For years athletes from all sports have been hunting that elusive deal to help them progress within their sport, and help pay for their training and competition entries, looking at what it takes to become the very best, but what does it take to get that deal?

Pretty much every week I get a request from some athlete/coach/parent for sponsorship of some kind, but how can you wade through all the wants to find a realistic prospect?

First we have to look at what sponsorship actually is

From Wikipedia:

Sponsorship[1] is a cash and/or in-kind fee paid to a property (typically in sports, arts, entertainment or causes) in return for access to the exploitable commercial potential associated with that property.

While the sponsoree (person being sponsored) may be nonprofit, unlike philanthropy, sponsorship is done with the expectation of a commercial return.

While sponsorship can deliver increased awareness, brand building and propensity to purchase, it is different from advertising. Unlike advertising, sponsorship cannot communicate specific product attributes. Nor can it stand alone, as sponsorship requires support elements.

Sponsorship in skiing has always been a bit of an anomaly, back in the 80’s ski equipment brands would give out loads of kit free to anyone who would use it, so long as you were attending events they wanted YOU on their kit, and with the number of skis being sold world-wide back then it was easy, they could always justify another pair to give away…….fast forward 30 years.  How times have changed, in a ski industry which sells a fraction of what was being sold in the Halcion days gone by, now they want (sorry NEED) to see a return for that kit that they are dishing out.

In the modern world sponsorship is very much a 2 way street, the manufacturers and suppliers are looking for a return on that investment in terms of exposure on social media, print, newspaper coverage and more, so as someone looking to get a sponsorship deal, however small, you need to think long and hard about what YOU can offer in return for all the shiny stuff you are hoping to be given.  By understanding how you can help your “sponsor” better you will be able to demonstrate to them how much value YOU can be to them.

Think about what you need, everything from skis and boots to gloves and poles, to lift passes on the training hill, now break it down into bite sized chunks, DO NOT announce that you need £30K (I, and most other small companies have switched off as soon as I read that) but do say that you need to get from A to B and to do it the cost will be X.  It might be that a company has no money to give, but they have a contact at an airline who can arrange a deal, all of a sudden you might have a travel sponsor!

So what can you do for a Sponsor?

  • Promote the sponsor via social media, find out what hashtags they want you to use and make sure you can tag them in everything relevant you post, a sponsor should not have to look to see what you have posted, and it should be blatant as they should be getting notifications with every post. (remember to keep your social media profile clean and set up an athlete profile page)
  • Being available to promote a brand or supplier at events, ski shows, races, coaches conferences etc. (remember to factor some time for this and try to have a long term plan which shows your training schedule and when you are and are not available to the sponsor… (they won’t expect loads of days, but making the offer to do a few is a great bonus)
  • By being a brand ambassador and talking well of the brand (even if you have a problem, and if you do have problem talk to the sponsor rather than posting it all over Facebook!)
  • Older athletes or better ranked ones can offer to attend events and do a talk or sign posters etc, even younger athletes can hand out flyers at an event, it is all about exposure for the sponsor and doing the right thing.

How do you approach a potential sponsor?

  • Prepare a formal letter (or email) and have your skiing CV, results and achievements available all in one place, be it a print document or your website.
  • DO THIS YOURSELF!!! You are a big boy or girl now, and YOU need to be the one approaching the sponsor, not your parents… (Sorry to say sponsorship requests from parents telling me how good little Jonny is usually end up in the bin!)
  • DO NOT contact a potential sponsor via a Facebook message unless you know them personally and it is to find out the best way to contact them, and then apologise for contacting them in that way, remember people are busy and they don’t always have time to drop everything and respond to you.
  • If you do not receive a quick response do not keep calling or messaging the sponsor, they are busy people running businesses, and they will get back to you when they have time.  If you do not receive a response after a few weeks it may be worth getting in contact and politely asking if they are able to help, do not expect that they will, and if they tell you that they are unable to help, respect this, thank them for their time and move on.  All too often I hear athletes moaning about how brand X or Y didn’t give them free kit, news travels fast and if you are going to bad mouth a brand who was unable to support you very soon you will find that brands X, Y, Z and probably A, B and C too have heard about your attitude and won’t support you either.
  • Nothing is FREE!  Only the very, very best in the world get completely free kit, or paid to use it, sorry to burst your bubble but being number 1 in your age group is probably not going to cut it for a multi pair ski deal, you may get a good deal, (big discount off the RRP) but it is unlikely that it will be free until you earn it.
  • The more you do the more you get!  Sponsors love loyalty, your deal in year one might be a small discount, but if you show that your results have improved and that you have done something meaningful to promote them then the discount can get bigger, and if this trend keeps on going there is often some free kit available as time goes on…. DO NOT EXPECT IT treat free kit like a bonus, be thankful and do even more to promote the sponsor, you can guess that if you got 1 free pair of skis this year and you promote the brand really well and your results keep improving that you might be in for 2 pairs next year (assuming there is budget available)
  • Think outside the box!  Often small companies that are nothing to do with skiing may help you out in some financial way (paying for flights, accommodation etc) but remember the same rules apply, treat them like any other sponsor, don’t take them for granted and do not expect anything for nothing.

Looking at innovative ways to gain sponsors

  • Friends and Families

Ask those that you know if they can help in a small way. They may know someone who knows someone who could help. Most sponsorship come from a personal introduction rather than a cold call.

  • Work colleagues / friends of your parents

Approach the boss of the companies that your parents work for. Local news and support is something that creates a good vibe from news outlets and this generates publicity for the company.

  • Helmet raffle

Work out roughly how much money you are going to need for the bulk of your season and then divide this by say 20. This is the cost of the ticket. The company that wins this draw gets to post their logo on your helmet as your primary sponsor for the season. The rest do not go away empty handed as you post their logo’s (with links to their websites) on your website.

  • 100 club

People put a small amount each month into a bank account and a set percentage each month goes back out. You are then able to use the remainder towards your costs. The more people you get helping in this the better but do get a group of people to help with this.

What to include in your media pack to potential sponsors

  • Best results, not every single result
  • Images
  • What you are looking for
  • Where the money will be going
  • Links to press cuttings, video clips
  • Keep to one page

This list is not exhaustive and we will keep updating.

With a bit of luck this might give you some ideas as to how to pick up a new sponsor or how to work better with one that you already have, remember that you have to earn kit and support, it is very much a two way street (make sure the traffic flowing back to the sponsor is more than they are giving you) after all, YOU need this kit, and you have to make a sponsor feel like they need YOU!

Where there is a will, there is a way

Thoughts from Colin Martin (www.solutions4feet.com) and Neil McQuoid (www.racer-ready.co.uk)