Sponsoring a club or team is often a relatively small investment that, when approached thoughtfully, can yield impressive dividends.

Profit margins in the service industry are notoriously thin even during the best of times. But with the pandemic putting the squeeze on businesses everywhere, restaurants literally cannot afford to leave any stone unturned that has the potential to reveal a viable revenue stream.

One of those sources is the youth sports sponsorship. For local restaurants, sponsoring a club or team is often a relatively small investment that, when approached thoughtfully, can yield impressive dividends. A sports sponsorship allows a restaurant to directly connect with its target crowd—players, parents, coaches, administrators and others. And when partnering with a local tournament or league, a business can expand its reach from just the nearby locals to visiting teams, along with their players, coaches, parents and fans.

Given how many AAU events, tournaments and showcases are annual events, a restaurant has the opportunity to make an impression and reap lasting benefits through a sponsorship. Out-of-town visitors often lean toward the familiar, and they may only have time for a shared team meal before hitting a hotel bed and then heading back home in the morning. But a sponsorship creates an association, putting a restaurant top of mind and, combined with good food and service, can help turn an eatery into an annual pilgrimage. Make a connection and you’ve made a new customer.

A banner ad or restaurant’s logo hyperlinked to its website helps directly generate business, bringing diners through the door, as well as appealing to takeout and delivery customers. Regular travel for youth sports is costly, so coaches and parents often respond to discounts. Offering deals through a tournament website or directly to players, coaches and participants’ families is an excellent strategy for driving sales.

Even while still in the midst of the pandemic—and perhaps especially so—restaurants should be reaching out to youth sports organizations. Many teams and leagues have already begun playing and traveling again, and many more will be soon. Players, coaches and parents who have been cooped up for months will be eager to get back on the field, meaning a flood of business is headed restaurants’ way in the near future. Sports and food service have been hit as hard as any industries by the pandemic, so it’s only fitting that they should work together—and benefit from each other’s success—as our lives return to some level of normalcy.

Restaurant proprietors can think of a sponsorship as strict altruism or marketing, but it certainly can be more: relatively small contributions from local businesses are legitimate community-builders. Youth and amateur sports organizations often operate on tight budgets, making sponsorships crucial. Without them, many organizations would not be able to offer services to the local community, and many underprivileged kids would be left on the outside looking in. Considering the role sports can play in an active lifestyle and robust mental health, sponsors should view their contributions to athletic organizations as investments in the strength of their community and customer base.

What are best practices for becoming an empowering youth sports sponsor? Start by:

Associating your brand with youth sports. Your business shouldn’t only advertise discounts to its sponsored participants. Instead, support local sports organizations by providing resources (funds, gear, food) and by proudly positioning your restaurant as a sponsor.

Meet with the team. Face-to-face interaction demonstrates a deeper commitment to a team or organization beyond just a donation. By meeting the recipients of a sponsorship, a restaurant owner or representative allows potential customers to put a name and face to a business that has actively supported them, building both a personal and brand association that could lead to your list of regulars growing. 

Remember your audience. If you’re a restaurant owner who sponsors, or is considering sponsoring, a youth sports club, keep the audience demographic in mind: mostly people ranging in age from 25 to 54—the most active segment of the population. As important as kid’s meals are in this equation, so are your offerings of ribeyes, hot wings and draft beer.

Think mobile first. An article in Restaurant Dive cited that more than 77 percent of diners visit a restaurant’s website before they dine in or order out—meaning more than half of interested consumers are likely to find the location of a business, access its phone number, view the menu and then order from it via their smartphone. Maintaining strict mobile quality control is the best way to make sure a great majority of potential customers see exactly what they’re intended to see.

Youth sports sponsorships aren’t a get-rich-quick scheme or even a fool-proof model of business sustainability. But they can become a helpful supplemental revenue stream, an important word-of-mouth asset to a restaurant’s marketing arm and a truly worthwhile investment in the local community that pays forward the good will of a small business within that community. Associating your brand with local youth organizations boosts your brand recognition and links you to community wellness. Sure, a sponsorship makes for good business. But it’s also good for everyone around you.

Étienne Bernier is the co-founder and CEO of Kreezee Sports, a management platform that powers youth sports organizations through custom websites, online payment and registration, scheduling capabilities and more. Over the past few years, Étienne has contributed to the expansion of Kreezee through his expertise in project management and business development stemming from years of experience in IT. Kreezee works with customers across Canada, the United States as well as Europe, garnering some 2 million users as it continues to grow in its reach. A Quebec City firefighter since 1995, Étienne is known for his unifying character, foolproof discipline and structured work ethic.

Expert Takes, Feature