Sponsorships play a distinct role in professional sports, where the sale of jersey advertising space or stadium naming rights can help fund an elite training and coaching staff and hundred-million dollar businesses. But what about the nonprofessionals?
Rising costs for community youth sports, often pose a significant challenge for young athletes. Many families struggle to afford league participation fees, equipment, tournament travel, and other expenses necessary for their children to play on a team.
LeagueSide is a Philadelphia startup that hopes to combat the financial costs of youth sports by bringing together community leagues with potential sponsors.
Techonomy spoke with LeagueSide co-founder Evan Brandoff about the impact of youth sports, entrepreneurship in Philadelphia, and LeagueSide’s mission.
Where did the idea for LeagueSide come from? What drew you to youth sports, specifically?
Sports are so important for kids. It keeps them out of trouble. It’s where you make your friends, it’s where you learn to be a teammate, it’s where you learn leadership.
I was at a basketball tournament in Detroit, and it was the most incredible basketball ever. These high school kids were dunking at the age of 13 or 14. And as I was there, I realized how it’s impossible to get a few hundred parents fully engaged in a sporting event, not staring at their phones, except when they’re watching their kids play.
Youth organizations are always looking for sponsors. So I kind of had that “a-ha” moment: that we could help brands better reach their target audience through youth sports sponsorships.
The problem is there’s a hundred thousand different youth sports organizations around the country, almost all of which are run independently from one another, and run by volunteers. The fact that it’s such a big and fragmented market with lack of structure makes it a non-starter for big businesses to tap into youth sports and sponsor the organizations efficiently. So that’s where we come in: our structuring the sponsorship process at youth organizations around the country.
How does LeagueSide work?
So for the first nine months that we started LeagueSide, we went talking to sports organizations, primarily in Detroit and New Orleans. We saw what their existing sponsorship process was, what kind of sponsorship assets they had available, and how we could help most.
The way the sponsorship process worked, before LeagueSide, is the local soccer league or the local baseball league would ask businesses in the area—so the local deli, the local pizzeria—to chip in a couple of hundred dollars in order to sponsor a team and help that organization. These local organizations would absolutely love to have larger sponsors, but it’s impossible for a large brand like Applebee’s to find a local organization, and it’s impossible for a very small organization to attract a large brand like Applebee’s.
So what we’ve done is to group local sports organizations together. We standardized the sponsorship assets—like jersey sponsorships, banners at facilities, on-site booths at games and events, and email and social media blasts, just to name a few.
So we then go to brands—our first few clients include Applebee’s, Smoothie King, Saxby’s—who tell us what their target demographics are, and in what way they want to engage with families in their target demographics. And we then facilitate and match them with sports organizations in our network.
How many sports organizations are in your network?
We count families, because when you start a LeagueSide campaign you’re impacting the whole family, not just the kid that’s playing the sport. So instead of saying sports teams, we go by families—how many families we have in our network. And we have over 150,000 families across the country inside of the LeagueSide network.
Technically, our network has leagues or organizations in 45 of the 50 states. That said, we don’t have sponsors for every single league in our network. So we have organizations in 45 states, and we offer them things like discounts to some of our partner brands. We have about 50,000 families in the Northeast/mid-Atlantic region that are currently getting sponsored.
How long does a sponsorship last?
It’s seasonal sponsorships, but there’s a benefit to a sponsor to stay and sponsor individual towns or organizations for more than one season. For assets like banners, the price gets lower for sponsors that stay in certain regions. We want to not only bring sponsors to locations around the country, but we want them to stay there and continue to support the community for a long time.
The youth leagues you’re working with are nationwide. How do you identify new ones?
It’s beneficial for an individual league to get other local leagues to join our network as well, because then we’re able to attract larger sponsors. For example, we reached out to a baseball league in West Bloomfield, near Detroit. West Bloomfield had contacts at Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, and a lot of other suburbs in the area. And by getting all of those leagues in all of the suburbs, we’re able to get them a larger sponsor, which is beneficial for all of the leagues.
What is it like working in Philadelphia?
Well, I definitely miss Detroit, that’s for sure. But Philadelphia is cool, it’s definitely a growing tech scene. Very similar to how Detroit has an up-and-coming tech scene and a lot of resources going towards tech. There’s a few pioneers, and the city itself is getting behind helping tech companies grow. At the First Round Capital office that we’re working out of, the lobby is a coworking space. There are about 10 or 12 different startups coming in and out, working out of here. So it’s a really cool atmosphere.
So where do you see LeagueSide going from here?
We want it to be just as easy for a brand manager to log into the LeagueSide platform and
find their target demographics and sponsor youth sports as it is to set up a Facebook ad campaign. We want it to be just as simple. For now, we haven’t built that technology yet, so it’s more of a hands-on process.
And there’s a hundred thousand different youth sports organizations around the country. We want to hopefully reach everyone.