Last week’s Sports Marketing Conference in Toronto attracted a number of communications and marketing professionals looking for the next big thing to get their company names out there.
There was a full lineup of experts showcasing the latest sponsorship strategies and marketing tactics that are being deployed by some of Canada’s biggest firms. But one story really stood out. And as a small-business owner, it made me think about sports sponsorship in a whole new way.
Gold-medal-winning Olympic sprint kayaker Adam van Koeverden spoke from the perspective of an athlete. The Oakville, Ont.-born champ talked extensively about the role small businesses can play in making an impact on the lives of Canadian Olympic athletes.
Mr. Van Koeverden discussed his relationship with The Running Company, a small business in downtown Oakville that has supported him since he was a 15-year-old junior.
“People have to realize that most athletes have no money, no equipment and no support,” Greg McKinnon, owner of the store, recalls about building the relationship. “We stepped in early on and began providing Adam with shoes that he needed as part of his training program. There were times when he would need to move equipment so we would lend him the company truck to save him the cost of renting one.”
Mr. McKinnon is quick to point out that he has no expectation of a return on investment. He says he believes that providing shoes and introducing athletes to shoe manufacturers is simply part of making The Running Company a good corporate citizen. He does, however, take great pride in the photographs of Mr. Van Koeverden that hang in the store as well as the drop-ins made by athletes, which allows Mr. McKinnon to introduce them to his customers.
You can still find The Running Company logo on Mr. Van Koeverden’s apparel and on his promotional materials, alongside the logos of much larger corporate sponsors that have stepped up to support him.
It is a great example of a grassroots sponsorship that, because of strong personal relationships and its authentic nature, has endured and created a win-win program for the brand and the athlete.
Mr. Van Koeverden encourages businesses and brands considering a larger sponsorship to explore legacy programs that extend far beyond the short time frame in which an athlete is competing as an Olympian.
Big businesses spend a lot of time and money negotiating Olympic sponsorships. Sports-related sponsorships benefit the participating company through brand recognition and credibility, while providing financial support for athletes. Smart brands extend those sponsorships with longer-term commitments and athlete engagement after the excitement of the Games winds down.
For example, a construction or lumber company could consider a sponsorship that includes building new docks for a kayak or rowing training facility, rather than a one-time cash donation to a specific athlete. The legacy – a benefit to athletes in subsequent years – is not lost on many other countries around the world. There are countless stories of the superior training facilities built by sponsor programs in South America and throughout Europe.
Sponsoring an amateur sports team in a community can demonstrate your civic pride and illustrate your commitment to giving back. Search for a local sports team without a sponsor, and drive media coverage based on your support. Sponsor a promising athlete in the community and use social media to track his or her progress. Local sponsorship initiatives build a brand’s reputation, and create a favourable perception among consumers.
As Mr. McKinnon points out, there is a special pride in making a commitment to Canadian athletes.
“It is great getting to know these athletes early on and watching them grow and win. I sometimes find myself looking up at Adam’s photo and wondering where in the world he is today: training, competing and representing Canada.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.
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