A friend of mine made a comment the other day to the effect of, “Man you are so good at getting free stuff!” Unfortunately, I think he is missing how a proper sponsorship relationship actually works.
While there are “charity” examples out there, the majority of cash or equipment sponsors are making an investment in you and expect a real return on that investment. Our team does have a good track record of attracting and retaining sponsorship, but I would say this mostly because we don’t look at any of it as “free”. Let me give a typical example:
A smaller cycling product company might have $2M in revenue and a $40,000 marketing budget. To outfit our team with their product (clothing, wheels, components, etc.) will cost them something like $10,000 in cost. That is a quarter of their budget and likely their single biggest marketing expense for the year! In a public company, you are rarely allowed to get away with targeting anything less than a 15% return on capital. If I follow that rule and keep it simple, that essentially means you need a quick path to showing a $11,500 benefit to them. This can be in direct benefits like additional sales, or less easily quantifiable things like marketing exposure hits.
In an earlier post I mentioned that winning bike races usually isn’t really all that important to your sponsor. While being the winning team typically gets you more exposure (additional interviews, photos, fans, etc.) that is an indirect way of going about things from a marketing perspective. While our team is quite adept at winning bike races we work very hard to offer more direct benefits to our sponsor partners. This is in the form of things like clinics, group rides, school visits, content generation, social media campaigns, etc. Our riders and staff spend at least as much time on these activities as they do training and racing. I strive to run the team like a marketing company that happens to use bicycle racing as its chosen media for communication. By prioritizing resources accordingly we are able to offer a much greater benefit than someone who just happens to be fast on a bike.
This week alone we have a race in San Dimas, CA from Friday-Sunday. On Monday we visit Felt Bicycles HQ in Irvine to meet their staff and discuss our equipment. Then on Tuesday we have a school visit in Beaumont, CA to talk about bicycle safety and promote our next race before starting the Redlands Classic on Wednesday. While that means there is no ‘down time’ for either the riders or myself, it also means we are able to maximize our California trip and give the best service to our partners we can – many of whom will gain far more exposure from our visits than any race results we will achieve along the way.
Next time you are writing a sponsorship proposal or asking someone to support your racing, think about what you are actually offering them (and how to communicate it) in return. If you are willing to work for it and can quantify a real return you might be surprised how much ‘free stuff’ you can actually get!