Winning at the sports marketing game

Partnering with sports teams in your community is a great wayto get your pizza brand in front of kids and families. Athleticevents, particularlyspringtime sports, provide numerousopportunities for a pizzeria to serve as a gathering place forpostgame parties, team meetings or end-of-the-season awardsdinners. And whether the team enjoys a banner season orbottoms out in the rankings, your pizzeria will come out on topwith substantially increased large-group sales.

The sports teams in your area may range from kids soccer,T-ball and baseball to high school tennis andadult softballleagues, 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 yourability to create and maintain positive, mutually beneficialrelationships with coaches, managers, team sponsors andsports players in your community. Here’s how tocreate and make the most of your partnerships:

1. List the types of sports teams in yourcommunity. You can obtain this informationonline, from local schools or from your city’sparks and recreation department. Sports mayinclude afterschool kids teams (such as LittleLeague Baseball or Pop Warner football); middleschool or high school teams;minor league or semiproteams; adult leagues (such as adult women’s fastpitchsoftball); 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, hockeyor others.

3. Develop necessary promotional materialsand giveaways. These may include cards for afree slice, free beverage or free kids pizza along withgiveaway caps, T-shirts and other items bearing yourcompany logo.
4. Contact the team coaches or managers. Offer apromotional idea and develop a partnership. Create customizedletters to multiple teams and followup 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 ora Little League squad—and your restaurant’s name will beprinted on jerseys and signs at the sports venue. This willgenerate valuable exposure and demonstrate that yourrestaurant is an active corporate citizen.
• Obtain permission to offer samples of your pizza at sportingevents. Make sure to adequately brand yourself. You mayconsider purchasing a tentwith your logo on it from which tohand out samples.
• Many teams struggle to pay for uniforms, equipment andother expenses, so provide sports teams with fundraisingopportunities at your restaurant.Give flyers to coaches andinvite their teams to hold fundraisers on designated nights ofthe week. Donate a percentage of the proceedswhen sportsteams bring in their flyers on their fundraising night.
• Host a Uniform Day at your restaurant. Choose a day andtime (Saturday is a good day) to give designated sportsteams free food or drinks forwearing their uniforms intoyour restaurant.
• Sell food at sporting events. Use branded catering trucks, tentsor a booth to serve easy-to-transport menu items. Boost yoursales by donating a dollar to the team for every pizza sold.
• Work with coaches to give achievement awards to players atthe end of the season. The awards can be given to each teammember and include a free small pizza at your restaurant.
• For semiprofessional and professional athletic teams andevents, develop creative public relations stunts. Partneringwith your local pro or semiproteam will allow your restaurantto capitalize on its good name without paying too much foradvertising. One example: Host a Jersey Day for thehometeam during which any customer wearing the team’s jerseygets a free slice of pizza. Promote this event on Facebookand to your email clubmembers, and be sure to send a pressrelease about it to the local newspaper.
• Contact a local sports venue and ask to sponsor a section ofthe spectators’ seating area. Give members in your sectioncomplimentary hats or Tshirts and cards for free meals at yourrestaurant. In some cases, your brand may even get mentionedand 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 packagedeal for team parties. Forpro or semipro teams, considerproviding free catering for their team breakfasts or dinnersthroughout the season.
• Arrange an eating competition between rival teams. Get thecheerleaders involved and promote the event to the localmedia. Accept donations forthe event to raise funds for the winning team.
• Sponsor a walk, run or marathon in your community. Offerto donate gift bags and water bottles at the end of the race.Feed the runners on the evening before the race or host apost-event celebration.

6. Follow through with your obligations for thepromotions. A slipup here could prove costly, so make sure tofulfill your commitments regardingprinting and gatheringcollateral materials, plus the booking and execution of events.Sports marketing not only allows you to promote yourbrandand demonstrate good corporate citizenship; it also provides anopportunity to turn young players into ambassadors for yourbrand through logoed T-shirts, caps and giveaway cards thatthey can share with friends and family. Even if you can’t affordall of the promotions described above,you can choose at leastone local kids team and focus your time and energy on it. You’llbe making a difference in your community and helping youngpeople while attracting large groups of customers to yourrestaurant. It’s a win-win proposition.

Linda Duke is the CEO of Duke Marketing and author of Recipesfor Restaurateurs (, a “cookbook” ofmarketing ideas forrestaurant owners.
She publishes a quarterlyindustry resource, Restaurant Marketing Magazine, and aneducational program, LSM-U, Local StoreMarketing University.
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