Thinking and acting like a professional sports property in the way it works with sponsors is paying off for nonprofit Pop Warner Little Scholars, which bills itself as the nation’s largest youth football, cheer and dance organization.

Pop Warner has adopted practices such as suggesting and planning turnkey promotions for sponsors, as well as hosting partner summits. Its success should serve as an example to other grassroots properties that shy away from such activities, often with the excuse that they only work for the largest properties.

“We are always looking for opportunities to grow our partnerships by creating activation programs that will enhance the Pop Warner brand and those of our corporate partners,” said Mary Fitzgerald, the organization’s chief operating officer.

Case in point: Seeking to simultaneously promote participation in the upcoming season and generate sales for two of its sponsors–Russell Corp.’s Spalding and Bike Athletic divisions–Pop Warner suggested that the equipment companies conduct their first-ever retail program around youth football.

To make it easy for the partners to say yes, Pop Warner developed turnkey promotional elements–such as arranging for appearances by NFL and AFL players, planning in-store football skills activities, and producing signage and point-of-sale materials. It also provided research on markets and potential retail partners on which to focus, based on information about its 400,000 youth participants.

“Pop Warner handed it to us, and all we had to do was show it to our retail partners,” said Brian Kelly, Spalding’s category manager, football. “Pop Warner worked closely with us to find markets that would work well for us and where we could involve our AFL and NFL partners.”

The Russell units secured support from two key trade partners: Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. is hosting the program in six markets, while The Sports Authority, Inc. is home to it in another seven cities.

In addition to the other in-store activity, Bike Athletic and Spalding displays tout discounted footballs, protective equipment and other products made by the two companies.

“These types of promotions generate a lot of traffic to our retail accounts, which is huge for us because they will want to work with us the next time we bring them a promotion,” Kelly said.

“These kinds of programs make us want to work with a property again and again,” he added. Kelly is currently negotiating renewal of Spalding’s Pop Warner sponsorship.

Sponsor Gathering Leads To New Business Relationship
To further assist its corporate partners in maximizing their return, Pop Warner held its first sponsor summit in January, and included licensees, fundraising partners and other groups tied to the organization.

“The summit was a great way to facilitate dialogue and position Pop Warner as the central way to reach kids,” Fitzgerald said.

The program already has generated one new partnership among two of the attending companies. Trading card manufacturer Donruss Playoff, L.P. is developing a new product as a direct result of a meeting with Roselle, Ill.-based commercial printer RGC Communications, which supplies Pop Warner teams with customizable fundraising calendars.

Working with RGC, Donruss later this year will roll out a create-a-card program that will allow consumers to visit a designated Web site to produce trading cards featuring themselves, friends and family.

“Sponsor introductions have tremendous value for us,” said Scott Prusha, Donruss’ sports marketing manager. “This is something that we would never have come up with if we weren’t a Pop Warner sponsor.”

Overall, Pop Warner attributes its commitment to sponsor servicing to playing a major role in its 10 percent increase in sponsorship revenue over the past year.