We are often asked if our agency is responsible for selling news sponsorships on behalf of teams, drivers and other properties. While there are some excellent agencies in this world that do just that, we are emphatically focused on representing sponsors to make sure they gain the most value possible out of their investment.
Even though our team does not actively sell new sponsorship properties, we are excited to work with some of the best teams, drivers, venues and series in the world and have a unique perspective on how to succeed in sports business. We have also provided our creative acumen to help new series and properties be better positioned for sponsor engagement.
Being in that position, we’d like to offer our unofficial advice for teams and drivers and varying levels who are seeking new sponsorship to grow their career.
Facts of the matter
We would never insult you by saying that racing is not an expensive sport. It is probably one of the most difficult and cost-prohibitive sports to pursue given the high cost of operating, travel, facilities fees and more. There are also many talented drivers in the world, but a lot of them do not get to the main stage due to lack of funding, lack of contacts, or some other shortfall. At some point in a driver or team’s career, taking on sponsors will be inevitable to move to the next level. It is also true that the world of sponsorship is undergoing significant changes. That does not mean it is dead, however. You just have to be better suited to handle a brand’s evolving demand.
What do we tell teams and drivers looking for new sponsorship?
Depending on the stage the driver or team is in, we would have varying levels of unofficial advice during the pursuit of new sponsorship. It will likely fall into one of these categories:
Curate your digital platforms
Brands exceedingly are looking for platforms and audiences to deliver their message and content. As a team or driver, your digital footprint can be helpful in showcasing that you are that platform. Have an up-to-date presentation ready to go that showcases the demographics of your footprint, the size, growth rate, etc. This could come in the form of a blog, YouTube channel, Instagram account, website, app, or any other means of developing digital content.
These platforms have become necessary for drivers and teams to demonstrate their personalities, the behind-the-scenes of what they do and allow for a means for fans to feel connected. Some of the metrics you will demonstrate here may be vanity but they are looked at nonetheless.
As a driver, having a particular goal in mind for a specific professional series is important. Striving for an INDYCAR seat at age 18, for example, is an excellent goal. But if a ride opens up in sports cars or stock cars that is at a higher level than whatever it is you are racing now, it might be worthwhile to check out that opportunity. Staying open-minded to racing anything (dirt, asphalt, open-wheel or closed, big power or small) will develop your raw talent while exposing you to new audiences and potential sponsors.
As a team looking to bring on new partners, you will likely get a lot of “no’s” from brands who think sponsorship is a zero-return game. (PS. On our side, we are constantly working to break down that myth and provide clear steps and resources to show just how much ROI can be developed from the right sponsorship strategy). The more “no’s” you get, the more you can continue to refine your offering as you get closer to that one “yes” that will make all the difference in the world.
The question to focus on here is "what can you bring that is different?" Your team, your story, your heritage, your location all put together all of a sudden makes you 1 in 1,000,000. How can a new sponsor share in that uniqueness to build value? What can you and the sponsor do together that would make for a remarkable story? The combination of these answers will ultimately position you as a solution to what the brand needs.
There have been some athlete + sponsor pairs so successful together that entire dynasties have been made from them. We are thinking of Michael Jordan and Nike, Jimmie Johnson and Lowe's for many years and Helio Castroneves and Shell-Pennzoil just to name a few. You can just as easily be part of a brand’s journey as they are a part of yours.
Brands are many months out from making decisions so it is best to stay ahead and match your presentations with their budget and decision-making style. This is no different than traditional sales advice, although with sponsorship an added layer of brand planning gets mixed in. Your value points will be delivered much more effectively if you can match these cycles for brands. Understand that brands do not have money growing on their trees for marketing-based spending anymore and are absolutely required to show proper ROI for their investments. This has also extended the budgeting and brand planning processes.
When it comes to B2B agreements with sponsorships mixed in (these are exceedingly common today), do your homework. Understand that you will likely have to prequalify for an amount of potential business to be considered for partnership. If the backend of these negotiations lines up, it can be very valuable for a long-term agreement.
In this marketplace, not all brands want logo placement and exposure so don’t automatically assume that is the primary offering you have to give. Instead, look internally to understand what unique experiences you can offer for the sponsor's customers or employees. You could also study what they actually do and offer to host a business summit at your shop or at the track. In general, broaden your level of access to include more than logo placement to demonstrate that you understand a modern sponsor’s need.
This has to be the most important piece of unofficial advice we have to give. If you are prospecting new sponsors, think of how you organically represent the sponsors' product or service. It is possible you use their work in your life every single day. Build your story around that personal, intimate example to showcase you are an authentic outlet of branding for them.
Another question to consider is, “are there things you use or rely on every day in your personal life or career that you couldn’t operate without?” Asking yourself and your team this question will help build your first prospecting list and will provide a natural conversation starting point for you. You can expand your list from there.
Sometimes you have all of the boxes checked with all of the right things lined up and the sponsor just still isn’t sure about entering into a partnership. We have noticed that is often the case for brands that are new to sports marketing or have never sponsored anything before. That is an understandable position for them to be in, but it might not always bode well for you. When you get to that point, give us a call. We’d love to sit down with you and you prospective partner to sketch out all of the opportunities available.
Updated for added value.