By the year, youth baseball tournaments are becoming more and more popular. For those of us who run tournaments as a way of life, this is somewhat bitter sweet. On one hand, more tournaments means that more teams are participating in tournaments. And, if more teams are participating in tournaments…well you get the picture. On the other hand though, the fact that youth baseball tournaments have become extremely popular in recent years means that all tournament directors, even those who run established tournaments, need to fight harder to sign up teams. Part of this battle for teams consists of hosting a well run tournament year after year. But, it’s hard to host a well run tournament if all the teams in the area are playing in Joe Schmoe’s tournament down the road. I have compiled this marketing guide to assist 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: Start Free and Easy
One of the biggest resources available to tournament directors when marketing a tournament is the internet. Yeah, I know this comes as no surprise to you – it’s 2012 not 1999. But, just because we all know what Google is doesn’t mean that every tournament director out there successfully takes advantage of the free (or extremely cheap) online tournament marketing services. In fact, this aspect of tournament marketing seems to be often overlooked.
The first online resource you should look into is the offerings available from the sanctioning body which you are running your tournament through. Almost all youth baseball sanctioning organizations will assist your marketing in some fashion. After all, they benefit from your tournament’s success. USSSA, which is quickly becoming the leading youth baseball organization in the country, will post your tournament on their website and link the post to either your own website or the registration form for no cost at all. From my experience running tournaments I know that most participants find their tournaments on the sanctioning organization’s website. 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 state.
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 sporting events they are hosting. It’s simple and free to create an account and it only takes a couple of minutes to post a tournament. Moreover, Active.com has teamed up with ETeamz.com, an online platform which most youth baseball teams use to create their own websites. This partnership has led to a large number of coaches using Active.com to search for baseball tournaments. And, since Active.com is a nationwide website, its services allow you to promote your tournament to teams in other states. In my experience, Active.com has been an essential tool in pulling in teams from neighboring states and serves as a valuable resource that can turn your would-be local tournament into a regional one.
Yet another free and easy online resource that is often ignored by tournament directors is email marketing companies. Every tournament director in the country sends out emails to coaches “promoting” their tournament. Every coach in the nation gets hundreds of tournament emails a year. How do your emails stand out from others? A catchy subject line and well written sales text can only get you so far. Online email marketing services, such as MailChimp, allow you to use HTML graphics, add pictures, link to your website, and track response from your email. Most of these services are free with a small amount of email contacts (usually under 1,000) and they definitely help your email stick out from the pack.
Step 2: Hit Early, Hit Often
This marketing step may seem a little obvious but, nonetheless, it is essential in building a strong tournament. The earlier you post your tournament online, the more likely teams are to sign up. The earlier you email blast your coach contacts, the more likely you are to pull in registrations. It’s all pretty simple but rarely do I see this marketing strategy fully taken advantage of.
Your tournament’s competition may have a bigger budget for promotion. They may have a more reputable name. And, they may have more connections with more coaches. But, no matter what the case may be, you can always get the upper hand when it comes to the timeliness of your marketing. Your tournament may be one of 20 state-wide tournaments on the same weekend. But, if you post and promote early, coaches will only see your tournament not the 19 others that will eventually be posted.
I suggest putting together a promotion strategy early and following it to the T until your tournament is full. My strategy? Post your tournament online a year before the start date and send out an initial email to coaches once posted. Six months prior to your tournament, send out another email to coaches and follow up with a personal phone call a week later. Then repeat this strategy every month up to your tournament. You’d be surprised at your marketing success if you diligently follow a promotion strategy.
Step 3: Build Relationships
Too many tournament directors are wary about reaching out to coaches for help in marketing their tournament. They see the director-coach relationship as nothing more than a business relationship and keep interactions short and sweet. This is a fatal mistake. You must understand that, as tournament director, you are providing a wanted and appreciated service to coaches. And, coaches come in contact with more teams on a weekly basis than you could ever reach out to.
By building relationships with youth coaches, you are gaining a marketing partner. Don’t be hesitant to become friendly with coaches. Call the coaches that sign up early for your tournament and thank them. Exchange friendly emails with them on a regular basis. And, once you establish a decent relationship simply ask if they will 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 that makes a habit of sending out Christmas cards from his organization to coaches who participate in his tournaments. The simple friendly gesture pays back tenfold when he fills up tournaments year after year.
Step 4: Go Old School
Online marketing is quick, easy, and cheap. And, often online marketing is extremely effective. But, never underestimate good old snail mail. Every tournament director in the nation promotes their tournaments by way of email. And, don’t get me wrong, there are many good reasons to do this. But, do you make a habit of opening and reading every mass email you get? Or do you simply hit the delete button? Even the most successful tournament marketing emails I send out don’t receive much higher than a 15% open rate. The average email in this industry is opened by approximately 6% of every contact it is sent to. If you’re emailing 100 coaches, you’d be lucky if your email was read by 15 of them.
Snail mail, on the other hand, tends to be a lot more effective. After all, I personally open every letter I receive. It may seem outdated but, I suggest sending a personalized letter to every coach in your contact database and invite them to participate in your upcoming tournament. Your letter is sure to be read and appreciated. Heck, if I was a coach I would definitely sign up for a tournament that I was invited 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 being held. Youth baseball tournaments are marked by high attendance and tons of down time for teams. Take advantage of these other tournaments when marketing your own. Make a habit of spending an hour or two at other local tournaments every weekend. Hand out fliers, mingle with coaches, and promote your own tournament. First of all, by doing this you put a face and a name to your tournament. Secondly, you build relationships (see Step 3). You’ll quickly find that you are going above and beyond almost all other tournament directors; an action that will surely pay off. When marketing any product, what can be better than a large amount 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’d like. But, if you take these 5 simple steps and run with them, your effort is sure to be rewarded.