Winning at the sports marketing game

Score points with kids and families by targeting local athletic events.



Partnering with sports teams in your community is a great way to get your pizza brand in front of kids and families. Athletic events, particularly springtime sports, provide numerous opportunities for a pizzeria to serve as a gathering place for postgame parties, team meetings or end-of-the-season awards dinners. And whether the team enjoys a banner season or bottoms out in the rankings, your pizzeria will come out on top with substantially increased large-group sales. 

The sports teams in your area may range from kids soccer, T-ball and baseball to high school tennis and adult softball leagues, to name a few possibilities. Earning their business—which can, in many cases, bring dozens of hungry (and thirsty) diners into your restaurant on a slow night—depends on your ability to create and maintain positive, mutually beneficial relationships with coaches, managers, team sponsors and sports players in your community. Here’s how to create and make the most of your partnerships:

1. List the types of sports teams in your community. You can obtain this information online, from local schools or from your city’s parks and recreation department. Sports may include afterschool kids teams (such as Little League Baseball or Pop Warner football); middle school or high school teams; minor league or semipro teams; adult leagues (such as adult women’s fastpitch softball); college intramural teams; collegiate sports teams; professional teams; and sports-related school clubs.
2. Make a list of the different categories of sports. This list can include baseball, softball, lacrosse, football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, water polo, swimming, synchronized swimming, golf, tennis, rugby, hockey or others.
3. Develop necessary promotional materials and giveaways. These may include cards for a free slice, free beverage or free kids pizza along with giveaway caps, T-shirts and other items bearing your company logo.
4. Contact the team coaches or managers. Offer a promotional idea and develop a partnership. Create customized letters to multiple teams and follow up with them.

5. Develop a list of promotions centered on local sports.

Here are some great ideas to get you started:

• Sponsor a local sports team—such as a girls soccer team or a Little League squad—and your restaurant’s name will be printed on jerseys and signs at the sports venue. This will generate valuable exposure and demonstrate that your restaurant is an active corporate citizen.
• Obtain permission to offer samples of your pizza at sporting events. Make sure to adequately brand yourself. You may consider purchasing a tent with your logo on it from which to hand out samples.
• Many teams struggle to pay for uniforms, equipment and other expenses, so provide sports teams with fundraising opportunities at your restaurant. Give flyers to coaches and invite their teams to hold fundraisers on designated nights of the week. Donate a percentage of the proceeds when sports teams bring in their flyers on their fundraising night.
• Host a Uniform Day at your restaurant. Choose a day and time (Saturday is a good day) to give designated sports teams free food or drinks for wearing their uniforms into your restaurant. 
• Sell food at sporting events. Use branded catering trucks, tents or a booth to serve easy-to-transport menu items. Boost your sales by donating a dollar to the team for every pizza sold.
• Work with coaches to give achievement awards to players at the end of the season. The awards can be given to each team member and include a free small pizza at your restaurant.
• For semiprofessional and professional athletic teams and events, develop creative public relations stunts. Partnering with your local pro or semipro team will allow your restaurant to capitalize on its good name without paying too much for advertising. One example: Host a Jersey Day for the home team during which any customer wearing the team’s jersey gets a free slice of pizza. Promote this event on Facebook and to your email club members, and be sure to send a press release about it to the local newspaper.
• Contact a local sports venue and ask to sponsor a section of the spectators’ seating area. Give members in your section complimentary hats or T shirts and cards for free meals at your restaurant. In some cases, your brand may even get mentioned and promoted on live TV by fans wearing your logo.
• Host team dinners for celebrations and awards presentations. Invite local teams to make reservations and offer a package deal for team parties. For pro or semipro teams, consider providing free catering for their team breakfasts or dinners throughout the season.
• Arrange an eating competition between rival teams. Get the cheerleaders involved and promote the event to the local media. Accept donations for the event to raise funds for the winning team.
• Sponsor a walk, run or marathon in your community. Offer to donate gift bags and water bottles at the end of the race. Feed the runners on the evening before the race or host a post-event celebration.

6. Follow through with your obligations for the promotions. A slipup here could prove costly, so make sure to fulfill your commitments regarding printing and gathering collateral materials, plus the booking and execution of events. Sports marketing not only allows you to promote your brand and demonstrate good corporate citizenship; it also provides an opportunity to turn young players into ambassadors for your brand through logoed T-shirts, caps and giveaway cards that they can share with friends and family. Even if you can’t afford all of the promotions described above, you can choose at least one local kids team and focus your time and energy on it. You’ll be making a difference in your community and helping young people while attracting large groups of customers to your restaurant. It’s a win-win proposition.

Linda Duke is the CEO of Duke Marketing and author of Recipes for Restaurateurs (marketing-cookbook.com), a “cookbook” of marketing ideas for restaurant owners.
She publishes a quarterly industry resource, Restaurant Marketing Magazine, and an educational program, LSM-U, Local Store Marketing University.
Find out more at dukemarketing.com.

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