Feature Article - August 2021
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Happy Together

Do More With Less by Partnering With Others

By Dave Ramont


With all the economic upheaval brought on by the pandemic, many recreation, sports and fitness agencies and facilities are dealing with even tighter budgets than they already had. And now—with activity picking up and things getting back to normal—they may have to get creative to continue to provide their services and programs, as well as addressing fundamentals like maintenance, marketing and hiring. One way to get help is by partnering with other organizations, from government agencies and nonprofits to local businesses. According to Recreation Management's 2021 State of the Industry Report, close to 90% of all rec industry respondents said they form these kinds of partnerships.

In Naperville, Ill., thousands of the city's nearly 150,000 residents are served annually through the park district's 1,500-plus recreation, sports, arts and environmental programs and many free seasonal events. And visitors can enjoy more than 130 parks with diverse amenities and facilities. Similar to other parks departments, the district's Corporate Partnership Program provides a funding boost to these events and facilities.

"Our sponsorship and advertising program helps offset the costs of some programming and events," explained Stacey Fontechia, sales and sponsorship manager with the Naperville Park District. "We have a wide array of opportunities for businesses and organizations that are looking to connect with our residents and benefit from (our) strong and reputable brand."

"Our opportunities include athletic field sports banners to event sponsorships," continued Fontechia. "When businesses become event sponsors, those sponsor dollars go to support the event's operations. Additionally, we have advertising opportunities at facilities and for specific programs. In those instances, advertising dollars go toward supporting a specific facility or program."

She added that the majority of their partners are small-to medium-size businesses in Naperville and the surrounding communities. "Based on the type of business, there can be some level of creativity regarding how they activate their sponsorship, particularly when they're onsite at an event. Being at events and connecting with attendees is the most interactive way for our partners to get involved."

What objectives might a business or organization have when it comes to forming these partnerships? "The biggest objective for any business is fit," said Fontechia, "whether that relates to budget, location, event or program theme."

She said that aspect is important to the district as well, and they work with businesses to understand their objectives and customize a package that fits their needs, including achieving their own marketing or sales goals. "Developing a relationship that's beneficial for the sponsor as well as the park district is a primary consideration. Our best partners are the ones that are invested in the relationship, see the value of what (we) bring to the table in terms of exposure, and continue to grow the partnership over the long term."

Many association options exist for businesses in Naperville, including athletic park partner, beach partner, community programs and picnic areas partner, multi-use trails partner and play programs and playgrounds partner. There are athletic sponsorship opportunities for youth sports programs or recreation sponsorships including preschool, dance recitals, summer camps and adult sports leagues. Advertising opportunities include hopscotch pavement decals at facilities and parks, branded golf range targets and banners at their beach and sports fields, as well as digital display ads on monitors in rec centers and ads in the virtual program guide and rec news email blasts. "Each of our digital avenues are solid revenue generators for the district and something that our advertisers continue to value as part of their overall involvement with us."

Sometimes municipalities and parks departments get assistance from independent nonprofit organizations established for the sole purpose of supporting these entities. One such group is Park Pride in Atlanta, whose mission is to "engage communities to activate the power of parks." Incorporated in 1989, their work started with the City of Atlanta, and they now have contracts with four municipalities in the Atlanta area. "Our contracts are each unique," said Rachel Maher, director of communications for Park Pride, "but in general we provide community and capacity building through our Friends of the Park Program, and park improvement support through our Volunteer and Grant Programs. We collaborate closely with both our government partners and the communities we serve to ensure that neighborhood greenspaces meet the needs of residents and help them develop a sense of ownership around their local parks."