Taking part in a sport on a professional level is a rare achievement – one that requires dogged determination, performance on a par with world-class athletes and a lot of luck in between. Even then, professional sports can pay little except for a privileged few. For the less-than-10,000 professional sportspeople in the UK, sponsorships are the primary reason they can continue to pursue their career – but how do they work?
Why Do Companies Sponsor Athletes?
In essence, sponsorship is a useful marketing tool for companies to grow brand recognition. By expanding their brand’s reach to the audience for a given sport, they can increase interest in their product – and their product also stands to benefit from the image of the athlete they endeavour to sponsor.
Sponsorships are a complicated process, and can require a lot of input from different areas in order to properly define their terms; there are legal elements to such terms, from the prominent placement of branding to the placement and use of products by the runner in question, necessitating a legal firm to help understand and navigate the contract. For elite runners, this process can be deeply involved – especially with the size of the brands and the amount of money on the line.
How Non-Elite Runners Get Sponsored
However, an increasing number of non-elite athletes are finding sponsorships of their own, as the growth of social media platforms has led to increased visibility of smaller, local-level or up-and-coming amateurs. Runners with a community following can approach local businesses for sponsorship, whether in the form of a small stipend or funding of running equipment in return for social media mentions or branded sportswear.
Smaller, independent sports equipment and sportswear brands are common sights with regard to non-elite sportspeople. Newer, small brands stand to benefit from the exposure they receive if their equipment is used by an athlete, and can expect organic growth from the tacit endorsement of their product.
What Brands are Looking For When Sponsoring an Athlete
But picking up a sponsorship, while more accessible to smaller runners and other athletes in today’s social media age, is still a difficult thing to manage. It is important to remember that while sponsorship could have a profound effect on the capabilities of a runner, there are few tangible benefits a business receives in return.
Sponsors invest in the hopes that there will be a measurable change to key metrics regarding brand recognition or brand opinion – something that not all runners can provide, especially if they operate in smaller regional circles. Sponsors also need the athlete in question to suit their brand’s aesthetic and mission; as an obvious example, a cycle company is unlikely to sponsor a runner.
As mentioned before, newer businesses with newer products stand to benefit from the endorsement their product receives via product placement sponsorships or the gifting of discounted gear to smaller athletes. But the athletes they choose need to align with their brand – in terms of both presence and performance.