Sports Sponsorship: Why Athletes Need It, And How to Get It
By Erick Fabian, Jr.
There is this misconception that you need to be a superstar athlete to be sponsored. Another one is that a sports event has to be of a massive scale to attract sponsors. What all athletes and events organizers need to know is that every sponsor, whether a company or an individual, are looking for different things from those that they will support.
While it usually entails commerce-related benefits, not all sponsors are looking for cheap advertising, and not all of them are into using athletes as walking billboards. That is not to say that marketing-oriented motives do not exist, and in fact are pervasive in many popular athletic sponsorships, but there are exceptions. It is up to you to weigh the pros and cons of getting sponsored, and whether it will be beneficial to your sports career in the long run.
Decent corporate entities and businesses are also willing to sponsor a sportsperson for reasons like public goodwill, visibility, social responsibility and civic efforts, and in promoting certain interests related to the product or service that they are offering.
Having said that, sports sponsorship does not grow on trees. Your corporate sponsor has to have a clear idea of the benefits they will gain when they sponsor you or your event. As the sponsoree, you need to know what kind of support you can receive from your sponsor based on your specific needs.
The following are pointers that can help you on your way to creating a mutually beneficial partnership with your sponsor:
- Make sure that you or your event have gained enough supporters before you consider approaching potential sponsors in order to convince them that it is worth their time and resources.
- Remember: sponsorship is a two-way relationship, and self-entitlement is a big no-no in courting potential sponsors. Learn what the sponsoring company is looking for in athletes, and be clear in stating what you need from them. This is in order to avoid miscommunication and help set realistic expectations on both sides.
- Speaking of entitlement, humility is a virtue, especially when you still haven’t had sponsorships in the past. You may be the fastest gun in the West, but a superstar attitude can rub off negatively and make you lose sponsors in the future.
- Always research on a sponsoring entity’s track record as a sponsor and supporter of athletics. A simple survey of veteran athletes can help you in determining the best sponsor suited to your needs. It doesn’t hurt to ask for advice from those who were ahead of you.
- Know your audience of supporters, fans, and spectators. The sponsoring company’s marketing executives will definitely want to know who they are reaching out to. if it’s a family-oriented sporting event, then it’s best to partner up with companies that reach out to the family demographic. If it’s youth-oriented similar to the X – Games or Vans Warped Tour, you need to scout for companies that present themselves as edgy, fast-paced, and dynamic.
- Take note: one of the best ways to convince your sponsor that you are worth supporting as an athlete is to show that you can engage your audience. After all, athletics also includes performance and showmanship. Make your audience relate to what you are doing. Show them how passionate you are with your craft. It will be hard to convince anyone to support you if they can see that people find you boring to watch. If you are an event organizer, you have to convince your sponsor that your events have community rapport.
- Learn to write decent sponsorship request letters that show your professionalism and will convince your potential sponsor to take you seriously. The UK athletic site OXSPA suggests the following:Make it short and to the point. If possible, enclose a proposal/executive summary with more details. Key points to remember:
- Personalise the letter to the individual. Never write “Dear Sir/Madam”
- Include a brief introduction about what you are writing about
- Don’t waffle (be evasive or vague). List key points that will attract the recipients attention
- Enclose information: a proposal and a business card
- If applicable, why not include a formal invitation for them to come and watch/meet you the next time you are competing in the area
- Above all, remember to BE CREATIVE, as first impressions count. Remember that the recipient may receive countless similar requests, so anything you can do to make your approach stand out will give you a better chance (using colour, images etc.).
For a sample sponsorship letter with a downloadable template that you can use right away, click here.
- Have a good story. In other words, it is worth asking yourself: Who am I? Why should this company sponsor me? This means that you have to present the best parts of who you are as a person, where you came from, and what you are doing to better yourself as an athlete. This does not mean exaggerating or over-dramatizing your personal story, but showing the parts of yourself that the public will resonate with. Whether it’s your relationship with your teammates, or the hard work and perseverance that you went through to become a good athlete, a good story can be a factor in getting sponsorship deals. The people behind corporate sponsorship are still human beings who will respond to a human interest story. If it resonates with them, it will have similar effects with the audience that they will market to, and it will make their work easier.
- Before you finally seek for sponsors, start your foundation by building a good portfolio. This includes photo and video footage of your athletic performances, clippings of news and media coverage with you in it, and positive reviews from sports writers and commentators. This is why social media is very useful for athletes and organizers: you can make quick documentation of your sporting activities and later use the accumulated data as part of your portfolio. A very short video presentation of your achievements, together with a sincere letter of request, can increase your chances of being sponsored.
- Don’t put your eggs in one basket. Read your contracts several times; consult a lawyer if necessary, and beware of the fine print, as they say. It pays to know what you are getting into, because there is such as thing as exclusive contracts. Keep your options open, and have a very long list of companies and persons as potential sponsorship candidates. If you can create a simple database of potential sponsors, the better for you and your career.
Best of luck!