If you’re a small business owner, chances are you’re always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to grow your business. A great way to do so could be right under your nose: on your local football pitch, and you don’t need to buy some football boots or play a full 90 minutes. Football sponsorship isn’t just for major companies – small businesses with varying budgets can get involved, too.
Benefits range from channeling fans’ emotional connection to football and gaining global reach, to testing new ideas and taking a stand on social issues. The value of getting involved with your local football club goes far beyond a sales boost.
To find out why small businesses should team up with their local club, we spoke to Stef McLoughlin, commercial manager at Lewes FC, and a handful of sponsors.
#1 Channel fans’ emotional connection to football
We’re a nation of football fans. In 2022, 17 million people in the UK tuned in to watch the UEFA Women’s Euros final. The emotional connection fans feel to their team is powerful energy that businesses can tap into.
According to Stef, there’s no better way of showcasing your business than through a channel people love. “The emotional attachment people have to their football teams is like nothing else,” Stef says. “Even more so when it’s a community football team.”
The bond between fans and clubs can have a significant impact on how fans view sponsorships. And fans of women’s sports are particularly receptive to brand involvement. New research shows that 70% of women’s sports fans would be more likely to think positively about a brand that sponsored their favourite sport, and 64% would be more likely to purchase from it.
Not only do you have access to an engaged audience on match days – fans post on social media, talk about their team, and show their loyalty by coming back to the pitch time after time. By sponsoring their club, your brand will be positively associated with the team they love.
#2 Reach local and international audiences
It doesn’t matter if your customer base is local or spread around the world. Football can help you reach them. Every sponsorship looks different – from popping your adverts on pitchside screens, to taking over the catering on match day. Depending on who you’re trying to reach, you can scale your strategy up or down.
“The first question I ask a potential sponsor is ‘who are your customers? And who do you want to reach?’” Stef says. “There’s no point paying extra for international reach if all of your clients are based in the community.”
For example, a local dog groomer might be looking to attract new customers from the community. Instead of pitchside branding with international reach, a pop-up stand with discount vouchers for fans is a more targeted choice.
Equally, those looking for international reach have plenty of opportunities to get their brand out there. According to Stef, amazing coverage can happen out of the blue: “This year we made it to the FA cup quarter-final and ended up on the BBC. It piqued a huge interest in our club, and we adjusted our marketing strategy so that our sponsors could benefit too.”
You don’t need an astronomical budget for sponsorship, either. “Our sponsors can choose to do something simple and affordable, like have their logo in a match day programme. Or they can do an ongoing sponsorship,” Stef says. Clubs usually have something to fit everyone’s budget. It’s not just for the big corporate companies.”
#3 Test new ideas
Your local club could be the ultimate testing ground for new products or services.
“We took the opportunity to show off our catering skills and use it as a launchpad to expand our business,” Kyriakos says. “We booked several more jobs after that, and it’s been going really well ever since. We got to grow our dream.”
A live environment to test out your new products and services can be hard to find. At Lewes FC, Kyriakos had the freedom to build on his vision, get live feedback, and learn on the job.
“Our catering knowledge expanded after that day. It was amazing to serve the executives and directors of Lewes FC and Manchester United,” Kyriakos recalls.
Businesses don’t need to approach their local club with a fully-fledged proposal, either.
“Most companies don’t come to us with a plan,” Stef explains. “Instead, we work with them to develop a campaign that aligns with their goals. Smaller businesses don’t always have the privilege of a full marketing team, so we work together until we get it right.”
#4 Take a stand on social issues
It’s no secret that modern consumers seek out purposeful brands. By sponsoring your local club, you can develop campaigns that elevate the values and social issues you and your customers care about.
“There was one weekend where we went completely vegan,” Stef recalls. “We were showcasing all kinds of really important environmental initiatives. So we brought on a sponsor that reflected those values.”
That sponsor was Nixi Body, a reusable menstrual and leak-proof underwear brand founded by Kelly Newton. As a gender-equal football club, Lewes FC has a significant female fan base. This was exactly the audience Kelly and the team were trying to reach.
“We loved the idea of bringing together football and sustainability, so we jumped at the chance,” Kelly shares. “Being at the game was amazing. We brought leaflets and products, and got to engage with the fans.”
Sponsorship can be a vessel for forwarding social issues and inspiring change. Kelvyn Quagraine, head of brand at Art of Football, cites this as one of the key reasons for getting involved with Lewes FC.
Ahead of Lewes’ FA Cup game against Manchester United, Art of Football designed a pre-game shirt to highlight Lewes’ message on equal pay across the men and women’s game.
“We want to align with football clubs that share our vision,” Kelvyn says. “I remember being taken aback by the pride Lewes FC place on being a club that leads on equality. Seeing their reaction to our shirt design was the most exciting part.”
Taking a stance on social issues might feel a little risky for your business. But if it’s authentic and it aligns with your brand, the payoff can be incredible.
“The pictures of our players in the Art of Football warm-up shirts went completely viral. Not every company would want to take a stand. But they were perfectly aligned with us at Lewes FC,” says Stef.
Five quick tips for getting involved with your local team
It’s clear that small businesses stand to gain so much from getting involved with local clubs. But what do you need to know before you eye a sponsorship with your local team? Here are five tips to get you started:
Be authentic – Be honest about what you want out of the sponsorship. Clubs can help you design a campaign that works for your business, but only if you’re clear on your goals.
Align purposes – Effective sponsorships are a two-way street. Spend some time getting to know the club, what the team is about, and how you can support their mission and values.
Showcase your products – Think about how you can get customers to interact with your products or services. Why not offer pitchside snacks from your new pop-up food business, or provide your toiletries in the fan bathrooms?
Consider your audience – Seeing your logo on the big screen might give you an ego boost, but will it attract customers? Think about whether your ideal customers are local or global – and design a campaign to suit.
Refocus – Once the sponsorship gets going, keep revisiting your original goals. Is your current approach working? Or do you need to tweak the plan?
However you play it, we hope your business enjoys the benefits of forging relationships with local clubs.