Glory, glory Stalybridge Celtic: sponsors think small and score

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As the third-largest company in the UK, Vodafone sponsors many high-profile names across a range of sports. It has splashed out a rumoured £100m on the Ferrari Formula One team, £30m on Manchester United, and an undisclosed amount to sponsor the English cricket team. This is all in a day's work for a company with profits of over £1bn a year.

But it isn't only the stock market behemoths which can reap the benefits of sports sponsorship. Whether a business wants to spend hundreds, thousands or millions of pounds, it should be able to find a deal to fit its budget.

If a company is looking to target a national audience, there are several firms acting as brokers to link up sports organisations with sponsors. Alasdair Ritchie is president of marketing at Octagon, which arranged Hyundai's support for Euro 2000. He says a company that wants to back an event or team should first decide exactly what it wants to achieve from the sponsorship, and how much it is willing to pay.

"Most sponsorship is done for brand awareness ­ and that doesn't come cheap nowadays," he says, adding that £500,000 is likely to be the minimum required to target a national audience. While more limited budgets can be accommodated, this will be more likely to lead to deals on a local level. Most smaller companies prefer to make their own arrangements with a team in their area rather than using a middleman.

Sponsoring a local, semi-professional team is not always about brand awareness. Benefits for the company are likely to include improved staff and customer relations. At least some of its employees will be supporters of the club, as will staff at local companies providing goods and services.

Manro Performance Chemicals has sponsored Stalybridge Celtic FC, based near Manchester, for 10 years. The company sells the ingredients for toiletries and household products to large corporations in the UK and overseas. Its turnover is £34m, so why has it chosen to sponsor such a small team? Commercial director Alan Halman admits: "We are an international company and we sell business-to-business, so ordinary paying customers of the club will probably not be buying our products."

But for a fee of £10,000, the firm gets a large logo on the players' kit, as well as advertising around the stadium, and can bolster its image in the community. It also uses a sponsors' lounge at the club to entertain clients. "They wouldn't make a specific visit, like they would to Old Trafford," says Mr Halman, "but when we invite them they enjoy it thoroughly."

Many of Manro's customers, which include Procter & Gamble and Revlon, follow the team's fortunes. "You'd be surprised how many people in those companies are aware of what's going on at Stalybridge Celtic," says Mr Halman. Manro also shares the spotlight when the team does well. Stalybridge Celtic has just won a regional league and is to be promoted to the Vauxhall Conference, the national semi-professional competition.

Many small football clubs utilise the business contacts of the players and management to get sponsorship. John Cleal, deputy editor of The Non-League Paper, dedicated to semi-professional football, says: "Some clubs are owned outright by the chairman, and whatever company he happens to own tends to sponsor the club. Most clubs [however], go looking for sponsorship."

As for Vodafone, it enters the equestrian world this Saturday with its sponsorship of the Derby at Epsom, but there are many opportunities for similar deals involving less high-profile riding competitions. There are around 160 horse trials in the UK, comprising showjumping, cross-country and dressage.

The Windsor International Horse Trials may not have the visibility of the Badminton trials, but it attracts more than 15,000 spectators over three days. Held in September this year, it has a new sponsor, Mentor Corporation, as well as Horse & Hound. The magazine might be expected to support such an event, but Mentor ­ which advises firms on restruc-turing and employee issues ­ is a more unusual sponsor.

However, the company finds the deal ­ for which it pays less than £25,000 ­ highly cost-effective. It can entertain corporate clients at the event and also gets branding on cross-country fences and in the showjumping ring, and mentions in the commentaries.

More unusual sports, such as ice hockey, also offer sponsorship opportunities. The Invicta Knights, a non-professional team in Gillingham, Kent, is sponsored by two local companies. Concordia Business Services and Butchers Removals & Storage get small logos on the team's kit for just a few hundred pounds.

More random targeting can be less productive. A secretary at one of the clubs mentioned in this article, who didn't want to be named, says: "You can write hundreds of letters to local companies and not get any response." Companies which want to spend their cash on sponsorship may not have too many problems, then.