Funding > Sponsors/Corporate Partners

Sports greening can lead to sponsorship opportunities with existing or new sponsors who also prioritize environmental stewardship in their business operations. Through sponsoring your green initiative (or a specific aspect of the initiative), corporate partners affiliate their company with your environmental stewardship, thereby helping to strengthen their green branding while providing you with resources for your greening program.

This mutually beneficial arrangement can be particularly powerful at highly visible athletics venues that host thousands (sometimes millions) of fans each season and often have the strongest brand on campus. Some sponsors (or potential sponsors) may already provide products or services to your campus, and may align their sponsorship with those products or services.

WHY ENGAGE SPONSORS

Involving sponsors and vendors can provide a variety of benefits for your sports greening efforts. These benefits can include:

  • Direct funding for infrastructure upgrades, onsite renewable energy installations or other capital-intensive projects

  • Publicity via print or online media advertisements, additional press coverage, or other promotions such as public service announcements with student-athletes  

  • Infrastructure and products such as waste receptacles, water bottle refilling stations, high-efficiency lighting, serviceware or reusable environmental giveaways

  • Environmental expertise and advice regarding any number of topics such as environmentally preferable materials, sourcing options, greener building equipment or design, among many others    

  • Environmental services such as environmental education, facility audits, recycling or composting hauling services, among others

  • Staff time leading up to sports events or on game day

  • Hosting community events (such as electronic waste recycling drives, tree plantings or park/beach cleanups) or other awareness efforts to help foster a greater knowledge of your department’s greening efforts in the community

HOW TO ENGAGE SPONSORS

Work with the athletics department’s internal development/marketing team and media rights partner (if your department has one), such as Learfield Sports or IMG, to engage sponsors in your sports greening work. Start by informing them of your sports department’s efforts to enhance its environmental performance and discussing what mutually beneficial role they might be able to play in advancing your goals.

Sustainability staff and any faculty in related fields should also collaborate with athletics and marketing staff to help identify new or existing sponsors with environmental commitments that may align with the sports greening program. They will likely have the greatest insight into potential sponsors from the environmental products sector. Include outreach to existing vendors who may be interested in sponsorship, particularly if they are already providing or are able to provide environmentally intelligent products and services.

Consider that these issues may already be important to some sponsors. If not, this guide could be usefully adapted by your sponsors for their own operations. As a result of this work, sponsors may be willing to investigate the environmental impacts of their own products.

When involving sponsors, start small, and focus on promoting a greater awareness of environmental concerns. Small steps are important. They create awareness, change attitudes, and can start a company on along a more environmentally responsible path.

INITIAL STEPS FOR ENGAGING SPONSORS

Consider the following steps when first seeking to engage sponsors:

  1. Assemble a list of your existing sports greening accomplishments –> Identify how your on-the-ground successes can establish a sports greening platform that adds brand value to sponsors.
  2. Summarize the value of your sports greening program –> Consider student engagementenvironmental benefitsbrand enhancementcommunity value, etc.
  3. Establish consistent branding and communication for the program mission –> This is an important way to publicize successes and attract program supporters. Consider establishing a program name, logo, and perhaps a mission statement at the outset of your program. See the Branding and Outreach Strategy page of this guide for additional guidance on this step.
  4. Craft a sales “pitch” for sponsors in partnership with your athletics, recreation and marketing partners (or even faculty and students in majors related to marketing) –> Research the priorities of each potential sponsor in order to adapt your pitch to align with their interests. Highlight the value of your sports greening program for their brand in particular (e.g. genuine brand alignment with sustainability, broader brand visibility, brand alignment with community values).
  5. Identify new potential sponsors –> Work with sustainability staff and faculty in related fields to help identify new or existing sponsors with environmental commitments that may align with the sports greening program (at the national and local levels). Also work with development staff to identify alumni in leadership positions at companies, specifically organizations with a corporate commitment to sustainability and community values.
  6. Contact potential sponsors –> Work with your internal team to identify the right person to present your sports greening brand and pitch to potential sponsors (see sample letter below).

SAMPLE LETTER TO SPONSORS

Dear _______,

[Our athletics/recreation department and institution] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. As a sponsor of [our department/institution], we would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail.

The awareness and involvement of our sponsors can play an important role in advancing and publicizing our efforts. We would also be interested to hear about your own efforts to improve environmental performance. We look forward to collaborating with you on environmental stewardship for the benefit of the broader community and our mutual organizational branding.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience to set a time for a meeting to pursue this discussion. Thank you for your time.

Involving sponsors is important not just because of the revenue and publicity benefits that it offers. Sponsor involvement can also help move the marketplace towards more sustainable behavior. Involving your sponsors sends a valuable signal to the corporate world that environmental issues are important to your institution.

CAMPUS EXAMPLES & TESTIMONIALS

>> In 2008, the University of Colorado at Boulder’s  athletics department branded their new “zero waste” effort “Ralphie’s Green Stampede” to market the program to potential corporate sponsors, and it worked: White Wave Foods, Boulder Toyota, Eco-Products Inc., and the stadium concessionaire, Centerplate, all signed on. The sponsorship helped fund the up-front infrastructure and outreach costs. According to CU-Boulder, White Wave was attracted to the sports greening concept as the lead sponsor because it was looking for a way to reach a broad and diverse audience with information about its organic food products. “An organic and natural food company is an ideal sponsor because its products line up with the ideals of the sports greening program,” Newport explains. In 2009, the athletics department acquired hybrid vehicles by engaging Boulder Toyota as a transportation sponsor. The department then brought on a manufacturer of compostable food serviceware, Eco-Products Inc., as a sponsor and supplier.

“We marketed the sports greening program to sustainability-oriented organizations that are not normally part of sports sponsorships,” says Dave Newport, director of CU-Boulder’s Environmental Center. “We explained that athletics provide a unique point of entry into a big market that supports sustainability—like the environmentally minded CU-Boulder community—which has not seen sustainability-oriented marketing at sports venues. Likewise, sports and rec bring together fans from all segments of society, so this is a great place for exposure to diverse market demographics.”

To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> Once The Ohio State University’s “zero waste” program program secured campus-based funding, Ohio State worked with IMG Sports Marketing, an existing partner of the Buckeyes, to attract sponsorship dollars to help offset the program’s implementation costs. Ohio State also partnered with existing vendors like Sodexo, its concessionaire at the time, to transition to compostable and recyclable products to upgrade the process for cleaning concessions and suites. Sodexo covered the additional costs in switching products, labor, and infrastructure, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000 (details are proprietary).

“There were startup costs,” says Hawkey. “However, costs can be balanced and off-set with support from sponsors and by developing efficiencies over time.”

To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> Following the lead of Seattle’s professional teams, the University of Washington Huskies discovered that enhancing the sustainability of their operations not only provided resource savings but also attracted support from many campus and community partners, including corporate sponsors. For example, Cedar Grove, the largest composting company in the Northwest, is now a sponsor of Husky Athletics. It has sponsored many sports events and has its logo on the university’s “Go Green” shirts.

“The sustainability program has been a brand enhancer,” says Karen Baebler, assistant athletics director for sport operations and chair of the Huskies’ sustainability committee. “It has opened up opportunities with sponsors who may have had no interest in partnering with athletics before.”

To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.