As seen in July’s Kansas City Sports & Fitness Magazine (kcsportspaper.com)
Heartland Boosts Branding Through Youth Soccer
By MARC BOWMAN, Contributing Writer
The youth soccer explosion has given thousands of area kids a chance to play the sport, and has also been a boon to business locally and regionally.
Branding and marketing have been extremely important in the promotion of youth sports events, and is reflected in how Heartland Soccer Association runs their tournaments.
Heartland’s events attract millions of visitors annually, providing sponsors with a terrific opportunity for a well-tailored, targeted message about their products and services.
“We really like to approach each sponsor – we consider them our partners – in the community and really emphasize that each partner is an individual,” said Bridgette Samuelson, Heartland team leader and director of tournament operations for Heartland.
“They have individual needs and we like to tailor a package that works for them. We do many things from paper distribution of coupons to all types of digital and social media, digital newsletters, banners, signage and uniform sponsors, just to name a few.”
Samuelson and her team try to be creative in how they can help a partner reach its audience.
“Minsky’s Pizza is going to be the official Field Marshall kit sponsors,” she said. “These are our Field Marshalls that are out there for tournaments and league play, and their kits will have, along with the Heartland identification and logo, and their Field Marshall status, they will also carry a Minsky’s branding logo.”
The branding effort extends to non-traditional aspects.
“Heartland’s really cutting edge, always looking to improve upon ourselves,” Samuelson said. “We have a community partner with HCA Health Midwest. We have topnotch medical care onsite at all of our tournaments, all of our events, with their medical staff. For a long time that was not really heard of, having medical on site, and we were one of the first tournament organizations to have medical onsite during tournaments.”
This successful approach was also applied to league play.
“We want to provide a service that is above and beyond,” she said. “We want to be the best league and tournament host, not only in the region, but in the country. We want to blaze that trail with the partnership. We have surrounded ourselves with community partners that are leaders in their field, like HCA.”
When Samuelson began working with Heartland more than 15 years ago, the marketing landscape was very different.
“In the beginning it was more of a challenge because people knew football, baseball, basketball, but what is soccer?” she said. “High schools back in the day did not even have soccer, so it was really a challenge. But now our partners in the city are seeing the economic impact of a tournament weekend and these teams from all over coming to play.”
Said Greg Cotton, president and partner at XO Development, “We have seen tremendous growth in sponsorship in recent years due to the growth in soccer and acceptance of the sport by brand companies, brands and advertising agencies. Sponsorships provide a cost-effective and valuable way for businesses to introduce new products through on-site activation or for established products to compete with competitive brands, as well as connecting companies with the local communities through brand awareness.”
Creating brand awareness has new challenges in the digital age.
“The challenge now is that we have a lot of digital outlets for getting the information out there,” Samuelson said. “One of our challenges that we’re always looking to improve upon is the unique ways to engage our audience with our partners, to create that engagement and get the audience walking through their doors. That’s always something we’re challenging ourselves to do. We’re thinking out of the box.”
Heartland’s tournaments bring an estimated $1 million in revenue to the Kansas City area for each of the nine tournaments on their 2017 schedule. With the recent and future additions of even more state-of-the-art facilities in the area – such as Swope Soccer Village and Gateway Sports Village – the size and scope of their tournaments continue to rapidly increase each year.
“When people come to the tournaments, they are shopping at the area businesses, they are sleeping in the area hotels,” she said. “They are going to their shops, their restaurants. I think that (businesses) have seen that, so they kind of realize that soccer really does have a wide reach and we can be a good partner for them.”
A multi-media approach helps reach a wide audience.
“For tournaments, we offer a wide range of packages and items that give our partners an opportunity to reach our audience,” she said. “We offer lots of digital. We’ve got the registration portal; we offer digital presence on there. We also do a tournament guide that comes in paper and digital form. Banners, inserts in team packets. We can do email blasts and social media, of course.”
Targeted messaging has a very strong impact.
“We have text alerts during our tournament events to teams’ participants, coaches, managers,” Samuelson said. “They have the ability to register for text alerts, so some of our sponsors have the ability to send out text notifications. It seems to be going well.”
Branding can be enhanced by using more than one approach.
“Different types of advertising work for different types of partners,” she said. “Many of them have a multi-pronged approach and we do encourage that. Maybe a banner and an insert and a text-push notification, or an email and then a newsletter, and digital add-on on the tournament guide. It seems the most successful do have a multi-pronged approach. They choose to do a variety of items.”
An interactive platform can also important.
“We have a lot of partners that like to come out and be onsite,” Samuelson said. “They set up a tent and do onsite activation which might be inviting people to their booths, giving them a little information on their business. Those are real popular on tournament weekends.”
The impact cannot be underestimated as more than 2.8 million people come to Heartland’s events over a full year.
And the effect is felt not only in Kansas City.
“A lot of our partners are regional companies,” she said. “For example, Dick’s Sporting Goods have stores throughout the United States, and specifically they have a number of stores in the region where we tend to draw a number of groups of participants during our tournaments.”
“We like to customize it to suit their needs,” Samuelson said.
Heartland Soccer Association is one of the largest youth soccer organizations in the United States. For more information about Heartland, visit heartlandsoccer.net