you’re willing to outlay to bring in that business.”

He also suggests putting a simple sponsorship agreement in writing that sets out exactly what you’re contributing and what you’ll receive in return. “It doesn’t have to be a complicated legal document, but just a few bullet points that clearly set out what you’re entitled to—like a presence at registration day and presentation dinners, and a specified number of social media posts or newsletter articles. This will just keep everything clear if your contact at the club happens to move on part way through your sponsorship.”

With the details locked away, Dr Page says it’s hard to lose on a sponsorship. “You might get some more business, but at the very least you’ll be doing something positive for your community, so it’s a win-win situation.”

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