Focus on Sponsorship - Singapore Swimming Association

Singapore Swimming Association and Sponsors
Clockwise from top left, Mr Edwin Ker (Executive Director, Singapore Swimming Association), Mr James Page (General Manager (Marketing Communications), Volkswagen Group Singapore), Mr Bob Gambardella, (Chief, Singapore Sports Institute), Mr Lee Kok Choy (President, Singapore Swimming Association), Mr Yasuhide Nakato (Senior Manager, Yakult (Singapore) Pte Ltd), Ms Tan Li Jin (General Manager, Sportz & Fitness Team Pte Ltd (TYR Singapore) ) and national athletes from Swimming, Diving and Water Polo.

Edwin Ker, Executive Director of the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA), shares about the SSA and its sponsorship experience.

What is the importance of sponsorship to National Sports Associations (NSAs)? 

It is important to acknowledge that not all NSAs are alike. For SSA, there is a lot of emphasis on working towards independence and sustainability apart from depending on government funding. Sponsorship as a source of funds is a key way of developing capability and supplementing gaps in the support structure.

How does an NSA prepare for and approach sponsors?

Firsthand, there must be a frank assessment of the strengths that the NSA has and which strength or area would appeal to would-be sponsors. For SSA, swimming is a sport which historically has the second highest participation rates behind jogging. It has the ability to deliver medals at platforms such as SEA Games and is also one of the few activities that captures a wide demographic, from the young, (for its dynamism) and the elderly due to the low impact nature. 

Secondly, an NSA must do its homework on each potential sponsor it is about to approach to be able to customise each presentation and work on the values that resonate with the sponsor's company culture. For example, for a company that is focused on teamwork, the use of a team sport as the selling point could help facilitate discussions. 

Thirdly, pursue sponsorships with the right mindset. Arm yourself with a never say die attitude and tell yourself “Some will, some won’t, so what?...what's next! ”. This helps deal with the fact that many discussions may not pan out. What is also required is tenacity and an appreciation of timing. Some companies may already have finalised their budget for the year, and can do little by way of sponsorship but still remain interested. It is a matter of getting to understand their financial cycle and touching base again the following year at the appropriate time.

How do you find your sponsors?

It is important to create a list of sponsorship targets and see if there are any potential synergies. For example, what industries would be interested in swimming and what areas of marketing can we as an NSA fill for them. 

Aside from creating a list of potential sponsors to approach, it is important to use the network that your contacts may have, from within your sporting community, but more importantly to network outside of the industry to engage otherwise untapped sponsors.

National Team Divers and a Volkswagen Product
National Team Divers and a Volkswagen Product

Can you give any further advice about sponsors and how to approach them?

Each sponsor has a different profile and expectation. For example, TYR is a strong swimming brand – and for them, we had to identify where more value can be given to them.

Brands that are already a part of sport sponsorship can be considered a relatively low hanging fruit in the sense that they don’t have to be “sold” on what sports can do for them. However, the higher fruit are those companies who are not involved in sports but are, as a sponsor, open and keen to explore engagements. With Volkswagen, SSA was able to demonstrate that we could showcase their product to a larger demographic and give them a chance to entrench themselves within the sporting eco-system.

Each NSA “product” can inspire different sponsor demographics – local Singaporean companies or companies with a “performance” product (such as compression wear) are more likely to hinge their sponsorship on a National team due to the elements of patriotism and as a platform for medals and sporting icons.

Any other tips for NSAs to structure their approach to sponsors?

For SSA we offered three baskets for sponsors – high participation, high performance and pathways for the underprivileged.

The first two are self explanatory. However, for the underprivileged, it is common for companies to have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) budget, and as a charity ourselves, it is a matter of highlighting the connection and linking the two together. If we can make a change to make swimming more accessible to the less privileged athletes, it can potentially change the life of someone. That importance cannot be lost.

Also, an important feature that many sponsors seek is a sustainable and long term sponsorship arrangement as opposed to a “one off” event. This must be factored into any discussion.

There has been talk about your Aquatics Heart and Hope campaign – is this something other NSAs might be interested in?

This is a medal reward scheme that will not only inject cash contributions to the SSA, but also benefit several charitable organisations. Called the Aquatics Heart and Hope, the scheme will see the association receiving S$3,000 for every gold medal its swimmers win at the SEA Games, S$1,000 for a silver and S$500 for a bronze. A large percentage of the money will go to various charity organisations.

By bringing charity support together with a sporting achievement or narrative, there is a good chance that a wider supporting demographic can be reached, as well as giving athletes more motivation to succeed. More information can be found at

This can be an initiative that can be opened to all SEA or medal sports. It is possible that a coalition of NSAs could get enough traction to attract major corporate sponsors to donate substantial sums or like-minded individuals to pledge donations for each medal that is achieved. I encourage any interested NSAs to contact me on this initiative. (Edwin may be emailed at

SSA SAFRA Swim for Hope 
SSA has also tied up with SAFRA for a Swim for Hope charity fund raiser commencing October 2014.

All pictures provided courtesy of the Singapore Swimming Association. 

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