As it expands across the U.S., Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. is putting more focus on properties offering national exposure while maintaining its local market sponsorship activity.

The retailer this year began a first-time partnership with Major League Soccer, a sponsorship that came packaged with Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, a 24-field soccer complex outside Denver that includes the home stadium of the MLS Colorado Rapids.

In addition, the company in July was the title sponsor of the new PGA Champions Tour event in Endicott, N.Y.

The chain’s aggressive growth strategy has put it in the market for national sponsorships. The company operated 309 stores in 34 states as of May, and, according to media reports, plans to add roughly 500 stores over the next seven years, including expansion from zero to 90 stores in California, two to 40 in Florida and two to 60 in Texas.

Much of its recent growth has come through acquisitions. For example, Dick’s late last year purchased 75-store specialty retailer Golf Galaxy, Inc. That deal followed Dick’s ’04 acquisition of Galyan’s Trading Co.

“We are the largest sporting goods retailer in the U.S., and we’re significantly expanding. Over the past 18 months we hit an inflection point in our growth that makes it more economical to market nationally,” said Jeffrey Hennion, the company’s senior vice president and CMO.

In addition to its new stores, Hennion points to the company’s robust online business as further fueling Dick’s national sponsorship strategy. “Our e-commerce business has grown so much that we’re comfortable with national exposure whether or not we have a store nearby to the consumer.”

Dick’s uses sponsorship as a targeted marketing platform to drive sports fans and participants into its stores and to its Web site.

“Our mission is to get in front of athletes and outdoor enthusiasts wherever they are involved in a sports activity, whether they are going to see a pro team play or running in a race or competing in a soccer tournament,” Hennion said.

In addition to reaching consumers at sponsored events, the retailer looks for opportunities that afford incremental media exposure.

For example, the company’s title of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open tournament provided exposure on promotional spots and the event broadcast on The Golf Channel.

Dick’s took title of the Champions Tour event in part due to the tournament’s location near to where the company was founded. Title of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park gives the company high visibility in the backyard of The Sports Authority, Inc., one of its major competitors (see table).

New Local/Regional Activity Supports Multiple Objectives
Dick’s has continued to sign new sponsorships at the local and regional level in addition to its national deals.

“Our sponsorship strategy at the grassroots and pro sports team levels has not changed,” Hennion said.

New deals for ’07 include the MLL Philadelphia Barrage, the Komen Florida Suncoast Race for the Cure and New Hampshire’s five-event Capital Area Race Series.

Dick’s looks to accomplish the following goals when scouting sponsorship opportunities:

Build visibility in new markets/promote store openings. Dick’s aligned with the Komen Florida Suncoast race in part to build visibility in the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota market. “They opened some stores in our area and they approached us as a potential sponsor,” said Lynn Rasys, executive director of the Florida Suncoast affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Gain promotional opportunities to drive store traffic. The retailer looks to attract shoppers through on-site coupon distribution and/or in-store events featuring athletes and other personalities connected to sponsored properties.

Dick’s distributes coupons at nearly every event that it sponsors. For example, it leverages its tie to Colorado’s Bolder Boulder 10K race by distributing coupons in event goodie bags offering $10 off every $50 purchase.

Similarly, Dick’s sponsors the Extra Pledge Award around its sponsorship of the Florida Suncoast and other Race for the Cure events, offering $10-to-$50 gift certificates based on the amount of money each participant raises.

“That has saved us money, because in the past we had to order gifts and mail them for all those levels,” Rasys said. “Our partnership with Dick’s streamlines that process.”

On the in-store event front, the retailer leveraged its partnership with the Barrage by hosting two lacrosse clinics featuring team athletes, said Keith Mecca, the team’s general manager.

Demonstrate community involvement. Dick’s frequently leverages its partnerships with pro sports teams by tying in local nonprofits.

Late last year, Dick’s activated its partnership with the NBA Boston Celtics by distributing $100 gift cards to 30 children from Boston TeamWorks, a collaboration of six local nonprofits that help underprivileged children. Three Celtics players assisted the kids with their shopping and posed for photos during an in-store event.

Similarly, the retailer has activated its sponsorship of the MLB Pittsburgh Pirates with Gloves for Kids events at local stores. The events feature autograph sessions and auctions for MLB memorabilia, with Dick’s donating the proceeds to local nonprofits.

Gain display space for mobile marketing program. The company often looks for real estate at events where it can park its mobile marketing rig. For example, the company will bring the rig to next month’s State Fair of Texas to interact with consumers and demonstrate and sell product.

The mobile marketing program is managed by Atlanta-based Mobile Media Enterprises.

Dick’s Sponsorship Decision-making Process
The retailer receives sponsorship opportunities through its Web site at www.DicksSportingGoods.sponsorport.com.

While national and pro sports deals are funded out of corporate marketing dollars, locally-based community marketing managers have “decision-making and execution accountability for our grassroots marketing efforts,” Hennion said. Those managers also handle implementation of pro sports deals in their markets.

Community marketing managers include Ashley Bauer in Florida; Jerry Copsinis in Boston; Amy Ebersole in Washington, D.C.; Skip Turner in Atlanta; Shannon Fern in Denver; and Jeff Wright in Minneapolis.