CSN EXCLUSIVE: Convenience Retailers Score With Sports Marketing Initiatives

C-stores can benefit from the exposure offered by a partnership with a sports team or league.
Amanda Koprowski
Associate Editor
Koprowski Headshot
Money sticking out of a football sitting in grass

NATIONAL REPORT — It's hardly news that exposure via a sports team sponsorship or league association can pay dividends for a brand, as any of the 115 million viewers who watched last year's Super Bowl could probably tell you. 

For convenience store retailers looking to tap into those enthusiastic sports fans, the value isn't just in the sheer number, but also in the cross demographics, according to Bill Nolan, a partner at the Business Accelerator Team, a firm that provides business development expertise to retailing and foodservice channels.

"Men and women of all age groups are involved with sports in one way or another," he said. "Whether it's your kids, teenagers or mom and dad themselves, millions are participating in [events] or are just fans."

Nolan doesn't just speak as a consultant. Having spent most of his career overseeing marketing departments for Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc. and Valparaiso, Ind.-based Family Express Corp., he's knows firsthand how these sponsorships have evolved over time and how companies can best take advantage of them.

Nowadays, brands can pursue multiple channels to find potential customers and numerous c-stores have already explored those avenues, whether it's Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based QuickChek Corp. signing on as the official sub partner of the New York Giants or Atlanta-based RaceTrac Inc. partnering with the Atlanta Braves for in-game contests.

Whatever the chosen path, Nolan points to the advantages this can offer a company.

"A state or major city sports venue [allows] a business [to] build a bond with communities through paired loyalties with the local teams," he said. "Advertising your sponsorship in the business itself will help build consumer awareness that 'we're all united by being fans of the same team.' Having this sponsorship may [also] give you the right to use their team logo, have contests to win tickets [or] wear apparel or other marketing elements provided by the team."

A c-store operator doesn't just have to limit itself to professional leagues, either. Sponsorships can get expensive, especially in high-exposure sports such as NCAA Division 1 football or the National Basketball Association. For smaller or regional operators who may not have the financial ability to buy in, Nolan tells them not to fear, there are still plenty of options open to them.

"Consider sponsoring a high school or minor league sports team. This could fit into your budget, and you may be surprised how the local community will respond," he said.

QuickChek and Giants representatives at MetLife Stadium

Cost vs. Benefit

Because of the initial expense, whatever size team a brand decides to sponsor, the company should prep a marketing plan beforehand to ensure the partnership is worth the money spent. This plan should include elements such as plotting out a dominant brand presence at event venues or determining if team players — either current or retired — can make appearances at special events like store openings. 

"The important thing is: How well will the fan base not only remember the sporting event, but remember your brand was part of the event?" Nolan said. "You should not just pay to be a sign at the venue, you should have a follow-up marketing plan to keep the sponsorship active and evolving throughout the life of the agreement."

Nolan also warned that determining the return on investment (ROI) for such a campaign can be tricky, so c-store retailers should be prepared to do both long-term and short-term analysis to see if the sponsorship is worth renewing.

[Read more: 7-Eleven Teams Up With College Athletes for Charity]

"It's hard to evaluate the true ROI on sponsorship spending," he said. "If you have strong social media platforms and use them to market your sponsorships, you may be able to track an increase in followers or increased app participation. But you'll need to determine ways to track customer count or market basket size to truly get a feel for whether the sports marketing positively impacted profitability."

For brands making their first forays into sports partnerships, a short-term sponsorship may be a bit easier to handle. It will provide more flexibility to determine if the expense pays off with an uptick in customers. If the limited partnership ends up satisfying both the brand and the team, the c-store can always negotiate a longer-term agreement later on down the line.

There are also a few marketing tools that Nolan believes are consistently effective: 

  • Using social media platforms to advertise a sponsorship;

  • Using a team's logo in advertising; and 

  • Offering game day promotions.

"I have witnessed successful c-store chains tie into college sport venues where game day promotions enabled fans to win valuable prizes," he said. "During-the-game contests were popular with the audience, especially when the participant won the big prize."

At the end of the day, though, the best partnerships are always ones where both parties can work together in tandem.

"Bottom line, the best bang for the buck will be if the sports venue marketing team will work directly with you to develop fan-based interaction with your brand," Nolan said. "Then, over time, you may be satisfied that greater loyalty to your brand may be driven through the sports sponsorship."

About the Author

Koprowski Headshot

Amanda Koprowski

Amanda Koprowski is the associate editor at Convenience Store News. She is a new member of the team, having joined the company in December of 2022.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds