Up and coming athletes often come to us and ask the same questions:
– How can I get sponsored?
– Is sponsorship possible?
– Even though I am not technically a professional?
The answer is YES, YES and YES. It is possible and it happens all the time.
Whether you are a professional athlete or on your way up to becoming a pro, there are plenty of companies out there who may be willing to provide you with equipment or even cash for doing what you love. You just need to follow a few basic rules and be proactive. No, it won’t be super easy, but it won’t be too hard either. However, it does mean that you may have to make some changes, show some self-belief and sell yourself.
There are companies out there, who are willing to sponsor athletes from all sorts of backgrounds, in various sports and at different career levels. You don’t need to be Cristiano Ronaldo, Usain Bolt or Lewis Hamilton to attract exciting brands.
Sponsorship has changed massively since its birth in the 70s, and with the digital age upon us the internet has allowed athletes to be immensely creative about their offering. The ability to create great content cheaply and deliver it via social media has created a new generation of sponsorship deals, which goes well beyond the traditional logo printing business of the past.
WHY WOULD A COMPANY OFFER YOU SPONSORSHIP?
As the terrain changes, medium and large size companies find it very difficult to adapt. Believe us, there are corporate giants out there who can’t begin to understand how to be relevant in this social media savvy world. But don’t be fooled, they do know how to tap into it.
This is where you fit it in! You may have credibility, the following of a specific community or group, a large network in a particular industry or may simply reflect the values that appeal to a particular company trying to reach a particular type of client. Whether you are a well-known star or a child prodigy, this is when you become valuable. You present a chance for defined and measurable marketing in an ever changing digital arena.
A company or organisation may choose to sponsor you for many reasons, perhaps to gain access to your sponsor network for that killer sale opportunity, or to motivate their internal workforce – who wouldn’t love to work in a company that sponsors a celebrity like Fernando Alonso, Lionel Messi or Travis Pastrana?. Most importantly, that company may simply want to have brand association with your thousands of Facebook, Twitter and social media followers.
Companies may also use you for product placement and endorsement, attending events, testing products, or just to create a lot of great content. Brands such as GoPro and Red Bull have built empires off the back of clever brand association and athlete content marketing.
So, how do you set yourself up and become attractive to your potential sponsors?
1. YOU ARE A BRAND, DON’T FORGET THAT!
If you can’t take yourself seriously, no one will. You must know who you are and where your plan is taking you. Without a plan, there is no vision and if there isn’t a vision, no one will follow you.
So set your goals – be it the Olympics, the X-Games, the Premiership or a regional downhill mountain bike tournament. Once you know what your target is, plan what you need to get there. This shows great organisation and initiative, which brands love, as they can plan their activities around your schedule and this can create lots of buzz.
2. MAP ALL YOUR CHANNELS
A brand needs to be marketed and so must you. In this case, you need to map out your current assets (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc) and your touch points – this is where your fans get to interact with you (digitally or physically).
It is important to carefully think about which channels work best for you and your sport. Also it is imperative that you do not overcommit to too many channels and deliver a poor experience for your fans. Choose 2 or 3 depending on your resources and free time, try to create customised content for each of them, and post regularly about various topics (not just your racing, or skiing – fans want to know about your daily life too).
Even if you are not ready to use them, still sign up and get those branded URLS (Instagram.com/your+name). You may need them in the future, so grab them now and avoid future hassle.
Your name is the brand, so don’t forget to grab your own domain name too. If you already have it, make sure you also buy those weird variations with dashes between your name and surname (www.firstname-secondname.com). If you have a multinational background and have an international following, you should also consider investing in local domains like .CO.UK or .FR – they can rank really well, so keep them for the future. By doing this you can avoid bloggers buying them and creating websites that outrank you in Google, ultimately protecting your brand.
If you don’t have a personal website, then you should invest in one. Many argue that you do not need a website when you have social media – don’t fall into this trap. Social media is great, but it is noisy. Companies will often look at personal sites to make sponsorship decisions – here you can control your content and how your story is delivered. On your personal website you can include your career profile, biography, best photos, news, calendar and personal branding. This can go a long way with marketing managers making a decision, and also allows you to offer links and logos to sponsor’s sites, which can be very powerful when combined with blogging and news articles.
3. SOCIAL, SOCIAL, SOCIAL
Social media is perhaps the most important weapon in your arsenal. Depending on how active you are, it can take your sponsorship chances to another level. By creating a well-defined social following you become very appealing to companies. Also it is important to take on more channels than just Facebook and Twitter.
Content is key, and depending on your sport and lifestyle you will be able to create loads. Video is becoming more and more powerful and can be deployed in almost any social network. Also remember, that you can upload the content to your personal site and simply post the link on social to drive traffic to your site.
Make sure your profiles look visually consistent and make sure all visual aspects are optimised for that particular channel. DO NOT simply link all your social accounts and post in one place – the way you present a post on Twitter should be very different to what you create for Facebook. We recommend posting individually on each network – although time consuming, it is better to post less in the smaller networks but post properly. Also keep an eye on posting times – you will gain more traction posting in different times for different networks.
Don’t forget to hashtag! Love them or hate them, hashtags are a proven way to get more post engagement. They help broadcast your content to a much wider audience and are also a great way of showing sponsors valuable recognition by tagging them or their brand-related catch phrases.
Hint: You may want to use a social scheduling tool such as Buffer or Hootsuite. If you are already close to becoming a professional and simply do not have the time to do this properly, speaking to an agency may be a good idea.
4. STRUCTURE MEANS YOU CAN ANALYSE
With your website and social media channels ready, you will gain great insight into who is following you. This will allow you to get a good overview of the type of followers you have – what gender follows you most, which city and country they are from, and what habits they have, including when they are most likely to interact with your posts. You can even see which posts were more engaging, and after a few weeks you will nail what performs better and when.
Each social media channel will come with some level of analytics, and provide an insight into who your followers are, where they are from, and what they like to see you posting. After a few weeks of posting, you will gain an understanding of which type of posts generate the most engagement.
Your website can be a powerful tool as well, combined with Google Analytics (the best free tool you can get) it can give you very detailed information about your visitors including number of visitors, where they are from, how they found your website, which device they are using to see your site (desktop, ipad, android phone etc), and you can even get this information in real time. Google’s nicely plotted graphs can be very helpful, allowing you to quickly see when your traffic spikes happen and what has actually caused it (a Facebook post, external news articles, a glorious win, etc).
All this data can help you massively when selling yourself and putting a proposal together for your sponsor. Armed with this information, you can contact the right kind of sponsor for you and your chances of closing the deal will increase.
5. KNOW YOUR SUPER POWERS
As a brand, you will be selling a product, so you must be able to list why your product is worth investing in. Remember, you can be as creative as you like here – sponsorship has evolved and just sticking a logo on your car, bike or kit will no longer do.
Be honest with yourself, define what you can offer and what you are willing to do to help them. Whatever the circumstance, DON’T list it if you can’t deliver it.
Here are some examples of what you can offer sponsors, it should get you thinking:
– Great content such as videos, product reviews, written blogs and lots of imagery.
– Brand association: your name and personality will ring well with certain sponsors.
– Access to your social network: if your audience is relevant to a brand it will make you more attractive.
– Brand representation and product endorsement: you can sell yourself as a brand ambassador and be the face for certain products as well as services.
– Access to certain markets: you may attract a lot of fans from specific countries which will appeal to firms looking to expand internationally.
– You may be able to attend events, competitions and inauguration parties which is great to attract press mentions.
– Hospitality packages, such as tickets to and VIP facilities at your sporting events (very old school) – sales professionals may use this perk to impress big clients.
– Being associated with you may help motivate a sponsor’s workforce, you may offer training sessions for internal staff, visit their offices, or simply contribute in some way.
– Access to other sponsors: this can be very useful for business to business sales or for companies interested in forming strategic partnerships.
Create a sponsorship package tailored for each potential sponsor, try to change the offer in order of importance to the particular company. This will make you stand out and appeal to the their brand, and shows that you did some research. If a particular company does not use athletes for product endorsement, don’t add it to the top of the list. Instead, find out what marketing campaigns they are currently running, and pinpoint what will be considered relevant for your sponsorship package.
6. IDENTIFY YOUR SPONSORS
This is crucial, especially as it may take quite a bit of time to personalise a proposal. For this reason, you do not want to waste time pitching to the wrong company – it’s all about brand fit.
Avoid sponsor clashes. Take a look at your existing sponsors and learn about every service they offer (some companies offer hundreds of different products and services). The worst thing you can do, is to try to attract a new sponsor and lose an existing one at the same time.
We would encourage writing a list of basic potential sponsors by industry, this will be different for each sport and we’re sure you would have thought about this already. Based on your stats and follower data, you will be able to brainstorm what these companies will be looking for.
For example, a video camera company may be more interested in athlete generated content than a logo on your cap. Do your fans practise sport? Would they buy a camera? If they don’t fit this profile, don’t pitch. Equally, an expanding bank chain may be interested in your international following. But are they old enough to open an account?
Once you have a list, pick up the phone and call them. If you can use Linkedin to find out who the budget holder is, even better. Ask open questions, ask them about ongoing marketing campaigns, and ask if they will consider looking at your proposal. Hopefully by now, you will probably have a better idea of what is important to them. Now personalise the “offering” section of your proposal and email it away.
Remember to always follow it up politely after 24 hours, and don’t give up.
7. BUILD A KILLER PROPOSAL
This is where you get to show off all the points discussed up to now. This document must be concise and is only supposed to open the door to the next level. Remember, marketing managers are stressed, time poor and they need your help.
Depending on resources and what kind of amounts you are looking to attract, we recommend two approaches here:
A SINGLE PAGE document that is well designed and appealing, OR a visual presentation with no more than 5 SLIDES. This is your choice and depends on what you are asking for, how complex the offering is, and how much resource you have.
Consider using a designer for this, it can make a real difference! This is very much like a CV, it has to stand out among another 1000 offers.
Either way, both options have to be informative, concise and must look amazing.
YOUR PROPOSAL SHOULD INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:
A brief explanation of who you are, what you do and where you want to get to. Also try to get your personality through by using visuals.
Headline information about your sporting achievements to date.
Briefly list your key stats such as social media followers, website traffic, YouTube views, subscribers, or other sponsorship deals.
YOUR FUTURE PLANS
This is where you get the chance to express how you will reach your goals. Planning is key and if the decision maker can see that this has been thought out, you have a greater chance of attracting them to be part of this journey. It may include advanced training, a competition path, or investing in learning and development. By knowing this, the marketer will be able to instantaneously see if you fit in their future campaigns.
Your arsenal should be ready by now and you should know who your audience is as well as what you are prepared to do. List it out but NEVER include all offerings. If you attract their attention, you may have to negotiate… so leave some extra services to sweeten the deal and close it.
DON’T over promise. If you can’t deliver, it will look bad. It could even resonate to other parties and halt other opportunities.
Don’t be scared. Put down what you want from the deal, it may be equipment or services and even cash. Don’t be shy, just name your price! If the marketing manager is interested and you sold it well, they will get in touch to work it out. By not adding an amount you are simply adding an obstacle, an extra layer of communication which can put off your contact.
Also add a deadline date, which shows objectivity and personal organisation.
Don’t forget to add your website, email, telephone and social links. Make sure you have a personalised email with your brand name, it looks a lot more professional than a gmail.com or hotmail.com address. Check out Google Apps, it allows you to have a personalised email, digital storage for your photos and loads of productivity tools (Use this code to get 20% off 9UR9D6WGEJ3FE9).
All this may seem like a lot to take in, but take your time! It doesn’t have to happen all in one go. You may already have a lot of these points in place and it may be more of a question of organising your assets as well as creating a process.
To younger athletes, these will be things to consider as they compete and build their own brands. Be active, plan your moves and create a following.
Feel free to drop us any questions on sponsorship using the comment section below.
Best of luck and always aim for the top!