According to Richard Luker it is; his theory is that during tough economic times people have more of a connection to the teams in their community. Luker theorizes that people’s connection to team’s in their community outweighs their feelings towards larger sports franchises. He thinks that spending more sports marketing dollars on “small college and high school sporting venues” will bring a better return than those spent at the professional sports level.
Luker says, “Major League Baseball…is not about me. Minor League Baseball is about me and my neighbors. I can feel like I am with my community.” He supports that with the statistics that MLB attendance was down last year while Minor League attendance was up.
I agree with Luker that people’s feelings towards their local (i.e.- smaller) team are more recession proof than those towards professional teams. But I think price plays just a big of a factor in that as proximity. Many fans choose local during tough economic times because it’s the more affordable choice. The Dallas Cowboys game is appealing, but too expensive, so they choose the local high school football game because it is much more affordable.
For companies spending on professional sports sponsorships or local sports sponsorships the choice really comes down to what your goals are as a brand. Large, national companies like Coca-Cola should spend on small & professional sports because both markets help to further their global brand. Coca-Cola is focused on aligning itself with major league teams that provide national brand opportunities, but also can easily afford local spending to connect with those communities.
Whereas smaller, regional companies need to decide whether they potential national brand exposure of professional sports deals is necessary for their brand at their current stage. Can they afford an NBA sponsorship? Do they need to spend millions to put their name on an NFL stadium? Many of them will do just as well funneling their dollars into local and regional sponsorships that get them affordable coverage in their core markets.
Whataburger is an example of a company that effectively used local and regional sports marketing opportunities to grow their brand. The hamburger chain from Texas has over 700 locations across 10 states, but they continue to focus their spending on local opportunities. Within their core Texas market Whataburger has aligned itself with High School football by sponsoring local teams and appearing in publications like Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, that cater to that market. Those type of marketing deals have helped to align their brand with Texas State High School Football and made Whataburger a household name. Whataburger even offers a page on their website where people can request sponsorship dollars or merchandise.
Whataburger has even embraced the theory Luker offers in-regards to sponsoring a Minor League Baseball team over a Major League team. Rather than spending with lavishely to sponsor their homestate Houston Astros or Texas Rangers, Whataburger has gotten involved with Minor League clubs across Texas. Including paying to put their name on the Corpus Christi double-A affiliate for the Astros, appropriately named Whataburger Field.
So yes, local sports marketing is absolutely the way to go. But not just during a recession, it is something that companies should be making a commitment to all the time. Start locally building your brand, and work your way up from there. Once upon a time Coca-Cola was just a regional Georgia beverage, now they are a top global brand.