Taking Sponsorship To The Next Level

The city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is known for great weather, pristine beaches, and something called “spring break”!

Corporate sponsorships can really help a park district offer big events.

Tourism is key to the area’s survival, and as in most places around the country, the economy has taken a toll.

The city’s parks and recreation department–while faring better than most–has also had to do more with less and look for creative ways to reduce spending. Since heavily subsidized activities are usually the first to go, that meant special events in the agency.

There was a noticeable void around the city for major activities, especially after McDonald’s–the primary sponsor of the annual Fort Lauderdale Air and Sea show–pulled its sponsorship in 2007, ending a traditional and popular signature event.

In 2008, during preparations for the annual July Fourth beachfront fireworks event, the city commission debated if the cost of a fireworks show in this economy was worth it. Finally, the show went on … but no other activities took place.

As I sat on the beach that night, my family and I marveled at the dynamic fireworks, yet I still felt the day could have been better with more daytime activities and excitement. I knew then that the paradigm to produce events had to shift if the city was going to be a relevant player in the area.

This article hopes to share our approach and the lessons learned to help other agencies jump-start their event-sponsorship program.

An Honest Assessment

Fifteen years ago, the city’s parks department was the king of special events, hosting 10 to 12 major community shows annually. As money became scarce and budgets were reduced, many of the events were eliminated.

Although the city often partnered with outside groups, it still underwrote a large share of the costs.

In taking an honest assessment, department members realized we had four major events that were still viable–three sponsored by major companies, and the last–the July Fourth events–totally funded by the city.

We quickly realized that in order to grow our event portfolio, we needed to substantially raise sponsorship dollars to underwrite the costs.

In 2009, annual event-sponsorship revenue was $55,000. In 2010, it grew to more than $200,000, and city officials expect to gross more than $300,000 in 2011.

How did it happen?

Sponsors can bring big fun to your community.

Make Sponsorship Fundraising A Priority

If your experience in parks and recreation is like mine, you haven’t run across too many agencies that can afford to fund a person–let alone an office–dedicated to event sponsorship. Most agencies have someone who “works” on sponsorships in addition to many other projects.

Our agency was no different. Instead, we decided to hire an outside consultant who was completely dedicated to soliciting funds on our behalf. We wanted to focus not so much on the small community events, but rather on the large events that attract people from around the region.

There were two major reasons we opted to go with a consultant instead of an agency employee.

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