Importance of relationships in sponsorship

“It’s about who you know.”

In our previous article to assist aspiring athletes with regards to “how to approach a brand for sponsorship” we mentioned creating a relationship with the brand through buying and utilising the products, attending their sponsored events and getting to know the various role players within the brand. Whilst having conversations with various athletes from a variety of sporting codes for the next topic of “how to negotiate a contract”, a common point kept coming up that set the tone for a positive negotiation – the importance of a relationship with the brand.

Before we dive deeper into this topic, whilst chatting to Brode Vosloo(Brand Director of Fox Racing) he made a very useful point with regards to choosing a brand to approach for a sponsoship. For every athlete, mom and dad are your first sponsor, they outlay all the costs of equipment, competing and travel to build you to the point that you are confident enough to apply for sponsorship. However so many athletes go directly to a brand bypassing a very cruicial link in the chain – your local shop. If you really want to show the value of your return on investment, it doesn’t matter how many “likes” you get on Instagram or podiums you stand on but the amount of sales you generate. Direct your friends and any queries to your local shop, let the local shop owner be the one to promote you to the brand as they carry more leverage. Your local shop owner would have been monitoring your progress and your support(through your parents buying product or you generating sales) and is more inclined to flow you product or allocate you a discount or budget to reward your loyalty and ability. Without local retailers making sales, there is no budget for the brands to sponsor. A brand is more inclined to assist a local retailer who is selling product to support an athlete than they are to sponsor someone who contacts them directly.

As mentioned in the previous article, around 95% of CVs that land on a Sports Marketing Managers desk is met with a “no”. If you are fortunate enough to fall into that small 5% that a brand is interested in, you will be approached with a contract detailing their offer and expectations. The offer may not match your needs but remember, especially if this is your first interaction with the brand, is that a relationship still needs to be formed. This takes time – brands need to see your true value other than what you said you were able to deliver in your CV.

To share their experiences when it has come to contract negotiations we spoke to a range of athletes from different sporting codes, including:

• David Weare – Ex professional surfer.
• Jean Marc Johannes – Skateboarder and current holder of four Guinness World Records.
• Anthony Raynard – Motocross racer.
• Ricky Basnett – Ex competitive turned free surfer.
• Lance Isaacs – Super bike racer.
• David Naude – Youth Olympian rock climber.

After speaking with these athletes it was clear that negotiations and the quality of relationship you have with the brand go hand in hand. When starting out you need to understand that the brand needs to get to know you and that you are indeed a valuable asset. Generally all contracts start with product, over time this may grow to include a larger amount of product before some travel budget or assistance for entering events or incentives for podiums or media coverage. There is really a tiny portion of athletes especially in non mainstream sports that are earning salaries, even then most of that budget goes to covering expenses to maintain their level of performance to justify the cash value to the brand.

Before accepting a sponsorship, you need to consider the added pressure that comes with being sponsored and if you willing to take that on whilst still keeping your sport fun. Sponsorship is a two way street of give and take. So many athletes put the work in to try get noticed and sponsored but once sponsored, that is when the work really starts. Now you have the added expectations of the brand on your shoulders be it achieving podiums or a certain amount of coverage and being able to report back a measurable return on investment to justify to the brand why they should continue supporting you.

Should you take the decision to accept a sponsorship deal, a relationship must be formed with a brand, this is done through communication:
• Touch base with the Brand/Athlete Manager roughly every two weeks, just a quick message “hi” and any event taking place around this.
• If you don’t live in the town that head office is in, let the brand know when you will be and pop in, face visits are always appreciated but you also don’t want to be an irritation if you live in the area – they don’t want to see you every week!
• A detailed quarterly report showcasing results, media coverage or projects that have taken place as well as plans for the next quarter.
• You must show the brand your value add – return on investment, how have you promoted the brand to drive sales and the brands image.
• No news is worse than bad news, if your performance hasn’t been up to scratch still communicate with the brand – give them solutions to how you are going to rectify it, don’t make excuses and trust that the brand is there to support you even through the slump.
• Honesty is a key factor to any relationship – even if you know the answer is not what the brand wants to hear, better it comes from you than from somebody else.
• You must hold respect for the brand and always be seen promoting it in a positive light – this will outweigh your good results.
• Without communication you are just a number, a strong relationship gives longevity to a career even after competing.

Once you have accepted an offer, regardless of “how much” you are receiving, you need to be grateful as it is that much more support than what you had before. If you not happy with the offer, you don’t have to accept it, negotiate with the brand but:
• You need to have the confidence in your own ability and facts that as a marketing tool, you add real value to the brand.
• Be wary not to over step the line between confidence and cockiness.
• Discuss your goals both short and long term with the brand – where you are now, where you are headed and how you plan to get there. How do these goals benefit the brand and how the brand can assist.
• Be transparent with the brand – break down your actual costs for why you are looking for more budget.
• Instead of asking for cash, ask for assistance like travel budget, brands have their own networks that can arrange better pricing on flights and accommodation, there are also brand managers all around the world that can assist you when traveling which takes a huge chunk out of your budget.
• Ask if there could be a performance or coverage incentive structure put in place depending on the level of event or media exposure.
• Never… NEVER(this deserves to be mentioned twice and in caps) make reference to your ability compared to other athletes especially those athletes already supported by the brand.
• Manage you level of commitment – if you give the brand “everything”, what do you have left to offer the brand that would interest them in investing more into you? It is a fine line as you also cant slack off and under deliver that they are no longer interested in you.
• Be sure you really don’t need the support or if moving to another brand is the best option. More than often, that “little bit extra” is not worth starting to build a relationship from scratch with another brand. If you are approached by another brand with a better offer, always give your current sponsor the opportunity to match the offer before making a decision.
• Don’t burn bridges, always be respectful as the industry is small and they talk – you don’t want a bad reputation. Like athletes change sponsors so to do people change jobs which can effect you in the long run.

It is important to remember that you need to participate in your particular sport because you love it and you are driven by being better than your own standards, forget about “trying” to impress a brand for a sponsorship – if you have that passion the rest will fall into place naturally.

We hope you have found this useful. We are going to continue chatting to athletes and brand managers to share their knowledge to assist you in your career, topics we will be covering include: Building a team around you, social media and showcasing your individual personality. Working with media – photo and videographers. Psychology – handling the pressure and knowing how to lose and win like a champion. Roles of Athlete and Sports Marketing Managers and life after competitive sport.

Should you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to drop us a message and we will always try our best to assist or you may have a topic that we can discuss that will inform other athletes as well.

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