Its a question I get all the time:
“How do I Get Sponsors, Coach?”
Several athletes, coaches, and other businesses have approached me on the subject of sponsoring fighters and other sports competitors. Here is an approach to help set you up for success. I will be speaking primarily to the athlete, but the coaches, managers, and potential sponsors should be able to apply this from their vantage point as well.
Getting free money to “follow your dreams” seems like a great plan at first, but you will find it is a pretty tough sell to your potential sponsors. Many people follow their dream to medical school or law school and enter into a business agreement by getting loans to be repaid with interest when they will have a job and be able to pay it back.
Others follow their dreams by becoming an apprentice and working at a reduced rate for a period of time so the trainer can recoup the money they loose training an apprentice. Generally the apprentice has to work for their trainer for a minimum amount of time once they are actually working in their trade, so the trainer can get a percentage of their earnings and make all the training worth his while.
Aspiring business owners often seek investments by signing over a percentage of their business to their investors. In each of these examples, no one is getting something for nothing, and the student, apprentice, or entrepreneur enters into a contract in which their investor makes back their initial investment plus some type of profit. This is how the real world works.
Seeking out a sponsorship for amateur or pro sports is asking to enter into a business relationship with individuals or other businesses. Whenever you go into business, whether for yourself or with partners, it is of the utmost importance that you have a business plan. A good business plan hashes out all of the responsibilities, benefits, and just about any situation you will need to deal with in your business relationship including conflict resolution.
A business plan also allows you to organize your thoughts and will expose you to things you have not considered yet. Whenever someone approaches me with a business proposition, the first thing I ask for is a business plan. If they don’t have one I won’t even talk to them about it, because chances are they aren’t even out of the “I have a good idea” phase and have not even begun to deal with the realities of what it will take for us to do business together
When approaching a potential sponsor, have a plan and know what you bring to the table. You absolutely MUST be able to communicate what is in it for your potential sponsor. You must be able to make that sponsor money with the exposure you bring to that sponsor. If you have a way to quantify how much money you can bring to him, then all the better.
Going to a sponsor without something to offer is just simply begging. Set yourself apart from all the beggars out there with their hands out, and know what you can do to increase your potential sponsor’s revenue. People are not in business to lose money, and if you end up costing your sponsor more than you make him you will soon find yourself sponsor-less.
The Business Plan
Here are the basics you would want to include in a business plan for sponsorships and some ideas on how to flesh this out and turn yourself into a viable marketing tool for businesses out there.
I. Summary – This paints the broad strokes and gives the potential investor an idea of what he can gain from working with you.
II. Company Description – You have to think of yourself as a business if you are going to start making money at this, so outline your accomplishments, brief relevant history, and to which customers you might appeal to. You should also incorporate if you are going to be making money and making any kind of a serious go of this. This will allow you to enjoy certain tax benefits and not run afoul of the IRS. List specific companies and organizations with which you have a working relationship. What are the competitive advantages that you bring to your potential sponsor that other athletes cannot?
III. Market Analysis – You must understand and help your investors understand what potential you bring as far as exposure to different demographics. What is your target market and how does it coincide with your investor’s target market? How big is your sport and how many people does it reach? Maybe you can help your investor break into a different age group or different type of customer than he has had in the past.
IV. Organization and Management – You should include information on your management team and coaching staff. Outline the different responsibilities of your management team, coaches, and sponsors. This should also contain a method for dispute and conflict settlement, should unforeseen issues arise.
V. Service or Product Line – What can you help your investor sell? How do you offer a unique opportunity to reach people your investor cannot? How can you continually reach new people and grow your sponsor’s following while also growing yours.
VI. Marketing and Sales – How will you reach people your sponsors cannot? Do you have a dedicated:
Website (Does it have a blog with original content? How many subscribers?)
You Tube Channel with original content (How many subscribers?)
Facebook Page (How many friends are you connected with?)
Twitter Page (How many followers?)
Instagram Account (How many followers?)
Other marketing, social media, or online resources?
How will people know you use your sponsor’s product or services? Who can you reach? Who and how many potential customers see you compete? Are your competitions televised, on YouTube, or available by some other means? How many people do you train with? How many of them can you expose to your sponsor or their product? Remember its not just about how many people you can reach, but how many that would make quality leads and are prospective users of their product or service.
It is also important to have a growth strategy. If you just keep doing the same Facebook blasts to the same 500 friends you have then that has a limited benefit to your potential sponsor. Just as you want to grow your business, you must offer a way to continue to reach new people if you want to establish an on-going relationship with a sponsor.
When someone invests with you, what exactly do they get in return? Where is their logo, advertising, or other materials featured? If you can quantify how many people you expose to your sponsor, show how you will do it with referral incentives, website analytics, or any other tools available.
VII. Type of Sponsorship – There are many types and levels of “sponsorship” out there, you need to know what different types of companies will be willing to provide. Lets look at just a few of them to give you an idea of what’s out there:
A. The “Wholesale” Sponsorship – Many companies that sell to athletes will offer you a “sponsorship” that amounts to a wholesale discount on their gear, supplements, clothes, or other products. They will usually also offer a discount on full retail to your friends and family, effectively turning you into a salesperson and walking billboard. This works great for the company as they lose no money on the gear they sell you, and make money on the gear you sell to your friends as well as the additional exposure you bring to their company in the gym or during competition. In this type of sponsorship your value has been determined by the company, and the more you sell, the more valuable you will be to the company. This is also a great deal for you as you save money on your gear, as long as its good gear you would use even if you didn’t have the “sponsorship”.
B. The “Free-Gear” Sponsorship – This is where a company feels you have enough exposure to a specific market sector that it will make them money if you are using their product or wearing their gear. This is where you really need to start to get your ducks in a row and be able to prove your value to the potential sponsor to even get them to look at you.
C. The “Expenses” Sponsorship – This covers all or part of your travel, training, and/or gives a partial stipend. You need to be competing at a level that gives you broad exposure or delivering enough quality traffic/customers to your sponsor’s business to warrant this type of support. Most athletes who make it to this point convince a business owner to try this and soon lose the support of the business owner after an event or initial trial period goes by and the business owner sees little to no return on their investment.
D. The “Full-Ride” Sponsorship – Play college sports and be very good if you want this. Other than that, this type of sponsorship is rare and very difficult to land unless you have a huge market appeal.
E. The “Sugar-Daddy Sponsorship” – You may find a benefactor who is willing to just give you money to follow your dream. Ride that unicorn across the rainbow and enjoy it while it lasts. Make sure you do not have to sacrifice any personal moral tenants or engage in activities you do not want to in return for the benefactor’s support/money. Very few people do things “out of the goodness of their hearts” when it comes to money. You may think that is harsh, but these types of things happen all of the time to people “following their dreams” in the entertainment, sports, arts, and other industries.
VIII. Funding Request – How much are you asking for and how does it get used? Detail your expenses: travel, training, entry fees, specialized equipment, and while most sponsors won’t pay you a salary or cost of living allowance, if that’s what you are looking for make sure that what you offer justifies that added expense. Do you want a one-time payment or are you looking to turn this into a long-term relationship?
Who will pay for your marketing activities? Who will pay to get all of your sponsors’ logos on your uniform, banner, or anywhere else? I once had a fighter who received a small monetary sponsorship from a company and then spent more in getting the sponsor’s logo on his t-shirts, shorts, banner, and website than he made from the sponsor. You need to think of all the places money can go.
IX. Financial Projections – How will your investor know he is making back the money he invested in you? How often do you compete? How many exposures on your web presence will you guarantee?
I am sure many of you will have further questions. I am happy to help once you have filled out as much of this as you can. I am also including a link to the Small Business Administrations Business Planning web resources: http://www.sba.gov/writing-business-plan
Be sure you have completed as much of this information before you ask me or anyone else for help – be an educated and worth-while small-business professional and not just another smooth talker looking for a hand-out. Know what you want and what benefit you bring to potential investors. I promise it will pay dividends you never imagined.
About the Author: Coach Douglas Esposito has a lifetime of martial arts and competition experience. He has been training, coaching, and cornering MMA fighters since 1997. In 2007 Coach Esposito founded Vanguard Gym, in Manassas Virginia, where they have produced many local, regional, and world-level amateur and professional competitors. Coach Esposito also owns several companies in different sectors and is a successful small-business owner, partner, and entrepreneur. Coach Esposito’s martial arts bio can be found here at this link.