Keeping the Game of Baseball Affordable for All: Finding Sponsors and Partners
by Duane Cordrey, Chesapeake MSBL for HardBall (Summer 2011)
As the cost of playing baseball rises, as fees for fields, field maintenance, umpires, equipment and other necessities increase, teams and leagues wrestle with how to keep the game affordable for their members.
MSBL affiliation helps. National membership fees have remained stable. The cost of its ample insurance program, through Francis L. Dean, is still a good value at a low price. Baseballs, equipment, uniforms and accessories are competitively priced through the MSBL Store. MSBL National’s marketing materials, available to all affiliated leagues through the national headquarters in New York, are outstanding. Its four-page color brochure is useful in attracting new players to leagues.
Still, the question remains: How can teams and leagues keep costs down for their players? Any serious discussion on that question needs to explore sponsorships and partnerships. Sponsorships provide money or donated goods; partnerships provide discounts. Both can help leagues keep costs down.
The Chesapeake MSBL in Maryland, the Savannah Adult Baseball League in Georgia, and the Los Angeles Baseball League in California, are three leagues that have created model programs to bring savings to their leagues and tied them closer to their communities. This fund raising—or as the Chesapeake MSBL likes to call it, "Friend Raising,"—strengthens leagues by making them more affordable for more players. Affordability means more new players and retention of existing player, plus a larger target audience for both sponsors and partners. Establishing relationships with local businesses ties leagues closer to their communities and improves their image. Here’s how they did it
Some businesses, such as hospitals and health care companies, make excellent sponsors, said Kevin Fitzmaurice, President of the Savannah (GA) Adult Baseball League. "They have an interest in marketing to adults who will require more health care coverage as they age and who are interested in the wellness aspect of playing adult baseball," he said.
These businesses are much more likely to participate if they know they are dealing with a legitimate non-profit. That’s why the Savannah, Chesapeake, and Los Angeles leagues have all chosen to incorporate as 501(c)3 non-profit corporations. Donating to a certified non-profit provides legal tax deductions for businesses and individuals.
The Chesapeake MSBL was able to obtain funding from MedStar Sports Health, a large sports injury health care system in the Baltimore, Maryland region. They also forged solid relationships with other businesses in their area, including Fisher Business Law run by Randy Fisher. Fisher provides pro-bono legal services for the league. He handled the paperwork when the league incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit, and reviews and drafts contracts on behalf of the league. The tradeoff? Fisher now offers league members and their families estate planning services at a significant discount.
The Chesapeake league also teamed up with the Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grill. The Greene Turtle offers league MSBL players happy hour prices on food and drink during all operating hours every day of the week. Players simply tell their server that they are league members to access the discounts.
Outsiders have benefitted from the Chesapeake MSBL’s good relations with its local business community as well. All participants in the league’s annual Columbus Day regional tournament enjoy discounted rates at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott. Deals include large rooms with refrigerators and microwave ovens, free laundry service, and free breakfast.
While these discounts do not necessarily reduce league fees, they do keep discretionary spending money in the player’s pockets. The savings from the Greene Turtle happy hour discounts after a couple of post-game beverages and appetizers results in savings that essentially reimburses the players MSBL fees and other out-of-pocket baseball expenses.
My league, the Chesapeake MSBL, refers to the process as "Friend-Raising." We see fundraising as a way to both raise money, and to develop an intimate relationships with local businesses, forming life-long friendships with them. It’s a win-win-win situation that will reap rewards for all for a long time.
When seeking sponsors, we suggest you seek first in your own backyard. You may find a teammate, or a friend that either owns a business, knows of a business, or works for a company that likes baseball, that caters to your demographic, and that may find a sponsorship or partnership beneficial.
Look what the Chesapeake MSBL found in its backyard: Brian Sands, of the Chesapeake Pirates, a recognition consultant for Annapolis-based Recognition Concepts. His Annapolis-based company specializes in creating ways to help companies recognize the good work of their employees. Its clients include Levi Strauss & Co., Con-Way Transportation Services, Lowes Companies, Inc., and Sprint—all national or world leaders in their industries.
Another (now-former) league player owned a business that used the professional services of Randy Fisher. He asked Fisher if he would be willing to help the league incorporate as a 501(c)3. Fisher, who saw an opportunity for reciprocal marketing, agreed.
Businesses that league members regularly patronize are excellent leads. In fact, you probably already know the go-to person—the owner or manager—who may be interested in sponsoring or partnering with your league. Car dealerships, batting cages, sporting goods stores, physical therapists, and vision specialists are a few such businesses. All are interested in marketing to active adult men.
One of the biggest obstacles to securing sponsors is mustering the courage to ask. Just remember: if you don’t ask, you have zero percent chance of getting what you want for your team or league. (See Tips For Soliciting Sponsors).
The West Coast Offense: Turning an Obstacle into a Benefit
Jack Provost, President of the Los Angeles Baseball League (LABL), believes potential sponsors "are more willing to contribute to youth baseball programs—especially high school—rather than to adult baseball." To overcome this natural bias towards youth programs, Provost takes an innovative approach that benefits all parties. Here’s how it works: a percentage of each LABL team’s league fee is earmarked for donation to high schools (and some junior college) baseball programs. If an LABL team finds a business willing to donate directly to one of these programs, the team’s league fee is deducted in the amount of the donation made by that business. In return, the high school or junior college program receiving the donation provides field prep—often using student athletes—for LABL games played on their fields.
There is a positive ripple effect. First, the contributing sponsor receives a legitimate tax deduction, because the LABL is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Corporation. The sponsor also gets free advertising on the league’s website, and enjoys whatever residual community goodwill this exposure brings.
The LABL team that secures the sponsorship gets a break on team fees, and the league gets a nice field that is (usually) maintained. Additionally, the student athletes learn how to do proper field maintenance, which benefits their school’s baseball program. "When it comes to high school or junior college student-athletes raising money for their program, they would much rather work on their field than wash cars or sell raffle tickets," said Provost.
Tax Write Offs
Businesses can deduct contributions to 501(c)3 or other IRS recognized Non-Profit Corporations, according to Todd Baker, a CPA and a member of the Chesapeake Marlins of the Chesapeake MSBL. Tthat tax exempt classification also provides credibility to potential sponsors with regard to your league or team mission.
Even iIf a league or team is not a registered non-profit, potential sponsors can still write off contributions made to a team or league as an advertising expense, as long as there is an advertising benefit provided to the sponsor via website, signage, team name, or other such mechanism.
Overcoming Objections and Closing the Deal
Objections and rejections are inevitable when seeking sponsors, but there are a couple of approaches to overcoming both that have worked for the Chesapeake and Savannah leagues.
First, tout the mutual benefits of the partnership or sponsorship. Reiterate the benefits that your league or team can offer the sponsor and remind them that it is a mutually beneficial win-win opportunity.
Secondly, make it personal. Ask the potential sponsor or partner if he would like to play in the league or if he knows anyone who might be interested in playing baseball. This creates a personal connection to the team or league going forward.
Offer to have the prospective sponsor or partner throw out the first pitch of a game, or have them sit in the dugout with the players, to get a feel for the culture of the team or league. This gives them an opportunity to personally get to know the players they would be supporting.
If that’s not their thing, simply invite them to attend and watch a game. If they come, be sure you recognize him or her, acknowledge their contribution, and thank them for attending the game.
Also, be sure to introduce the prospective sponsor or partner to as many players as possible to instill a sense of membership. Follow up as soon as possible with a visit or phone call, and ask them what they saw and how they felt about their experience.
Finally, Fitzmaurice adds, "be humble, show a clear need for assistance, and show benefits for the sponsor or partner if they are willing to assist your league or team in its mission."
It takes more than one person to have a successful "Friend-Raising" campaign. Since not everyone is comfortable asking for support from a company or individual, it is important to ask and encourage members of your team or league to provide leads to potential sponsors or partners and then to find players who are more comfortable asking for support to reach out to the leads provided by others.
It is easy to get discouraged when you receive a "no thank you," but in "friend raising," as in batting, you will likely fail more than you succeed. The key is to be persistent and keep at it and eventually you’ll hit one out of the park and score a sponsor or partner for your team or league.
Case Study #1: Win-Win situation in Savannah
It’s about symbiosis. Kevin Fitzmaurice believes ALL parties should benefit from sponsorships and partnerships. For example, the Savannah Adult Baseball League’s annual food drive at historic William L. Grayson Stadium, home of the Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets Single A) helps supports a local charity.
The event is co-sponsored by one or all of the league’s sponsors as well as the Sand Gnats. Savannah MSBL also routinely holds baseball clinics for children. These charitable efforts highlight the league’s commitment to the local community and provides visibility for the league and its participating sponsors and partners.
Fitzmaurice also makes sure that all league sponsors and partners are listed on the league’s website with links to their websites, and league members are urged to patronize their businesses.
Case Study #2: Recognition Concepts
Brian Sands, a longtime Chesapeake MSBL player and consultant with Recognition Concepts, felt the MSBL was a natural fit for his company, and so a partnership was born. To date, Recognition Concepts has contributed $10,000 in awards, which the Chesapeake MSBL presents each year to deserving Chesapeake MSBL teams, players, managers, umpires, and sponsors. It also provides awards for the league’s annual tournaments, and makes the league’s Hall of Fame plaques and rings. The league saves money and Recognition Concepts gains valuable recognition among the league’s players—a group that includes entrepreneurs, business owners and employees of potential clients.
Case Study #3: Sign-A-Rama
Want to be noticed? Get a sign. That was the driving concept in the Chesapeake MSBL’s partnership with Sign-A-Rama. Under the deal, the league gets a 40 percent discount on banners, which works out to a savings of about $60 on every banner it purchases. It then sells banners for a flat rate, about $500, to sponsors. Sign-A-Rama gets the business it might not otherwise have had, and the league gets more money in its coffers. When other businesses see the banner, they may want to get their own. "It goes back to the quote from Field of Dreams," Cordrey said. "If you build it, they will come."
7 Things You Can Offer A Sponsor:
1. Link to a website: put the company logo on your website and create a link directly to their business. Hang a sign with the sponsor’s logo and web adress: immediate visibility is the key benefit here.
2. Naming rights: name your team after a business to give that business exposure within the league. Print the business name on the uniforms or have embroidered patches applied to the uniform. Again, be sure to obtain enough funding to cover the cost of screen printing or embroidery.
3. Provide access to league data: With proper attention to privacy, provide a sponsor access to your league database. Exercise caution when providing home or email addresses so that league members aren’t barraged with spam or junk mail.
4. Be a conduit for your sponsor: Offer to get the sponsor’s word out through your website or through other team/league communication channels like Facebook or Twitter.
Note: Whatever benefit you offer in exchange for their support, keep your end of the agreement and be sure that your sponsor or partner sees tangible evidence that you are doing what you said you would do.
Kevin Fitzmaurice, President, Savannah Adult Baseball League and Jack Provost, President, Los Angeles Baseball League contributed to this article.
Chesapeake MSBL www.chesapeakemsbl.com
Los Angeles MSBL www.labl.org
Savannah MSBL www.savannahmsbl.com
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