It’s the time of year when youth sports starts to really kick in again. Anyone who has ever played Little League or soccer or Pop Warner football in the United States knows the signs…the local car dealer, the insurance salesman, the pizzeria who spend some of their hard earned dollars for an outfield or a wall sign to support the kids and the community and give back. The same is true of church bulletins…the support for a group or a parish may not be a clear return but it is good will and can lead to more business down the road when people have to make a choice for where and when to buy goods. Today more and more media companies, whether it is a large platform like BIG TEAMS or Team Sphere in the Bay Area area for sports, or Gannett for local news, are seeing the trend that people want local information and coverage of what is in their backyard and affecting them just as much if not more than national coverage. Along those same lines, for better or worse, is the added intensity of coverage and emphasis on young people and athletics that is now played out in the media on a daily basis. So one would think that the combination of interest and exposure, and the added increased emphasis on battling childhood obesity, would lead to brands taking more and more to see the value in local and regional sponsorships for kids sports.
The transformation of brands to activate in the market, especially with video that is quality and consistent, is very slow, and the programs at the grassroots levels are continuing to suffer. The local businesses who would gladly write the checks have gone up and down with the economy, and those consistent supporters are in a battle for every dollar, so patronage goes out the window without return. But can there be return that doesn’t overly commercialize or exploit young people? Perhaps. The fact remains that there are brands both big and small that could aggregate the spending power of local leagues from the grassroots through high school and found ways to seed product that could offset costs. Computer companies, pharma brands, food consortiums, paper suppliers…all non-traditional areas that have an interest in the young people and their parents in purchasing, could find ways to aggregate and navigate through the groups to be effective in drawing interest and dollars. It is really not a place for traditional apparel or drink or even fast food brands to spend locally, there is too much competition. But for nontraditional brands looking to use sports, the opportunity exists and it exists not just as pure advertising. It exists in sampling and product testing, in finding effective ways for districts to offset costs, and yes, in good will for consumer loyalty as well.
It is not an easy path to go down for a brand. Schools and local groups would be very weary of commercializing and exploiting, and having data sold off. However in this day, when we need to support and give young people healthy and active choices, cutting programs is not the answer. The answer is finding creative ways to fund and support, especially at a local level, and that is where brand management and engagement can really play a role not just for now, but for the health and well-being of young people and of the economy in the future.