Prep Sports

Sponsorships can help youth sports programs

Justis column: They just want a little 'bang for their buck'


Is your youth sports team or organization struggling financially during these unprecedented times?

Has the cancellation of games or seasons hurt your budget bottom line?

Do you wonder how you can recover what has been lost or sustain what you have while not knowing when your environment can return to normal?

You aren’t the only one concerned.

The worry is just one more battle facing school, recreation, club and youth sport administrators. However, there are ways to fundraise without hosting events with lots of supporters in close quarters during this pandemic. Your supporters will be glad to help despite the loss of spectator sports. Family or not, they love the kids and understand the benefits sports provide for youth as they grow into young adults.

Corporate sponsorships have been the bailiwick of college and professional athletics programs, but there is no reason why high school and lower level programs cannot take advantage of local businesses by creating a sponsorship partner program. In fact, local business leaders might be more inclined to support community schools and other programs because of their personal connections. Owners or their friends might have children enrolled in these programs.

Despite the large number of a high school population or of youth participating in organized sports, only a very small percentage of budgets are distributed to athletics. If corporate sponsorship is one way to fill in the monetary gaps, what are the best approaches to make this happen?

Obviously, the partnership needs to benefit both parties. One key to a long-standing relationship is to not walk around with your hand out over and over. The first step is to build a relationship. Request a face-to-face meeting. Perhaps bring the head football or swimming coach along with you, depending upon the person you will be meeting with. The potential sponsor will be grateful for the introduction.

Don’t respond with just a “thanks,” then walk out the door. Give the sponsor a way to reach a lot of people through athletics. Give it a bang for the bucks just as it might get through other advertising channels.

You can hang sponsorship banners on gym walls and outdoor fences. How about if the school uses a large-screen projector system displaying rotating ads on the gymnasium wall? Place the image next to the scoreboard during games where eyes travel frequently. It is easy for sponsors to change their ads as often as necessary.

Create sponsorship packages with varying cost points. Packages can include the banners, the projector systems, rolling ads on the front of official benches, advertisements in game programs, season passes for home events and participation in additional fundraising activities, such as golf outings. Lower costs may include smaller ads in the programs and a team T-shirt.

Make sure to include a plaque or certificate that the sponsor can display in the place of business.

Be prepared to answer key questions from your prospective sponsor. You might create a brochure to leave behind that provides attendance figures, location of ad space available and where the sponsorship dollars will be spent specifically. Or give the sponsors an opportunity to designate where their moneys will go.

Perhaps you have an opportunity for naming rights — for a newly remodeled locker room, concession stand, etc.

If your sponsors provide a service your program, staff and student-athletes can take advantage of, it would be appropriate to give those sponsors your business in return. That shows you appreciate their partnership. Include them in your bid projects.

It might be easier for you to approach companies that already are involved in the community, knowing they already are willing to contribute. However, those are the people who are asked for help frequently, so make sure you research what kinds of organizations they are more likely to assist. Also, learn when their fiscal years begin — that helps determine when is the best time to reach out.

Car dealerships sell first cars to parents of young drivers. Cellphone companies target families and sports fans. Medical clinics, hospitals and local gyms are anxious to get messages in front of crowds attending sporting events. Banks, grocery store chains and restaurants are additional sponsorship opportunities.

Just keep in mind it never hurts to ask and use a no-pressure approach.

Do you need legal documents to fundraise? Some programs request merely a check mark on the sponsorship form. Others may need an agreement developed by an organization’s attorney. Determine whether you will approve the sponsor to pay in installments as a courtesy, which is most important for smaller sponsors.


Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at

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