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Sponsorship Best Practices: Tournament Directors

FOCUS: Tournament Directors, Local/State & Regional Promoters
With additional tips for: Players/Teams

By Larry Davis, President, USTSF

I've discovered over the years that there are many tournament promoters who can run a good tournament inside the tournament room, but few who know anything at all about the kind of workings outside the tournament that can really make their event a huge success.  Therefore, I've established a topic area specifically for promoters who want to learn more about how to run that significantly more successful tournament -- one that gains community support, media attention, and sponsorships -- and that as a result both enhances the image of our sport and grows the player base.  Subject areas will include working with venues, local media, local sports authorities and visitors and conventions bureaus (CVBs), gaining charity involvement, and of course, getting actual sponsors for an event.

Q: Has any one got a business to sponsor a weekly or monthly event and if so how did you go about it and what kind of business did you ask.

A: To begin, while my answers here are specific to table soccer (foosball) promotions, a good deal of what I recommend can translate to a wide variety of other sports, especially indoor sports.  Also, in addition to this page there is another great resource on the website -- on the main page just click on Organization, then Regional/State Directors and you'll find tons of information that may be of help; and be sure to have a look at the USTSF "Sponsorship Best Practices" subject area on the forum.  One other source would be the letter I sent out to the Regional/State Directors on February 9th, 2009 -- this document has a lot of great ideas for putting together a successful state championship-sized tournament, with a number of ideas that would apply to getting both local tournament and individual sponsorships.  You may find some of it can actually translate well to weekly and/or monthly tournaments.  Then I'd say bounce some ideas off Mark Winker (who has recently agreed to serve as the National Program Director for the USTSF State Championships Program).  Mark has been involved in a lot of events big and small, and should be a great resource. 

Having said that, at the very beginning I'd say find out where the tables for your weeknight and monthly tournaments are coming from (owned by the bar/poolhall? owned by an amusement machine route operator? what amusement distributor sold the bar or operator their tables?).  What you'll want to do is to establish a real good working relationship with the table owner and then also the source distributor, as you later can leverage them as sponsors or even utilize their inventories in a deal for the additional tables needed to run larger tournaments as you begin to grow your player base.  Certainly the location owner or operator will stand to gain increased revenues from both weeknight and larger events (with the location owner or liquor/beverage distributors also seeing gains in food/beverage sales).  These are all your best starting points, but read the Feb 9th document for ideas on what services or other promotional aspects you might offer to negotiate greater sponsor involvement from bar-owner to amusement machine or liquor distributors to local sporting goods and soccer related businesses and much more.  Keep in mind, you actually have to offer potential sponsors something of value -- more than "give me money and I'll wear your logo on my shirt and by the way give me the shirt too." 

And when you get to the point that you either help with or run a tournament of state ch. size be sure to request help from your local Convention and Visitors Bureaus / Sports Authorities as far in advance as you can -- in most cases it's a marvelous and FREE resource (as described the the Feb 9 letter) that you should definitely take advantage of. 


For those interested, I would further recommend reading the following...

Promoters/Tournament Directors:

1. Successful Fundraising and Sponsorship (in a week), by Sue Mckoen. A deceptively simple book, but in my view a very good one.

2. How to Get Sponsorship, by Stuart Turner. Written for a wide variety of sponsorship seeking organizations, including sports.

3. How to Raise Funds & Sponsorship, by Chris McCallum. Another one for a wide variety of both sponsorships and different types of organizations including sports.

Players/Teams (and Promoters/Events):

1. The Athlete's Guide to Sponsorship, by Jennifer Drury and Cheri Elliott. One of the only, but nonetheless very good books specifically for athletes. And probably just as good as the first three for promoters, but touches on different aspects. Highly recommended for all.

The key to all the above: actually doing it...


Okay, here's something more for you all that completely supports the topic of "tournament promoters: best practices."  The thread below is extracted from something I posted on the Foosball Board (in response to a question from Matt Pettinato) that I believe is very thorough, informative and useful to promoters, tournament directors and even players.   

Location: Watertown, MA
Posted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 3:28 am    Post subject: Promotion Ideas  

I am trying to think of ways to work with companies to get them to give away products/prizes (good products) at our local foosball tournaments. In return they can advertise and promote there product. Anyone know where I can start or have any ideas of what I can try?

Matt Pettinato

Posted: Sat Apr 25, 2009 3:38 pm    Post subject:    

Energy drinks?

Location: Washington, DC
Posted: Tue Apr 28, 2009 12:30 am    Post subject: Promotions  


I was hoping someone else would start up a good response thread on this, but I can’t stand it anymore. Vswanson at least replied, but the answer “energy drinks?” was pretty incomplete. So, I’ll expand on that and give you some of my best techniques, all of which I’ve tried and found successful in the past. Many who read this board will have read or heard me discuss these same ideas countless times over the years. But whether you’ve heard this before or not, perhaps reading it though here, and now, will help you to think things differently, in a whole new way…

First of all, whether you’re a player seeking individual sponsorship or a promoter seeking tournament sponsorship, you actually have to provide potential sponsors with something of value in return. The idea that businesses should just give away their cash or products solely as “advertisement” or “promotion” of their product at your tournament makes zero business sense, especially in the current economically constrained environment. They need to gain favorable, if not substantial return on investment. That means a whole lot more than “give me money and I’ll wear your logo on my shirt and by the way give me the shirt too” or “give me a car as grand prize and I’ll let you put up banners at my tournament and by the way, be sure to send about ten supermodels to stand around the car for three days too.” And the famous assumption that businesses can “write it all off as an advertising expense” is false. It’s only a deduction from gross income and as such it only reduces net taxes paid by a percentage of the total expense deducted (about 10 to 20%), not all of it. Besides, there are just too many sports and charities competing for advertising, promotion or donation dollars. So you need to begin with what you have to offer a business that may be of favorable value. There are a couple ways to approach this:

1. What most businesses want more than anything is a) publicity/exposure (read: press coverage), and/or b) increased favorable visibility in their communities (read: charity involvement and more press coverage). If either or both of the above are focused on the specific target audience for their product/service and/or can drive potential sales traffic towards their point-of-sale locations, that’s all the better.

In most cases, your local weeknight tournaments don’t fit the bill. Leagues usually do better in attracting sponsors in connection with sponsorship of teams that play weekly at various locations, much like darts leagues. But where most all of the above applies best is at State Championship and above type tournaments. Then it actually becomes so easy I still don’t know why a whole lot more promoters don’t do it. In fact, most of the work for tournaments of that size can be done for you for free – all you have to do is ask. Ask who? Ask your local Convention and Visitors Bureaus and/or Sports Authorities. It’s their job to help you find the ideal tournament venues at little or no cost (or even get potential venues to bid to have your event at their location). In some cases, the CVB/SAs will themselves bid to host your event in their towns (they have budgets specifically for that which are generated by hotel sales tax revenues). It’s their job to ensure your host hotel provides you with comp’d rooms, a share of concession revenues, and/or cash up front from travel agency booking fee rebates. And it’s their job to ensure your tournament gains maximum exposure in local media and to connect you with likely and/or interested potential sponsors and charities. And of course charitable involvement attracts media and more media exposure means more sponsors getting greater return on investment and more benefit to charities, and all the while you’re gaining more favorable publicity for your own event. It’s a symbiotic relationship that can ultimately trickle down to your weeknight events as well in terms of increasing public awareness of our sport and expanding your local player base.

As far as what those businesses contacted by the CVB/SAs can provide, it could be anything from grand prizes for your tournament prize fund (ex: ATVs from outdoor recreation stores, 3-5 day resort weekends/cruise packages from travel agencies, gift certificates, etc) or similar prizes to be raffled off at your tournament with all proceeds going to the charity you’ve involved. Good for the business, good for the charity, good for the media, good for your event and good for the sport. (Note that businesses get a different type of deduction – sometimes more advantageous – if their products/services are donated as charitable contributions…)

When approaching a CVB/SA, you’ll need to be prepared to talk business right away.  They’ll need to know the square footage required, estimated number of attendees & staff, estimated number of room nights, any staging/technical requirements, media coverage requests and more.  Essentially, they’ll ask you for a Request for Proposal (RFP) that details most all of that.  Many can provide a format for RFPs, but there’s a good RFP template on the USTSF website ( that already lists the key information needed for state-level and above tournaments.  USTSF also has a good Foos Data Fact Sheet” that can help to inform potential individual or event sponsors (or media) about our sport, and of course there’s plenty of press releases on the USTSF website that you can use as a format for the CVB to distribute to media.

2. What many businesses alternatively want in return is services in kind. It’s in this area the players seeking individual or team league and tour sponsorships can succeed the easiest, but it may be used to provide a few smaller giveaways for local tournaments as well. And it’s how most players – novice and pro alike – found sponsorships during the 1970s T.S. Million Dollar Tour. So what do I mean by services in kind? Well this is where you want to work with the types of businesses that might have some connection to table soccer – coin-op distributors, coin-op route operators or sports bars, home-model retailers; indoor soccer arenas, pro soccer teams, soccer specialty stores, sporting goods distributors, sporting goods stores (anyone from Sportmart to Sears), etc, etc. What can you offer them? Mostly its about two things, a) sales-promo demos, and b) product maintenance/repairs/reconditioning. If you’re a fairly friendly, sociable kind of person, you can conduct sales demos and “beat the pro” demos everywhere from coin-op distributors’ semi-annual open houses to operators’ locations (which could vary from sports bars & billiard halls to bowling allies, student unions, video arcades and family recreation centers) and from soccer team challenge matches to Sears sporting goods department Christmas clearance sales. (While you’re at it, be sure to teach their staffs how to assemble tables correctly in the first place – nothing worse than walking into Dick’s Sporting Goods during a Christmas rush and all their display tables are set up facing the wrong way and there’s no silicone on the rods.) Or you can, on behalf of distributors, teach their operators how to better maintain their tables on location to maximize revenues and/or teach them how to run leagues in their locations. Or you can run leagues for them, or teach them to recondition their tables for longer life (or do it for them). Or do any of these for sports bars where tournaments are run.

In all cases, such businesses can donate tour sponsorships/package deals, promo items (hats, shirts, stickers, keychains, misc), gift certificates, bar tabs and much more to you or your local tournament. And I should say that here is where vswanson’s suggestion of “energy drinks?” might fit in. That is, if you’re running your tournament at a sports bar and say, Red Bull is sold there, you wouldn’t go to Red Bull corporate marketing but rather, to the local distributor that’s supplying your sports bar. Much as noted above, you can provide them with pro demos at any or all of their area locations that have foosball (or perhaps at area soccer or tradeshow events) and like the Red Bull Girls (or maybe together with them  .) you would simply give out t-shirts, hats, key chains, stickers, and Red Bull samples to all challengers in exchange for sponsorships or at least like items to give away at your local DYPs. The distributor gets a unique promotional value in return (in addition to their banners at your tournament, logos on fliers, and/or the press exposure you and/or the CVB can provide in connection with your larger tournaments), while through participation in their events you get additional exposure for the sport thanks to the sponsor's public relations people -- and added value/giveaways for your local tournaments.

3. A third, creative but usually very successful way to generate individual, team or event sponsorships is to find out where the nearest large outdoor soccer fields are and who runs them, and obtain permission to pitch a gazebo-tent and do free field-side beat the pro demos on busy days. (You don’t have to be a pro, just a good, likeable and articulate player who knows about the sport, the pro tour and some of the game’s history.) Keeping in mind that every girls, boys, or adult soccer team out on that field has sponsors, you’ll want to give away foosball stickers, key-chains, pens, buttons, autographed balls, hats, t-shirts, etc (some of which are available for such purposes from manufacturers or promoters for free or at cost, or at cost plus shipping from USTSF), and make sure everyone you play gets a chance to score at least once. (You’re not there to beat everyone 9-0; you’re there to make sure everyone that plays you has fun.) Dress in warm-up pants and a soccer shirt and talk up the sport of foosball, the worldwide pro tour, youth competition, and of course your quest for sponsors and the potential benefits to sponsors as suggested above. Hand out copies of current and/or recent USTSF press releases and the USTSF Foos Data Fact Sheet from the USTSF website along with a business card or something with your contact info on it, and either show or hand out copies of DVDs (to those most interested) that quickly show the sport in a highly professional light, such as the one that you can download and copy for free (Flash Player required) from: [if desired, here is DVD and Jewel Case front and back cover art that can be used when burning a DVD to hand out].

I like doing it with outdoor soccer, but you could probably do the same type of thing in like-minded venues such as indoor soccer arenas, bowling alleys (where both management and customers are already league and tournament oriented), roller rinks and more.

(Additional hint: Like you might with energy or soft drink distributors, sometimes you can team up at such soccer fields, etc. with a local radio station’s promotion, and they’ll provide the handouts… Radio stations can also provide great give-aways as sponsors of your local and state tournaments – everything from bumper stickers to concert tickets -- especially if you offer to do “beat the pro’s” at some of their other promotions in return for their involvement.)

The general key to success in all the above is professionalism in appearance, approach, and presentation. Be prepared with the facts, hand-outs, contact info and always follow up. And whenever you do get sponsorships of any kind, get everything in writing so that everyone fully understands what’s expected of them. Then follow up on all agreements with frequent communications, stats on player attendance, media coverage/exposure, etc., and send personal thank you letters (or for major sponsors, a plaque or other form of special recognition). Be sure to do the same for your host venues and CVB/SAs and charities. A little thanks goes a long way towards continued/future involvement.

Hope that helps just a little…

Very respectfully submitted,
Larry "That's the difference between me" Davis


Location: Watertown, MA
Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:12 am    Post subject:   

Thanks for your help qfoos. I will look into these idea's.

Matt Pettinato

Posted: Sun May 17, 2009 4:17 pm    Post subject:   

I only responded "energy drinks" as a hint to a type of sponsor foosball could use--all of your ideas are great and I agree with everything you said. Energy drinks to me would be a great variance from the beer-bar image foosball has always had. And don't think just because I say this I'm against alcoholic beverages because I am far from that. However, I've been around for awhile in this business and saw Lee Peppard try and professionlize foosball whereby all pros and masters had to wear collared shirts, hopefully with their sponsors' names imprinted on them, and dress pants. The point of all of this was to make us presentable for our sponsors including beer companies such as Budweiser. We were encouraged to try and model ourselves along the lines of professional golfers and tennis players. Since our tour was the Million Dollar Tour, before the fall of TS, this was very appropriate. We made commercials, were on the local news channels in the areas where the big tourneys were being held, we were even on national news once that I know of. Lee Peppard had in mind the idea that foosball could become as professional a sport as golf and tennis. His vision was realistic in spite of TS's downfall. However, getting players to cooperate with the dress code was difficult and I remember players being penalized because they didn't follow the dress code and always pushing the limits trying to evade it. I think that still happens today and the dress code is pretty much overlooked now. I also remember that the rookies and semi-pros dressed in raggedy jeans and sleeveless shirts, sometimes barefoot, giving the appearance of a bar sport through and through. In order for this sport to advance to the next level, all players need to participate in unison--just because you may have learned to play foosball in a bar doesn't mean you need to dress that way in a tournament. Participants in tournaments should dress professionally, speak professionally including leaving their foul language at home, keep their tempers in check, and always be prepared to be on TV, radio, video, or other means of advertisement. It should be made known by tournament promoters (this is key) that play in a sanctioned tournament is very different than playing in a bar league or tournament, and the means to that end is advancement of this sport. I am talking about every tournament, be it Tornado, Warrior, Bonzini, etc. Once ithe game leaves the bar and becomes a sanctioned event, players need to conform. This is in my opinion the only way that foosball will obtain and retain sponsors for their sport. It is not exactly the best spectator sport anyway as it is hard to visualize on TV every shot as you can in tennis. I especially would much rather play in my favorite blue jeans and tank top, but remember the days when I couldn't, with a specific purpose in mind, to better my sport. Does this make sense? Lee Peppard believed in this in the 70's and I agree with his vision. Professional foosball and a friendly game of foosball in a bar must be separated and distinguishable. How was that for expanding on my comment "energy drinks"?

Location: Washington, DC
Posted: Mon May 18, 2009 8:34 am    Post subject: Promotions   

Nice. We're on the same page regarding professional image (personal and for the sport). Despite fashions that trend toward looking trashed out and/or homeless, most sponsorship decision makers prefer the image standards set by golf, tennis, bowling, billiards, table tennis and/or olympic organizations and their athletes/participants. However, most tournament foosball players and even promoters don't see sponsorship being as readily attainable as it actually is, and thus don't see the need to present themselves or their events accordingly. Indeed, there are many who look at foosball as rooted in bars, frats, arcades and poolhalls, and that's okay. Hey, if you're a frat or bar player who doesn't aspire to tour or do anything more than have fun and socialize, then dress codes, professionalism and this entire thread are all meaningless to you -- if that was me I know I wouldn't care. But in the example you gave of the Million Dollar T.S. tours, there were also plenty of players who actively and voluntarily wore team shirts, no jeans and even as rookies and novices obtained sponsors (including me at the time). The key is that it's not the skill level of the player or the size of the tour per se, it's what value you have to offer the potential sponsor and how you present it. And when using a combination of the ideas from my above post and providing professional presentation of yourself or your event -- back then or even now -- it's actually hard not to get sponsors on board. You just gotta do the legwork.

Who else but...
Larry Davis

Goose S92
Posted: Fri Jun 12, 2009 1:33 am    Post subject:   

Qfoos clearly has a marketing background and knows what hes talking about Matt. Print off his post, laminate it and use it as your go to guide for promoting through sponsorships.

Impressive Qfoos, good work sharing so much detail.


Here's something clipped from a newsletter courtesy of the National Association of Sports Commissions that reinforces a bit of the info I provided above only from a little different perspective.  When reading this, the "host organization" is the Covention & Visitors Bureau, Sports Commission or Sports Authority that you as a tournament promoter or tournament director would be working with, and you would be the one referred to as the "event owner."  Among the things this article brings out are the additional services provided and benefits of working with a host organization that I had left out of my description above, such as marshalling event "volunteers, financial assistance, transportation, signage, kick-off celebrations, team hospitality, VIP hospitality, promotional activities and events and so on."  In my view, if you're an "event owner" and NOT taking advantage of the free services, advice and benefits of a host organization, then you're doing a great injustice to the total success of your tournament and its participants: 

How to Work with Host Organizations

The sports event travel industry has changed greatly since the late 1980's when there were about 30 sports commissions in the United States. Today, more than 400 communities have some level of expertise in attracting sports events. There are about 110 sports commissions (sometimes referred to as sports authorities, foundations, etc.) with the rest primarily convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs). This means there are many more CVBs active in the industry (close to 300) than there are sports commissions.

What has changed? Cities have learned that hosting sports events can be good business. They have learned primarily by joining the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC), the industry's trade association. The NASC was founded in 1992 by fifteen host organizations. The purpose was to create a forum for the exchange of ideas on what was working and not working from the their side of the table.

As the association started to grow, CVBs were invited to join. By the time 250 or so cities had become members, the door was also opened to event owners. Today, about 125 event owners are in the NASC and they are contributing expertise from the other side of the table!

Sports destinations, facilities, and host organizations have learned a great deal about what it takes to make good, solid business decisions on the best way to present events. It does little good for the event owner, the destination, or the facility to make wrong decisions. How can these be avoided?

The host organization and the facility or facilities should work closely to present a united invitation to the event owner. They need to evaluate what it will take to be successful and make sure they can deliver before the bid. The event owner must also look closely at each invitation to make certain the prospective host has anticipated all of the requirements. All parties are learning the best way to accomplish these things is through a complete exchange of information before the final decision.

How does this work?

There is a direct relationship between the quality of information provided by the event owner and the usefulness of the host organization's response. A clearly articulated Request of Proposal that clearly sets forth all of the hosting requirements permits though analysis by the host organization. We believe the best procedure is for the owner to send the RFP to the host organization and not to a facility or a hotel, unless the owner anticipates handling most of the details themselves. While it is true that a significant number of events are hosted for the owner directly by, for example, a park and recreation department neither can know what else might be done if the host organization was involved.

Host organizations should know how to marshal the resources of the community behind the event. They will understand the facilities that are available, will know where to turn to assist in or handle hotel bookings, and attend to all of the details of the event including volunteers, financial assistance, transportation, signage, kick-off celebrations, team hospitality, VIP hospitality, promotional activities and events and so on. This approach will lead to the same facilities that might have been offered by the parks department without these additional services.

We have noticed an increase in the amount of information sharing that takes place in the site selection process. This is a healthy development. The owner must know all details will be handled. The host organization must realize that, although they may be motivated by room nights the event itself is not about room nights, it is about the competition. For the parties to get to this point, homework is required!

It really comes down to managing the expectations of all parties.

Everyone involved in the decision process must get answers to their questions. From the event owner's perspective it must be clear that no details will be overlooked. The host organization/facility should balance the investment of time, money, volunteers, etc. against the anticipated return which, for many hosts, is visitor spending.

At the end of the day an agreement not to proceed is often the best thing that can happen. In fact, not doing the deal and waiting for the right one to come along can pay major dividends to all.

Don Schumacher
Executive Director
National Association of Sports Commissions

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