After reading some recent posts about becoming a sponsored athlete, I decided to put together my working knowledge on this subject and see what came together for a post to educate anyone curious about this topic. Let me give you a little background why I feel I can contribute to this topic with some credibility. My experiences with sponsors started when I was around 17 years old. I spent a lot of time working on cars as one of my hobbies, the more knowledge I gained and activities I got involved with, the more I realized that I could contribute to a company through my experiences. For example, I did a lot of work with a few guys from a local shop, when I would be at shows and talking with people, it just came up in conversation naturally. I built on my passion of automobiles to include some of the biggest name brands in the automotive industry (Corbeau, Magnaflow, and Nitrous Express)
This article is to wrap my experiences from my past into the endurance sport scene to better understand what sponsorship really is about.
Part I: Setting Expectations
These following questions will act as the outline for this topic, I challenge you to think about each of them and how it applies to you before continuing to that section. Maybe you are on the same page, maybe I forgot something, or maybe we just agree to disagree!
- What does it mean to be sponsored?
- What should I expect from a sponsorhip?
- Why am I looking to become sponsored?
- What choices are out there, where can I find them?
Think about what your response to this question is. What came to your mind first? I would guess that a majority of responses come back including free products. Without going too deep right away, I would say a sponsorship is a type of marketing which includes compensation of some sort.
What should I expect from a sponsorship?
Let's take a look at this from the company's side first, so you know what will be expected from you. Building on my point above that sponsorship is a marketing tool, I would say that first things first, you should not expect something for nothing! It is as easy as it sounds. The company is in business to make money selling their product, why would they just give them out without getting something in return? Expectations come in many shapes and sizes, depending on the situation.
- Attend a designated number of events
- Strictly a certain number
- Sometimes of a certain size/location
- It is all about exposure for the company, getting their logo/name in front of more people
- Use their products - sometimes exclusively
- What good does it do Gatorade if you are seen drinking Poweraid all the time
- Distribute products/information
- What better way to entice people with samples and discounts
- Actively talk about the company
- Social Media - Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc
- Clubs and Events
- Online Forums and message boards
- Support for entry fees
- Partial or Full support of entry fees to an event
- Discounted products
- Percentage off products - % Off, Based off Cost, Pro-pricing, etc
- Free product
- Just as it reads, no cost to you
- Cash or Credit
- Sometimes it comes as a form of money to be used for equipment or entry fees
- Benefits are directly related to some performance metrics (race places/wins, or generated business)
Why am I looking to be sponsored?
Here is the big question. What are you looking for from a sponsorship? In the triathlon world, things cost money just like in the rest of life, but everyone is looking to make their dollar go the longest. I call that being a smart consumer. I am not one who normally pays full price for much at all. One of the most important things I can offer is that you should not expect to get free products. That is one of the biggest misconceptions about sponsorships out there. I would say for most, it can be said that they are looking for some monetary offset as being sponsored. I have another thought, but want to save it for one of the next sections about what is out there about this monetary offset.
The next question is what draws you to this company? I can tell you from personal experience, and multiple companies I have worked with, if you do not believe in the product, service or company, and are just accepting for the benefits, it could be a painful journey for everyone involved. Early on when I was working on cars, I took a sponsorship from a shop that I had worked with a bit in the past, but I was not a huge fan of their quality of work, but the opportunity came up, and I was excited so I took it. Do you know how painful it is to talk good about a company that you do not support? It always felt awkward because I felt like I was misleading people about the company. Since learning my lesson a couple of times, I have become much more stringent on what I will apply for and eventually accept.
Did you know? What some companies offer in "sponsorship packages" is nothing more than a quick google search for a coupon code or signing up for a newsletter.
I have found multiple places that will offer 15% off all products listed on the webpage in return for putting their logo on your webpage or uniform. You could also sign up for their newsletter and get the same discount without having to do anything else. Make sure to do your research when something is offered, they may be working to get something for nothing.
I think one thing for some people, being a sponsored athlete is a stroke of their ego. Why not? Some people will use it as bragging rights, "Yeah I am sponsored by XYZ" to try and impress their peers. I had one person I knew who applied for a somewhat erroneous sponsorship, including a $150 dollar application fee, to get accepted and receive 15% off products, he also had to put some extremely obnoxious stickers on his car advertising for this company. What did he get out of it in the end? A $600 dollar exhaust system, discounted 15%, or $90 dollars off. Maybe it is my math minor, but something just didn't add up there. He was not afraid to tell everyone that he was sponsored, apparently so with the extreme window banners on front and back windshield.
What choices are out there, where can I find them?
Some companies have very well defined programs that accept a certain number of people every year, others have no formal program. Some of the big names are obvious choices, these are typically the companies who have well defined programs, and everyone knows about already. These sometimes have the highest application rates because so many people are aware of the openings and want to get in. Maybe they have a well known program, can anyone say Best Buy employee discount? Word gets out and people want in.
Next you have your middle tier, maybe an online shop or even a local shop. They may be willing to support some teams of people who will race in their kit to help promote their brand and draw customers to purchase from them.
Finally you have the non-industry sponsor. As outlined above, Bill and Mike's Accounting may be willing to sponsor you, because they know your passion for the sport, and know how many activities you participate in. Think about it... masters swim, cycling group, run groups, etc. They just want to get their name out there, and why not help a buddy out if they can kick them some referrals. No different than someone recommending their real estate agent or financial planner to someone looking, except that they may get something out of it.
If you are just looking for discounted products, sometimes the best bet may not even be a personal sponsorship. You may be just as well off if not better joining a local club. Often times these clubs work out deals with companies to offer discounts to members in order to get more people using their gear. I have seen some clubs that have very active members or very successful members be able to pull some great discounts for the entire club. You get the benefits and discounts and only wear the team kit to help promote the brands. Not a bad deal.