How to successfully build a sponsorship package for your race program
Young racers at any level can offer potential sponsors value. You just have to create a plan to reach the right sponsors and deliver the right message.
Youth athletics are now a billion-dollar industry—and it’s growing. Time magazine reported that the youth athletics industry grew 55 percent between 2010 and 2017, making it a $15.3 billion market. Your race team doesn’t need a very big slice of the youth-sports economy to be a healthy and sustainable program. It’s a matter of identifying for whom and/or what your program can serve as an ambassador. Then offer a channel tailored to the specific brand or company to support your program while simultaneously accomplishing their own goals.
The takeaway: there are plenty of brands and companies already interested in the youth-sports economy. You don’t need to bang your head against a wall trying to convince uninterested businesses the value of your team in a sport they aren’t familiar with. Narrow your search down by finding companies and brands that have limited degrees of separation from your sport. Then, use the following tips to focus your proposals and make your program relevant:
1. Associate with brands that share the same vision and values
Think about shared vision and values when approaching a brand. A sponsor that sees your long-term vision for the sport, industry, community, or a specific individual will understand your ask and will communicate in the same terms. A set of shared core values can make the sport of racing, and the highs and lows that come with it, a strong cohesive narrative that builds brand identity. Focusing on vision and values can make your program worth more than the financial ROI you may propose.
Focusing on shared vision and values also makes approaching a potential sponsor a lot easier. It allows you to point to a cause or mission larger than racing, and offers sponsors an opportunity to practice corporate social responsibility.
How you create that connection between your team and a potential sponsor is up to you and what vision and values you choose to build your program around.
2. Promote brands and companies at the same “growth stage” as you
When you’re trying to build your race program, it can be difficult to get the attention of the big brands because your exposure potential is probably small compared to their overall marketing footprint. Rather than reach out to large and well-established companies, try finding companies that are just getting started that will offer entry-level support or trade for targeted exposure. Sometimes it can be worth setting up a referral kick-back program, or being a licensed dealer for their product.
A company that is in the growth mindset needs to be creative and is more likely to be receptive to a sponsorship or marketing proposal. They are also more likely to talk about partners and programs they’re aligned with because it represents part of their growth strategy. The more people you can get talking about what you do, the better.
3. Find a cause worth fighting for and fundraise
Sometimes, in order to build a successful program, you need to work for something outside of your program. Seems counter intuitive and maybe overwhelming to use precious time for anything other than your immediate responsibilities.
Getting involved in a philanthropic cause creates strong community ties that transcends industry. You may find new partners that own a bakery or a pet adoption center. Taking time to volunteer for a cause can reveal unlikely new sponsors. Allocate time to volunteer and integrate the cause into your sponsor proposal package.
Another option is to run a 5k marathon and fundraise for a specific cause. Similar to the vision and values idea above, be an ambassador for a cause beyond the racing world and make it part of the team’s brand identity.
4. Looking locally vs. nationally
As a small race team, we often ignore all the national companies because the process to get sponsorship approved can take a long time, and no one seems to care as much as you do. That limits our search to local or regional sponsors—which is not entirely a bad thing, but better to have more options if possible.
There are many national companies that operate under a franchise model. The franchise model enables franchisees to operate national brands as small businesses. They traditionally have marketing budgets set ahead of time with flexibility in how they spend the funds. Identifying a franchise that has new locations in a competitive market can be a good option for sponsorship.
Take for example, a Jersey Mike’s sub shop that just opened up in the vicinity of a Subway. Chances are that the franchisee will be interested in advertising to a sub-sector (no pun intended) of the local community to stake out some market share. All you have to do is craft a message related to the relevance of fresh, quality sandwiches to a community of racer/athletes during a race weekend. In exchange for sponsorship, offer to pay for catering at a couple race rounds per year. Over time, if the franchisee sees a good return, he may end up just absorbing the catering cost and you get to keep your sponsorship.
5. Offer a professional package
Present your team as the race program you strive to be. I have never seen a proposal that I thought was too professional, or too well organized. That means you can pull out all the stops and really class things up, if you choose. Professional doesn’t mean using boring colors or font, but it does mean having a consistent theme and feel while remaining neat and purposeful. Sometimes professional means having less, rather than more.
What software program are you using for your résumé and proposals? I hope you’re not relying only on Word. Try starting with Canva. It’s simple and offers plenty of templates.
When building your proposal, don’t forget that the way you showcase your existing sponsors is what the potential sponsor will use as a reference. Beyond using your sponsors’ logos, include their motto or catch phrase to increase brand identity. Ask your sponsors if there is a quote or data point they’d like you to include. Give them an opportunity to say more about their company.
Take your sponsors seriously and represent them professionally.
Ultimately, you want to see your program as working for your sponsors in some capacity. Finding meaningful ways to associate around shared values with sponsors is a better strategy than relying on past podiums and the number of people that will see their logo. If you take your sponsors’ goals seriously and assume some ownership for those goals, you will build lasting relationships. I think any team manager would agree that it’s better to have a sponsor that stays with you over time than always hunting for new sponsors. As soon as you land a sponsor, cultivate that relationship. Continue to find ways to offer your sponsor more value. Know their business model and how they measure success so you can contribute to the well-being of their company.