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Marketing Baseball Tournaments the Right Way: A 5 Step Guide
Year after year, youth baseball tournaments become more and more popular. For those of us who run tournaments as a way of life, this is a bit bittersweet. On the one hand, more tournaments means more teams participating in tournaments. And, if multiple teams participate in tournaments…well, you get the idea. On the other hand, however, the fact that youth baseball tournaments have become extremely popular in recent years means that all tournament directors, even those who run established tournaments, have to fight harder to enter teams. Part of this battle for teams consists of organizing a well-run tournament year after year. But it’s hard to run a well-run tournament if all the teams in the area are playing in Joe Schmoe’s tournament. I’ve put together this marketing guide to help both newcomers and old dogs in their own battle for teams and help even novice tournament directors build a successful and established tournament.
Step 1: Get started for free and easily
One of the greatest resources available to tournament directors when marketing a tournament is the Internet. Yes, I know this doesn’t surprise you – it’s 2012 not 1999. But just because we all know what Google is doesn’t mean every tournament director is successfully taking advantage of the free (or extremely cheap) online tournament marketing service. In fact, this aspect of tournament marketing seems to be often overlooked.
The first online resource you should look at is the offers available from the sanctioning body through which you run your tournament. Almost all youth baseball sanctioning organizations will help your marketing in some way. After all, they benefit from the success of your tournament. The USSSA, which is quickly becoming the leading youth baseball organization in the country, will publish your tournament on its website and link the post to your own website or registration form at no cost to you. From my experience running tournaments, I know that most participants find their tournaments on the website of the sanctioning organization. It’s a quick and easy way for coaches to find tournaments. And, it’s an extremely effective and free way to market your tournament to almost every coach in the country.
Another valuable marketing service for tournament directors is Active.com. For one reason or another, Active.com is often underutilized by many tournament directors. In this case, their loss is your gain. Active.com is a website that allows users to post sports events that they host. Creating an account is easy and free, and it only takes a few minutes to post a tournament. Furthermore, Active.com has partnered with ETeamz.com, an online platform that most youth baseball teams use to create their own websites. This partnership has resulted in many coaches using Active.com to search for baseball tournaments. And because Active.com is a national website, its services allow you to promote your tournament to teams in other countries. In my experience, Active.com has been an essential tool in attracting teams from neighboring states and serves as a valuable resource that can turn your potential local tournament into a regional one.
Another free and easy online resource that tournament directors often ignore is email marketing companies. Every tournament director in the country sends emails to coaches “promoting” their tournament. Every coach in the country receives hundreds of tournament emails a year. What makes your emails stand out from others? A compelling subject line and well-written sales copy can only take you so far. Online email marketing services such as MailChimp allow you to use HTML graphics, add images, link to your website, and track responses from your emails. Most of these services are free with a small amount of email contacts (usually under 1,000) and definitely help your email stand out from the pack.
Step 2: Hit early, hit often
This marketing step may seem a little obvious, but it is nevertheless essential to building a strong tournament. The earlier you post your tournament online, the more likely teams will sign up. The sooner you email your coaching contacts, the more likely you are to pull registrations. It’s all pretty simple, but I rarely see this marketing strategy fully utilized.
Your tournament competition may have a larger promotion budget. Maybe they have a more respectable name. And they may have multiple relationships with multiple coaches. But whatever the case may be, you can always get an edge when it comes to the timeliness of your marketing. Your tournament can be one of 20 state tournaments on the same weekend. But if you publish and promote early, coaches will only see your tournament and not the other 19 that will eventually be published.
I suggest putting together a promotion strategy early and following it to a T until your tournament fills up. My strategy? Publish your tournament online a year before the start date and send an initial email to coaches after the announcement. Six months before your tournament, send another email to the coaches and make a personal phone call a week later. Then repeat this strategy each month until your tournament. You would be surprised at your marketing success if you diligently follow your promotion strategy.
Step 3: Build Relationships
Too many tournament directors are wary of turning to coaches for help marketing their tournament. They see the manager-coach relationship as nothing more than a business relationship and keep interactions short and sweet. This is a fatal error. You must understand that, as a tournament director, you are providing a desired and valued service to coaches. And, coaches come into contact with more teams on a weekly basis than you could ever contact.
By building relationships with youth coaches, you gain a marketing partner. Don’t hesitate to make friends with the trainers. Call the coaches who previously signed up for your tournament and thank them. Exchange friendly emails with them regularly. And once you’ve established a decent relationship, simply ask if they’ll mention your tournament to other teams in the area. It’s amazing how willing coaches are to help promote your tournament to other teams if you build a relationship with them. I know of one tournament director who has a habit of sending Christmas cards from his organization to the coaches who participate in his tournaments. A simple friendly gesture is returned tenfold when it fills tournaments year after year.
Step 4: Go old school
Internet marketing is fast, easy and cheap. And often online marketing is extremely effective. But never underestimate good old mail. Every tournament director in the state promotes their tournaments via email. And, don’t get me wrong, there are many good reasons for this. But are you in the habit of opening and reading every mass email you receive? Or do you just hit the delete button? Even the most successful tournament marketing emails I send don’t get much more than a 15% open rate. The average email in this industry opens approximately 6% of every contact it’s sent to. If you’re emailing 100 coaches, you’d be lucky if 15 read your email.
Snail mail, on the other hand, tends to be much more efficient. After all, I personally open every letter I receive. It may seem outdated, but I suggest you send a personalized letter to every coach in your database and invite them to participate in your upcoming tournament. Your letter will surely be read and appreciated. Heck, if I were a coach, I’d definitely sign up for a tournament that I was invited to and personally invited to.
Step 5: Pound the pavement
When it comes to marketing your youth baseball tournament, other tournaments can become one of your biggest assets. Every spring and summer weekend in every city in the county, there is sure to be at least one tournament. Youth baseball tournaments are marked by high attendance and tons of down time for the teams. Take advantage of these other tournaments when you place your own. Make it a habit to spend an hour or two every weekend at other local tournaments. Share flyers, socialize with coaches and promote your own tournament. First of all, this way you put a face and a name to your tournament. Second, build relationships (see step 3). You will quickly find that you go above and beyond almost all other tournament directors; an action that will surely pay off. When marketing any product, what could be better than a large number of your target audience hanging out in one place? Use this opportunity to your advantage.
Failure is not our only punishment for laziness; there is also the success of others. – Jules Renard
The tools for success in building an established youth baseball tournament are in your hands. You can use this guide in any way you want. But if you take these 5 simple steps and run with them, your efforts will surely be rewarded.
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