Show Sponsorship for Dummies: How to Create ROI For Your Small Business

If you operate a small equestrian business, chances are you’ve been hit up for horse show sponsorship. Claire Trafton of Entrigue Consulting explains how best to leverage show sponsorship opportunities for the best return on your investment.

Photos provided by Entrigue Consulting

With the summer show season upon us, many small businesses will receive requests for show sponsorship, and many will wonder how to best utilize the horse show circuit for their marketing needs. Vendor? Eblasts? Advertisements? Banners? Class sponsorship? Title sponsor? Prizes? Oh my!!

It should be a surprise to no one that it’s expensive to produce a horse show (you all know how expensive it is to show in one!) so show sponsorship is paramount for horse shows to make ends meet. This includes paying the judges, stewards, insurance, internal marketing, licensing fees, employees, facility fees, and so much more.

Back to the Future

Lots of equestrian communities are wanting more high-quality shows in their areas. They want shows that have more value for competitors and with manageable entry fees. As equestrians, we like to see the quality of our sport heightened and brought to attention. However, it’s hard to run shows without sponsorship. Advertising sponsorship benefits the entire equestrian community and raises the level of our sport to get more active, happy participants. The higher quality the show, the more competitors are going to enter, the more vendors there will be, the more spectators there will be, and therefore the more valuable the show becomes to your brand. But, that also means that there has to be sponsors to participate.

For small businesses, show sponsorships can be very lucrative and can build brand identity. Brands that grow exponentially have a lot of brand presence — they are easily recognized by their consumer base and are quickly thought of when recommending brands.

So how do you make your brand identity and presence grow?

First, realize that marketing and sales are two different things. Are your goals brand promotion or sales as a vendor? Brand promotion is participating in horse sports, being visible and recognizable to your audience. Your consumer base thinks of you when they need a product you sell, or they recommend you to others. With sales, you want people in your booth buying your product right at the show. Once you know your goal, you want to spend your marketing dollars in a way that will convert and get your brand in front of the most people.

Second, know your sport. It’s important to understand how the disciplines differ. For example, a large hunter jumper show looks different than a large dressage show. For a large dressage show, you’re looking at 200 to 300 entries, but jumpers can be in the thousands. You have to understand what is a big event in a specific discipline so you don’t miss out on a large marketing opportunity. Sometimes you’re better off spending less and doing more shows at a national level instead of spending a ton at one large show — let’s say like WEG. Think about spreading your brand far and wide, like being big fish in a small pond.

Third, understand the utmost importance of good production value. Simply put, if you’re going to do it, do it right. Your program ad should pop and be done by a graphic designer. It should educate and look appealing. It doesn’t create confidence in your brand if you don’t present it in the best way possible. Your PA announcements should be quick and enhance what you want people to remember about your business. Banners should be on dark backgrounds and the images and words should pop so they’re caught easily in photos. Graphics for live stream teams need to be on transparent backgrounds. It can be beneficial to have short professional promo videos done for live stream as well.

So What’s The Best For Me?

If your goal is sales: your best bet is as a vendor. Being available for your consumers is half the battle, but then you need to make sure they know you’re there! Leverage your own social media and your sponsored riders to gain attention! An ad in the program mentioning you’ll be at the show would also be beneficial. Providing gift certificates for competitors’ packages also gives them a reason to stop by and shop — it gives them a call-to-action, which is much better than product sponsorship.

If your goal is sales of horses: if you have a sales horse business, your marketing dollars should be spent on flyer ads in the program, PA announcements to send competitors and trainers to your tent on-site, and e-blasts are all great ways to utilize a horse show.

If your goal is brand presence and growth: anything you can get your name on! Ads in the program, scoreboard, banners, title sponsors, e-blasts, PA announcements, and anything with social media or livestream. You want your target consumer to know your name so well it rolls of their tongue. Brand presence can appear less valuable at first because it doesn’t create a direct ROI (like say, a gift certificate), but no one can buy from you in the future if they don’t know who you are, where you’re available, and what you sell.

The Downfall of Giveaways

Most small businesses think “if I can get my product in their hands, that is my best option!” Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but this costs more money than you think. For one, all the money it takes to create that product, promote that product, and transport that product you basically just set on fire. This is why coupons or discount vouchers are a better idea — because it gets competitors in front of you at your booth where you can talk to them and help them find the right product for them. Competitors can throw away unwanted prizes and on top of that, your hope is someone will rebuy the product once it runs out/wears out/they outgrow it. That’s a long time to wait for a ROI.

Giveaways also take a lot up a lot of resources for the show. You may become disappointed with what happens with your product because you had certain expectations of your product delivery that show management doesn’t have the manpower to oversee. And the sponsors that pay money for their advertisement are going to get priority — it’s just the truth of show management.

It’s Showtime!

National and local shows are a great way to create consumer loyalty. Just because a horse show isn’t a FEI or World Championship show doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your while. It costs tenfold to market at a larger scale so use the ability to stretch yourself further with “smaller shows” to grow your brand. You will be able to market smarter by using national and local shows to sponsor. Don’t turn down the opportunity the next time a show gives your phone a ring!

Claire Trafton is a junior consultant at Entrigue Consulting, a full-service equestrian marketing and brand agency. She has worked on multiple professional rider and equestrian brand accounts managing social media content creation and growth. Claire enjoys working with riders across all horse sports including dressage, jumpers and eventing, but in her spare time rides western from reining to pleasure. If you have any questions about social media, please contact Claire at [email protected].

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