This week it was announced that Minor League Baseball and online small business loan provider OnDeck will extend their corporate partnership into the 2016 season. The partnership, which began in 2015, aims to connect small businesses owners with their communities through elaborate promotions that include contests and on-field ceremonies.
OnDeck launched back in 2007 to provide online lending options for small business owners, with loans ranging from $5,000 to $500,000. While the company has steadily grown—having, in recent years, expanded into Canada and Australia—it still sees itself as having room to expand.
“We’re a young, small company,” said Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Andrea Gellert. “We can’t be everywhere where small businesses are.”
To maximize its reach, OnDeck began exploring for potential corporate partners. According to Gellert, MiLB was a fit because of its ability to draw “logical affinity” from consumers in a variety of markets. “Minor League Baseball really serves as a cornerstone of community fun that small business owners are engaged with.”
OnDeck used the first year of its partnership to focus on various ways to leverage recognition for small businesses. A variety of approaches were used, but contests and on-field ceremonies emerged as a useful tactic, particularly in select markets.
“I think that we wanted to do a lot of testing of different things,” said Gellert. “We worked with a lot of different stadiums and did a lot of activities, a lot of stadium outreach and contests. What we realized was that there are certain markets that worked better for us—maybe they have a better size and scope for what we did. We also realized that focusing on the small business contest of the month was the best focus for us.”
That is reflected in this year’s partnership, which is highlighted by small business of the month contests in select markets. Starting with the Trenton Thunder (Class AA; Eastern League) in April, OnDeck will work with teams to run contests through social media, with OnDeck’s Facebook page serving as a hub for much of the activity.
Small business owners can fill out a form during the selection period—which in April ran from the 5th to the 11th—and provide background information on their businesses, and how their rolls in the community make them worthy of selection. Following review from a panel of judges, the winner is selected and treated to an on-field ceremony prior to a game. The prize package also includes a ceremonial first pitch, 10 VIP tickets, as well as marketing incentives, including product placement on the ballpark videoboard.
“We find that the small business owners face two key challenges,” said Gellert. “First is access to capital, second is the time and money needed for marketing to customers. The on-field ceremony provides an audience to them.”
That is why OnDeck and MiLB are basing their partnership around the ceremonies, which provide a level of exposure that can create awareness both at the ballpark and online. According to Gellert, a variety of factors are used to determine the target markets. Aside from the size of the community, cities are also chosen based on the ballpark’s capacity and its ability to create the best on-field ceremony possible, with the quality of the videoboard being one key component. The team’s themselves are also judged based on how they run their social media, which is crucial in building awareness beyond the ballpark.
The Thunder are scheduled to host the first ceremony on April 23. Under the current schedule, which is subject to change, the remaining ceremonies will be hosted by the following teams: the Durham Bulls (Class AAA; International League) on May 20, Brooklyn Cyclones (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) on June 25, San Jose Giants (High A; California League) on July 9, and Lake Elsinore Storm (High A; California League) on August 6.
“These are teams with really big social media outreach,” said Gellert. “The onsite field ceremony is great because they’re in the moment, but a lot of MiLB teams are really engaged in amplifying their message through social media.”
Their consistent use of social media made these six teams a natural fit for OnDeck, but creativity was also a factor. “We definitely work to get the right type of medium from the clubs, in terms of photography and video,” said Gellert in describing the importance of multimedia components. This extends to small business owners as well, who are encouraged to include videos and other creative content in their submissions. The content, in turn, would be showcased through the partnership.
Small business of the month contests will not be the only component of this year’s agreement between OnDeck and MiLB. OnDeck will serve as a “proud partner” in 15 MiLB cities, which will bring announcements, on-field activates, and other promotional opportunities to these ballparks.
Along with monitoring the Facebook page, small business owners are encouraged to check OnDeck’s website and Twitter account—as well as the online platforms of their hometown teams—to keep an eye on the contests. Ultimately, MiLB and OnDeck view the partnership as the best way to recognize small business owners and their roles in the community. “[It’s about] focusing on them as the heroes, because that’s how we view them,” said Gellert.