Imagine receiving motorcycles, large quantities of gear, clothing, and parts at a sizable discount or even for free. Now, imagine yourself getting paid to endorse your favorite products! Sounds like a pyramid scheme, right? It’s not! The name of the game is sponsorship, and becoming sponsored is something many riders dream of yet have no real idea how to achieve. Although many people assume only elite athletes can obtain sponsorships, this is simply not true in the motocross and off-road racing world (where amateur racing is the foundation of the sport). The following helpful hints and steps can shed some light on the often-misunderstood process of sponsorships and can give you a leg up on other riders looking for the same opportunities. This just might be your time to become a sponsored athlete and get paid for doing what you love—riding and racing your dirt bike.
Why Would Companies Want To Sponsor You?
Ultimately, it’s about selling products or services. Different companies use different marketing strategies. Those that sponsor athletes use sponsorship as a form of marketing to sell its goods. The riders they choose to support usually represent its target market. In some cases, they are elite riders. In other cases, it might just be someone who is exceptionally marketable (for example, Tom Cruise has a TLD sponsorship for stunt gear). Or perhaps it’s a local dealership looking for the “blue-collar privateer” racer type or a company marketing to teens looking for that “edgy” rider. Keep in mind that all these companies are looking for someone who represents its desired image and who can help the company sell more of its products. It is better to be a novice and act professionally than it is to be a professional and act like an idiot.
When searching for companies to sponsor you, consider your own image. Are you an off-road rider who races enduros and cross-country-type races? Are you the local motocross rider who shows up on the weekend and gives it everything you’ve got? How many times a year do you race? You have to be highly visible to the public (even if it is only locally) if you want to get sponsorship from any company. Look for companies that market to your racing lifestyle, and know your identity so you’re aware of what you have to offer.
The Pot Of Gold At The End Of The Sponsorship Rainbow
So what should you hope to get from a company? Depending on your skill level, the events you race, your past performances, and what you can do for your sponsors, it could mean anything from a small discount (10 percent) to a pretty substantial discount (50 percent or more). More elusive are deals for free product, contingency incentives for doing well at major events, or actual salaries. Those are reserved for the riders who show they can really move the needle in product sales, whether it’s through their blazing speed, exceptional PR skills, or some combination of the two.
Build An Audience
Simply appearing at a race isn’t enough, even if you finish well. This fact seems to be lost on most. You're virtually useless if you don’t have an audience beyond the dozen people who might see you at a race. By developing an audience, you dramatically increase the number of people who see your sponsoring company’s message. A very select few can develop this audience simply by winning (think Ryan Villopoto or James Stewart). These individuals don’t necessarily have to actively build an audience. The media coverage they receive serves that purpose.
For the rest of us, we need something else. A blog or video blog can be a great way to build an audience. It’s very cheap and easy. It does take significant time to write, shoot and edit video, and to develop a following, but it’s one of the simplest ways to do so. There are also websites that can help you provide all of your information and race results like HookIt.com or SponsorHouse.com. These websites let companies view your profile and any updates you would like to share throughout the year. Being involved in these websites also gives you an advantage come sponsorship review time (which is usually August 1 through October 31). Companies will look to these websites to acquire “talent” and give special sponsorship discounts to the website members.
Another great avenue is a social network such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Having thousands of followers and/or friends is a ready-made audience. Also, there are other ways to build an audience. If you have your own business, your customers are an audience of sorts. Basically, it boils down to the fact that, in order to be valuable to a potential sponsor, you need people to pay attention to you.
Once you have an audience, a sponsorship level goal, and a target company and the contact, you can begin formulating the actual proposal. Keep it very short and to the point. Tell them who you are, the size and demographics of your audience, and what you are seeking. Shoot between 100 and 150 words maximum. The people you’re contacting don’t want a biography; they want to know what you can do for them and how much it is going to cost. Be courteous and humble. Arrogance is almost always a recipe for failure.
If you're contacting a relatively large company, it's likely they receive tens if not hundreds of requests like yours per month. In most cases, the companies have identified and already reached out to the racers they want. You’re fighting for a tiny fraction of the remaining slice of the marketing budget pie.
If you are at a race and you meet someone representing a company, approach them and ask about their product. If you do not know anything about their product ask about it and how it works. Why would you ask for a sponsorship if you have no knowledge about the product? The best way to represent a company is to fully understand their product beforehand and use it on your own machine or yourself. Whatever you do, walk up to any company and just directly ask them, “Will you sponsor me?” This tells a potential sponsor that you will “take” and not “give back.” The off-road motorcycle industry is small, and word can get around that Joe Racer is looking for handouts and is only looking out for himself. Don’t be that guy. A sponsorship has to be a 50/50 commitment by the company and the rider (similar to a marriage). According to some industry insiders, out of all the riders who receive sponsorships from companies during the year, only half ever use the company’s discounts and order a single thing throughout the sponsorship year agreement. Does that sound like commitment to you?
Congratulations! You made it this far and have signed a contract for a sponsorship. Now it’s time for the real work—to try to keep it! Or, if you’re receiving a discount on products, maybe getting a heftier discount. Every sponsor is different and will have its own objectives and expectations. Yet whether you’re seeking money, products, or services from a sponsor, it is seeking a few select things from you, so you should shape your approach like this:
• Visibility and exposure: Companies want to know that those who they sponsor are providing them with unique and revenue-generating exposure. If you can’t provide consistent brand visibility at events or races, you have little to offer a company in terms of long-range sponsorship.
• Image compatibility: You’re the image of the company; you should fit the idea of the image it is trying to promote—not the other way around.
• Community involvement: Businesses benefit when they are identified with a commitment to their local community or even yours. For example, collaborate with a sponsor to organize a day of trail maintenance at your local OHV area, or maybe do a kids’ class at your local motocross track. This effort will go far.
• Personal availability: Depending on a variety of factors, a company might want to have you endorse a product by making appearances or advertising on its behalf. Obviously that is not going to happen to everyone, but make sure when you are at an event you are available to other riders or spectators who want to know more about the products you’re endorsing.
• Communication: Keep your sponsors in the loop on what you’re doing and what your future plans are (like the OHV area clean-up or kids’ ride day, as well as your summer travel schedule). Don’t rely on them to find out when you are racing or when you are doing an event; they have many riders, and they can’t keep up with all of them. You can do this by communicating directly to the company, using your own personal social media outlets, or other websites. Whichever outlet you choose just be sure to inform them of all your events, and even though results are not always important, it is nice to let them know how you are finishing when you race.
• Personal touch: Saying “thank you” can go a long way these days. Not just in the real world but in the motorcycle industry as well. Yes, we all know you should thank sponsors on the podium or when you do interviews, but what about writing or typing a letter, old-school style, telling the company you appreciate all of its help? Showing personal attention to companies and writing them or even emailing them shows your appreciation and doesn’t hurt. It’s nice to get a letter or email without having the words “can I have?” involved. And just like your initial proposal, keep these updates very brief. If you see the sponsorship coordinator you work with at an event, go up to him or her and introduce yourself. Don’t expect them to know who you are through email and phone conversations.
Trying to obtain and keep a sponsorship is much like trying to obtain and keep a job in the competitive world today. Each one of us is a unique individual, but it’s up to us to make sure that shines through and other people and/or companies see that. You just have to make sure you have a plan, you stick to it, and you keep your word. That is what companies want to see when crunching sponsorship dollars come résumé time. A sponsorship is a privilege, not a right; so make sure to let each company know that you appreciate what they are doing for you. Good luck to all of you, and I want to thank < Dirt Rider > magazine for being able to give me this opportunity to not only ride but also write about something I love. Dirt bikes! <(See what I just did there?)>
What Do The Industry Insiders Have To Say About Sponsorships?
What is the one thing someone needs to know about trying to get sponsored?
“Be honest. Results aren’t everything, and be sure to let the company know what you can do for them instead of asking what they can do for you.” —Brady Rodriguez, Motorsports Sales/Promotion Manager, Smith Optics
“I would say the most important thing is to be honest about yourself and who you are. Chances are you are probably not going to be the next McGrath or Carmichael, but that is okay; we aren’t sifting through résumés to find that person. We are looking for someone who can be a brand ambassador for us at the local level. That person just needs the will to succeed, the drive to continually improve, and to have integrity. You don’t have to win at Loretta’s to possess those qualities.” —Brad Cameron, Brand Manager, Renthal America
“When preparing a résumé, we look for a brief description about yourself, which includes your racing background, schooling, accomplishments, hobbies, and any other information that explains yourself. We require that you have some type of racing/competition results that we can review and verify. If you have photos of yourself riding, that always helps too.” —Randy Valade, Marketing Manager, MSR Racing
What is the one thing you shouldn’t do while trying to get sponsored?
“Never mention your unhappiness with a current sponsor to a potential new sponsor. There is a good chance that company took a chance on you when no one would, so even if things aren’t perfect, be professional about it.” —James Zomerdyke, Racing and Events Manager, Thor MX
“Don’t assume you are automatically getting free product. Just because you received free product one year does not entitle you free product the next year. And be thankful for what is offered.” —Brian Fullerton, Product Manager, Acerbis USA
“Telling them what kind of sponsorship you think you deserve and not listing any sort of racing results. Bouncing from one sponsor to another is also not a good way to keep a company helping you.” —Jeff Northrop, Race Coordinator, FMF Racing
For an idea of companies to talk to regarding sponsorship, check out the advertisers in this very magazine. Technically, these companies sponsor us, so there’s a good chance they’ll want to sponsor you too!