SBJ/Aug. 4-10, 2014/In Depth

Sponsors tap into families and volunteers

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A glance at the roster of Little League sponsors gives you a clear idea of what companies are buying when they sign on with the world’s best-known youth sports property. There are the usual suspects on the endemic side, manufacturers of balls and bats and uniforms. But cobble together the broader list and a profile emerges.

■ Honda, the longest-tenured sponsor at 18 years, uses Little League to promote its minivans.

■ All laundry detergent hails its ability to remove stains from white baseball pants.

■ Sam’s Club is a destination for the volunteers who stock Little League concession stands, often with Gatorade and Lance Crackers, which also are sponsors.

■ Chiquita and Subway use their Little League sponsorships to promote a connection to healthy eating.

The All and Snuggle brands are a natural fit for the sport.
Photo by: Little League
“We definitely position ourselves as a channel for companies to reach parents and also volunteers,” said Liz DiLullo Brown, Little League’s vice president of marketing and strategic partnerships. “There are hundreds of companies we could go after. But for us it’s healthy eating. It’s lifestyle. It’s activity. What companies out there have the same mission and mantra as us?

“Honda is a great example. They’re not endemic. But

SBJ Podcast:
Senior writer Bill King and Assistant Managing Editor Mark Mensheha, who both have backgrounds coaching youth sports, discuss Little League Baseball, the pressures it's facing and how youth sports have changed and continue to change.

they’re all about safety and quality and the reputation speaks for itself. There are some that just fit.”

Because Little League offers such compelling imagery for use in advertising and in retail displays, and a rich database of families that are in the sweet spot for many brands, DiLullo Brown said selling the sponsors on the connection typically is easy. But there can be a few rubs when it comes to activation.

For one thing, a Little League sponsorship does not include television spots, which are sold by ESPN. That can make activation of a national campaign more complex. The upside of that for Little League is that it can offer pricing that is within reach of more brands. Little League does not tier its sponsorships. Each sponsor receives the same level of benefits and pays a similar amount: about $250,000 a year for category exclusivity, with most deals running three years.

That gives sponsors year-round use of Little League’s intellectual property as well as activation rights around the Little League World Series, which draws upward of 400,000 fans each year and of late has attracted an average of 70 million viewers for the run of the tournament on ESPN.

One of Little League’s new sponsors, Canon, plans to use the fan experience zone at the World Series to promote its printers’ ability to print from Google Cloud, inviting fans to send in good luck images and messages that will be posted to a wall in Williamsport.

Other sponsors that activate heavily in Williamsport, such as the equipment manufacturers, hope that the visibility at the highest level will trickle down to purchases at the local level.

Of course, signing on as a national sponsor doesn’t guarantee anything on the local front. Just as an MLB club might make Miller its sponsor even though the league deal is with Budweiser, individual leagues are free to hand out Powerade rather than Gatorade or buy snacks for the concession stand at Costco rather than Sam’s.

“There’s autonomy [at the local level],” DiLullo Brown said. “But I think we’re an incredible resource for our leagues. … We can’t require. But we can give opinions. And we know our leagues value that opinion.”

Little League can point to examples of rallying its membership, especially of late.

When Little League emailed coaches a Gatorade offer for a free 48-pack and a large wheeled cooler if they registered their contact information, it ran out of its allotment in only six hours, a redemption rate that was beyond anything it expected.

When it learned from surveys that its leagues typically bought concession stand items from Sam’s, it landed the club store as a sponsor, negotiating a discounted trial membership for leagues that weren’t already shopping there. When Lance signed on as a sponsor in the hope of cracking into concession stands, Little League suggested the snack maker create a special concession stand variety pack that could be sold at Sam’s club prices. The program landed distribution in almost all Sam’s outlets, DiLullo Brown said.

“We have some fantastic brands we work with that are used to dealing with sports properties and big entities,” DiLullo Brown said. “So our consultative nature needs to mirror what they’re used to. It’s quick turnaround. It’s thoughtful reaction. Solution driven. All those things. We can’t sit there and say, ‘We’re a nonprofit so we can’t give you that.’ We have to service them.”

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