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  • Writer's pictureTrish McGeer

Sponsorship for the Sports Athlete


Sponsorship 101

Top 5 Must Do’s to Get Started

In this article, I will outline some of the top 10 ways a new athlete just entering into the world of brand partnerships can and should approach a company. After many years of personally working with sponsors and brands in my Rally Racing career, I took all the of bumps along the way, with the great successes and formulated my own TOP 10 list. This is by no means a comprehensive way to find a sponsor or brand partner. Believe me, there are so many ways now to do that beyond just what is outlined here.

In the 21 century with the rise of social media and content marketing, coupled with the digital age of everything going online, the resources are varied and vast. Therefore, those topics need to be covered in a separate article.

So, let's get started with SPONSORSHIP 101 . . .

What Is Sponsorship?

Sponsorship is the act of supporting an event, activity, person, or organization financially or through the provision of products or services.

There are several blogs that discuss different ‘tips & tricks’ for going after sponsors, mainly based around the idea that somehow your entire proposal process should be focused around somehow manipulating sponsors in cleaver ways to donate to your cause. Don’t believe everything you read !! There is one reality in the sports world is athletes seeking corporations to invest in them is along and difficult process that is more about establishing a relationship with an individual than just ‘pitching’ a concept. You will ultimately need to establish a value trade with your sponsors that gives them more value than you receive. In other words, you need to be prepared and ‘over deliver.’ Instead of ‘pitching’ brand sponsorships, we will show you a 10 step process to ‘Building Sponsorships.’

1. Be clear about your demographic and your platform. Your platform is your message and your fan base--people who know you or who align themselves with people you know. Your demographic is the market you're after, and you want to have statistics about that market ready to go. For example; if your market is skateboarders, be aware that they are 77% males and only 3% of skateboard sales are done in sports good stores. So know who you and your potential sponsor would be targeting before you write your 'pitch deck.' 2. Have a great sponsor proposal, or pitch deck. Without a good pitch deck, you won't even get heard. It has to be absolutely compelling. You need to connect personally with your contact in the company. In addition, be aware that there's a certain format for how the proposal has to look. It has to have certain language and certain sections, such as:

  • Start with a story. It could be your story, or the story of someone whose life you changed. Whatever you do, tell a story. This will get your proposal to stand out and make an emotional connection. There's always a person in the company you approach who's going to make a decision about sponsoring you. That person has to make an emotional decision to give you the money.  Connect with them first, either in person or on the phone and the ‘sell’ will be much easier.

  • Describe what you do. This is your mission statement. It explains why you do what you do.

  • Benefits. You have to have really great benefits for the sponsor you are approaching and outline exactly what they are. It could be your following, your results, your ability to educate, other sponsors you can partner them with etc… THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS. You must have a benefit for them that far exceeds what they will do for you!

  • Describe your demographics. Talk about where you live and how you can use the community to help them by connecting them with your followers. Know your numbers above everything else.

  • Ask for what you want. Companies don't call you to ask how much money you want, or what product you need. A sponsor once said to me, 'If I don't see a price, or at least a budget that clearly outlines my contribution, I throw it away.” So tell them exactly what you’re looking for; but remember to back it up with why you need it and how that will translate into deliverables for them.

  • Promise deliverables. Don't just promise media coverage. everyone does that and you can't guarantee it anyway. Only promise specific media coverage when you know you can get it. This means you must have a relationship with certain media outlets, be it radio, newspaper, TV or social media repost accounts. Offer to give them media coverage not just in the town you live in, but in the cities where your sponsor is located or has offices or branches, as well as all the cities you travel to for events.  

3. Find the right person to approach in the company. Ask for the marketing department or content manager. If you know someone in the company that can give you a referral, that is the best place to start. Failing that it really is about developing a relationship with that company. You could try reaching out to their social media by direct messaging, but usually that is handled by an agency and it rarely gets you in the door. In some companies the appropriate department might be public relations, community affairs, public affairs, supplier diversity or brand management. Whenever possible, introduce yourself by telephone, not e-mail. As I said, this is a relationship business you are trying to develop, so you need to have conversations; don't just e-mail back and forth. Remember, a lot of corporations have good firewalls, so your e-mail may not get through. E-mail once you have the relationship developed. Try to avoid filling out an online form. That's a screening device where something goes in and never comes out.

4. Create a conversation. When you're talking with a sponsor, always DO what you SAY you will do. You might be tested at some point, so if you can't get information, tell them why. Always be on time or early for an appointment if they are willing to meet with you in person. Let them know you are a person of responsibility. As the old saying goes: "You only get one chance to make a first impression!"

5. Do your follow up. Once the conversation has started, always follow up. Many young athletes lose potential sponsors or partners because they don't follow up with them in a timely fashion. When you do follow up, be brief and leave the door open for another conversation by asking a question at the end of the conversation; such as, "Can I send you my next event video?" This way you will know how serious they are and will also open up another opportunity for them to talk to you.

This should get you thinking about how to begin, but next week I will explore some of these in more detail. And remember, "If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough!"

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