Athletic facility managers have made a commitment to green design, sustainability and reducing their facilities' overall environmental impact despite shrinking resources. Often, these environmental initiatives include a facility achieving LEED certification. In a time of limited funds, facility managers are exploring new ways to offset this investment. Along with traditional revenue streams such as ticketing and membership sales, some facility managers are utilizing sponsorship sales. Due to the relative newness of LEED certification in sports venues, there is little experience and shared knowledge on how to use LEED certification to entice sponsorships and generate revenue.
Securing sponsorships involves managing not only the exchange theory — building up the value of the sponsorship by highlighting the additional value that the LEED certification investment brought to the venue — but sponsor perceptions. Environmental sustainability education and promotion of LEED certification and green initiatives to potential sponsors is a key part of the process. When facility professionals conduct tours, LEED discussions offer an educational opportunity, as well as a chance to enhance the perception of the venue's value. With the inclusion of LEED certification information, potential sponsors may be persuaded to believe the benefits of adopting the partnership outweigh the costs.
So how does one go about putting together such a presentation? Twenty-one athletic and recreational facility managers involved in marketing and sponsorship solicitation of their respective LEED-certified facilities were interviewed. Based on their recommendations and advice, the following strategic framework for sponsorship solicitation was developed.
ADOPT A LEED-CERTIFIED MINDSET
Prove commitment to green initiatives through LEED certification, trained and knowledgable staff and identification of cause-related marketing potential.
The first step is to demonstrate the commitment of the facility design and management team to meeting the LEED certification standards. The achievement of LEED certification is a clear demonstration to corporations and the community at large of an organization's commitment to the environment. Part of this commitment involves employing a sales team that recognizes the potential of LEED as a tool for enhancing the venue's brand. Employing the environmentally sustainable initiatives as the social issue, cause-related marketing (CRM) can then be used as a key part of the sponsorship solicitation strategy.
This mindset should be implemented throughout the organization. Whether conducting tours or meeting with potential clients and customers, the LEED certification should be a point of pride for every employee. In one facility, this excitement was shared from the top down within the organization — from the CEO to part-time staff members giving venue tours — and new employees were educated in the facility's LEED design history. The ideal results are to have environmental sustainability become a part of the organization's culture that is maintained from event to event, season to season.
RESEARCH POTENTIAL SPONSORS
Identify potential sponsors based on geographic location, image reputation, mission, values and goals, and consider previous environmental sustainability initiatives, as well as existing needs and wants.
The next step in the strategic framework for sponsorship solicitation focuses on researching and identifying potential sponsors.
Recommended research areas include the sponsor's geographical location to determine if a local sponsor is a good fit or if there is a need to search outside the community regionally, nationally or even internationally. Other areas of interest include the sponsor's public image and reputation to ensure it fits with that part of the sports organization. The mission, values and goals of the sponsor also are important; in particular, investigating the environmentally sustainable initiatives that the sponsor is interested in or already pursuing. Overall, research of the potential sponsor is necessary to identify the needs and wants of the partner to ensure the sports organization's marketing staff member can prepare an effective sponsorship package.
One facility successfully partnered with a local waste company that wanted to promote their recycling program. These existing green initiatives offered the sports marketing team creative promotional opportunities to target with the sponsorship. Another sports organization contracted with a cleaning company that valued the use of green products. Recognizing the cleaning company's focus offered the marketing director an obvious sponsor choice that could be aligned with the sport facility's sustainability initiatives.
CREATE A TARGETED SPONSORSHIP PACKAGE
Address sponsor's specific needs and wants and demonstrate how an organization's sustainability initiatives align with sponsor's image, mission and values.
Once potential sponsors have been identified, the next step is to create a sponsorship package reflective of the sponsor's needs and wants. The sponsorship package should detail how the image, mission, values and/or green initiatives of the sponsor align with those of the sports organization, and the potential sponsor should be able to identify this alignment and perceive it as having value.
As with any marketing package, creativity and unique value are keys to success. One facility's marketing team had the idea to offer a couch located on the sidelines of each sport event where fans could be upgraded to sit during the game. This couch was sponsored by the local furniture refurbishing company and promoted the processes of recycling and reusing. Another creative sponsorship ploy involved sponsor-related mascots who roamed the stands and promoted recycling during a specific inning/period of an event to see which section could collect and bag the most garbage. Every piece of this ploy (the mascot's name and costume, the recycling collection bags, the prizes awarded to the section that bagged the most waste) offered market exposure for the sponsor.
COMMUNICATION TO EDUCATE SPONSOR AND SELL SPONSORSHIP PACKAGE
Demonstrate how the facility's LEED certification adds value to the sponsorship package, ensuring the sponsor perceives the added benefit.
The final step emphasizes education for the potential sponsors about the green initiatives involved in a LEED-certified facility project. This results in a higher perceived value of the investment due to the added value of being aligned with a LEED-certified venue. The communication must also emphasize how the package would address the needs and wants of the sponsor and how, by aligning the two partners, these requests would be granted. Multiple methods of communication may include ideas such as emails, website postings, social media, verbal presentations and sponsorship packets.
For example, a large progressive technology company looking to be aligned with a technologically advanced facility might find added value in bringing current and potential customers to events at the venue to enjoy the sport experience as well as exhibit the company's environmentally friendly products.
The multistep process for soliciting sponsors for a LEED-certified facility encapsulates the best-practice recommendations of sports marketing professionals. One sports league has gone so far as to make standard practice the inclusion of green initiatives in every sponsorship package and pitch — whenever a sponsorship packet is developed, it highlights the LEED certification and amenities, as well as specific environmental sustainability initiatives that were accomplished at the facility during the previous year.
Building a LEED-certified sports facility has developed into much more than just a trend; building a green facility has become an expectation. Facility managers require fiscal responsibility, sponsorship solicitation success and a commitment to the environment and community. Investigating how to use a LEED certification as a marketing tool is beneficial to facility designers, builders, managers, marketers and operators.
With more than 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, Dr. Lana Huberty (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the Kinesiology and Health Sciences faculty at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn.
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Athletic Business under the headline, "Fiscally Sustainable."