Mark Cornish | Grassroots sponsorship is set to boom

Mark Cornish explains how investment, technology and societal demands are creating new sponsorship opportunities in grassroots sport.

Mark Cornish

There’s always a lot of talk about the high-profile sponsorship deals that bring millions to clubs and federations.

But increasingly I’m spotting announcements, anecdotes and case studies about how grassroots sports sponsorships are having greater impact.

Once more or less a donation – and I wouldn’t want to discourage that – the landscape has changed to the extent that grassroots is highly investible for companies of all sizes and sectors.

What has been going on?

Growing populations and the need to keep people active and healthy is a well-documented mandate for many centrally funded organisations and local governments. This brings about new infrastructure and modern facilities, creating state-of-the-art community sports hubs and stadia.  These properties are often multisport venues that bring together people from different sports, clubs and teams that previously operated in isolation.

Schools are beneficiaries, and the organisers of junior, youth and adult events can scale and host tournaments and competitions that were previously impossible.

Technology is revolutionising how grassroots clubs administer and communicate to their membership and wider community. Online management systems like LoveAdmin are making lives easier for club administrators, whilst web platforms such as Pitchero and social media platforms make it easy to share engaging content and video with followers.

Sports federations have never been more focused on grassroots. For the larger sports such as soccer, modernisation of the game and how it is delivered locally is the lifeblood of the business. The demand, particularly among younger age groups, never ceases to amaze me, and we are seeing a boom in the women’s and girl’s game.

Local soccer associations now go way beyond being administrators, they are vital investors and the foot soldiers of improving participation, gender equality, diversity, inclusivity, safeguarding, coaching, development, and marketing campaigns for official partners.

Whether it is about retention or building new fans and revenue streams, professional sports clubs are well established investors in community coaching, camps and development. And last but certainly not least is the growth of Youth Academies and Colleges linked to sports clubs specifically for ages 16-19 years old. One example is the Pro-Direct Academies, which use sport as a platform to encourage youth to stay in further education, deliver guidance and experiences to help students make better decisions about their futures.

Hearts and minds

Society today buys more on beliefs and expects more from brands. Companies expect suppliers and distributors to meet their own corporate responsibility targets. People are also more marketing savvy and can quickly establish if an advertising proposition is genuine. A well targeted grassroots sponsorship campaign can reach the hearts and minds of consumers, and where better place to do it than in their own communities.

Over the past three years I have dedicated some of my time consulting to various stakeholders and sponsors who have invested millions in grassroots sports.

Scale and activation for a sponsor is often seen as the challenge. But this barrier is coming down as new infrastructure means you can reach more people in modern surroundings fit for your brand, tech means you can communicate with members more easily and social media means you can engage directly with consumers.

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