This is the second half of our series, "How to Get Sponsored". Part One of the series was written from the perspective of athlete, coach and author Ben Greenfield. Part Two is written by Josh Hadway, a TrainingPeaks sponsored athlete who recently entered the world of professional triathlon. Josh discusses his observations of what companies and brands are looking for, and how to make yourself more a more marketable athlete.
The cost of participating in any sport can start to add up fast. As an athlete time is valuable, but you still need money to live your everyday life and support your involvment in sport. Thus the cycle of working vs. training begins. Sponsorship is a great way to ease the cost of sports, while also creating great new relationships along the way. We all hear the word "sponsorship" being thrown around, but what does a sponsorship agreement really consist of? Is sponsorship just for professional athletes? What does a person ask for when contacting a company? What do companies expect from a sponsored athlete?
The Key Question
I did my very first triathlon in 2008. I was 21 years old, working part time, and going to college. I had an old road bike from the 80’s and not a lot of money. My goal was to become a professional triathlete, but I knew I was a long way from that goal. At that time I figured sponsorship was simple; you wear a logo, and get free product. I figured, if you got fast enough, companies would seek you out. Very quickly, I learned this is not the case.
Companies many times use the term "ambassador", and this is truly what sponsorship should be called. As an ambassador, the sponsored athlete becomes an image of the company they’re representing. What you do and how you act reflects on the company you represent. Sponsorship is much more than getting free stuff, and in fact the “free” attitude is exactly the wrong approach. Think of sponsorship as a two-way street. You should be giving to your sponsor just as much as they give to you. If a sponsor gives you $100 in product, can you turn around and make them $100 or more? It's a simple but effective question, and it's the key to getting started. In order to be in the position to be sponsored, you have to be able to answer the question: "How can I return the investment that a company will make in me?"
Making Yourself Marketable
The best way to return a sponsor’s investment is to make oneself marketable. This is truly the first step to becoming sponsored. No matter what your skill level, you can be an asset within your community. One of the best ways to raise your marketability is to expand the number of people you positively influence or interact with. Here are some ways this can be done:
- Joining and getting involved with a triathlon, running, or cycling club
- Start coaching other athletes
- Write a blog that people love to follow, and be active on social media and forums
- Get involved with local non-profit organizations
- Help put on local races
- Volunteer to coach the local middle or high school teams
Any positive interaction within your community benefits both the athlete and the company, as you increase your sphere of influence and thus your impact as a potential spokesperson. Over time, this will put you in the position of being an attractive potential sponsorship candidate.
The second step in becoming sponsored is contacting a company. Products you already use and love are a great place to start. Once you have narrowed down the company that you want to contact, get on their website. Some companies will already have a section for sponsorship, but for others you will need to find their contact page. Keep your e-mails to the point. A long e-mail many times does not get read. State who you are, what you are after, and how sponsoring you will specifically benefit the company. Remember that whatever you are asking for, you need to make sure you can create a positive return on their investment. I also include an athletic resume.
Once you hit that send button, it is time to be patient. You may not hear back from a company right away. Many companies get hundreds of e-mails daily and it can take time to respond to them all. I would wait a week (even two) before contacting a company to see if they got your email. The first time you hear back from a company can be very exciting! If the company likes your proposal, most likely they will offer you something. At this point, the relationship has begun.
Nurturing Your Relationships
Sponsorships do not end when the product hits your door. The most important part is building and continuing the relationship. Be sure to keep your sponsors updated on things you are doing to promote their brand. Also keep them updated on your season. Many sponsorships start as discounts, but can grow if you build and maintain a good relationship. Now, as a professional triathlete I still work hard to promote the brands that support me. I work every day to leave a positive influence on those around me, integrating my sponsors into the community.
If you liked this article, be sure to read Part One which elaborates on the process of applying for sponsorship, and maintaining the relationship throughout your season.
Josh Hadway is a professional triathlete based in Spokane, Washington. He was ranked third in the nation by USAT for males age 20-24 in 2010. In 2011, he started his career as a professional triathlete focusing on the 70.3 distance. Outside of racing, he is a senior at Eastern Washington University where he is currently studying exercise science. If you want to learn more about Josh and follow his season, check out his website at www.JoshHadway.com.