Big League Deals: A Descriptive Study of Sponsorship Levels in Grassroots U.S. Baseball and Softball Programs

By Obsniuk, Scott; Smith, Scott J. | The Sport Journal, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Big League Deals: A Descriptive Study of Sponsorship Levels in Grassroots U.S. Baseball and Softball Programs


Obsniuk, Scott, Smith, Scott J., The Sport Journal


Big League Deals: A Descriptive Study of Sponsorship Levels in Grassroots U.S. Baseball and Softball Programs

Sport sponsorship offers corporations and other businesses a means of breaking through cluttered marketplaces, delivering advertising messages effectively, and segmenting by specific demographics. It is due to these and other advantages that investment in sponsorships was projected by the sponsorship consultancy IEG (2006) to rise to $9.9 billion in 2007 from $8.94 billion in 2006, accounting for 66% of all sponsorship investments. Sponsorship can be defined as a business relationship between a provider of funds, resources, or services and an individual, event, or organization that offers in return some rights and associations the provider uses to commercial advantage (Sleight, 1989, p. 4). The bulk of existing data and literature on sport sponsorship concerns professional and collegiate sports; sponsorship at the grassroots--or community-based or recreational--level has been little studied. (Grassroots, community-based, and recreational are used interchangeably here to refer to organizations and programs designed for community members and marketed primarily at a local level.) Sponsorship of grassroots, recreational, community-based sport programs differs from sponsorship of professional or collegiate sports. And, further, sponsorship at the grassroots level is often tailored specifically to the sport and league or team.

Taking sponsorship of community-based baseball and softball programs to a "big league" level can be a key to their success. Sponsorship dollars can help grassroots sport organizations and programs provide higher quality offerings and services to patrons, simultaneously assisting in the overall bottom line of the organization or program. But how many community-based baseball and softball programs take advantage of this source of funding? For programs with sponsors, what percentages of their activities are underwritten by sponsorship dollars? And what types of sponsorships do these baseball and softball programs prefer?

In Buncombe County, North Carolina, the parks and recreation department has since 2000 wrestled with a 15% budget reduction and concurrent 49% increase in facilities usage (Bynum, 2003). It has used sponsorship to close the inevitable gaps. Indeed, research suggests that external impacts that stress the budgets of recreational programs can be countered by innovative corporate sponsorship programs (Bynum, 2003). The sponsored organization benefits, and so does the corporation, since sponsoring grassroots sports is a unique way to contribute to a community, forging an intimate connection with the corporation's consumers in that community. Larger, wealthier corporations may have the funds to employ clever national television and radio spots, but even they would be foolish to overlook the power of marketing in consumers' own backyards. Sponsoring a community softball team, a local cheerleading event, or a charity fundraiser constitutes grassroots marketing that can bring advantages in staving off competition and building community trust (Local Sponsorships Build a Brand, 2005).

The research literature yields little if any documentation of ongoing sponsorship activity within grassroots sports in the United States, even though sponsorship of community-based sports is not uncommon, as suggested by a story ("A bevy of sponsors partner with the Harlem Lil League") appearing in the New York Amsterdam News (Evans, 2006). In sponsoring community-based sports like baseball and softball leagues, organizations foster positive public relations, stepping in to relieve effects that a slow economy or other factors may impose on sports programs; good public relations are valued by most organizations. The present research study intended to determine levels of sponsorship use in community-based U.S. baseball and softball programs and to identify the characteristics of sponsorships used by such programs. …

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