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By Pablo Garcia Manitz, bewolfish CEO and professor of the MBA in Sports Management and in Sports Marketing masters in Real Madrid Graduate School – Universidad Europea.

Every athlete wants to be sponsored. On the one hand, because it can be a great complement for those from very popular modalities such as soccer, basketball, tennis or F1. The main icons can double their income generated directly from the competition through advertising contracts. A good example is the NBA player Lebron James, who receives about $35 million dollars from his contract with Los Angeles Lakers and, according to Forbes, also more than $30 million dollars a year for his sponsorship contract with Nike. On the other hand, because for athletes from minority disciplines, the income obtained through agreements with commercial brands may be the only way to face the costs involved in the competition. For this reason, in this article, we want to analyze what brands look for in athletes and consequently, what should athletes do to get sponsors.

“Thanks to this economic subventions

many projects were carried out,

but when the crisis arrived many

companies stopped sponsoring.

To understand how to get sponsors, we must first understand the context in which we are right now. And, for this, we must go back to the years of economic boom when companies made significant investments in sponsorship for both individual athletes and clubs or events. Thanks to this economic subventions many projects were carried out, but when the crisis arrived many companies stopped sponsoring. Currently, the economic recovery is a real thing, but nevertheless it seems that sponsorships are not yet real for most athletes, with the exception of some megastars. We can find many reasons that explain it. For example, the lack of big fiscal incentives, but one relevant and controllable cause is that many of the marketing directors and athletes did not worry about making the most out of these agreements and the CEOs or Financial experts concluded that it was not profitable. Because of this, it is the obligation of all actors involved to do things differently. For example, with greater proactivity in the activation of sponsorships. 

While it is true that the athlete can not

decide the budget that a company invest,

they can be proactive in proposing actions.”

Marketing experts assert that it is necessary to invest in the activation of a sponsorship agreement approximately the same amount that has been allocated to the acquisition of the advertising right (it does not happen as often as it would be necessary). For those of you who are not familiar with the activation concept, it is about the actions carried out by a brand to take advantage of the sponsorship agreement. Examples of an activation can be making content through the athlete, creating events so that customers of the brand can meet the athlete in person or create a new edition of a product based on the image of the sponsored. In short, the sponsorship is not limited to just wearing a logo and expecting the results to be achieved on their own. While it is true that the athlete can not decide the budget that a company invest, they can be proactive in proposing actions. The reason for doing it is that, although it may seem strange, the athlete is the most interested in the company achieving its objectives. If this happens, and they or their agent can prove it with data, they can negotiate the continuity of the sponsorship or even negotiate a better agreement. But, in order to be proactive, the first thing we need to know is the purpose with which a company decides to carry out a sponsorship.

Which are the main objectives for a brand to sponsor an athlete?

In some occasions, these intentions come straight from the owner or the CEO who is passionate about a particular sport and decides to support the athlete without considering what they will get in return. If you are in this situation you are a lucky one, take advantage of it! Despite this particular situation, sponsorship is commonly just another tool within the commercial and marketing strategy of a company and therefore it will always respond to a superior and transversal objective. A common mistake is to think that all companies sponsor athletes for the most common purposes, such as increasing visibility or growing the volume of business. While it is true that they are the most common objectives, the search for greater visibility may have different intentions and it is necessary to know them. On the other hand, increasing brand benefits and opportunities is not always feasible through sponsorship, or at least not in the short term. For this reason, it is important to propose alternative ways of providing value.

Here are some examples of objectives that a company can pursue when sponsoring an athlete:

Increase notoriety: the sponsor looks for a wider public to recognize and be aware of the brand. For example, the use of Andrés Iniesta’s image for Kalise TV spots allowed this ice cream brand to be known by a greater number of the Spanish audience.

Reaching a new target: the company wants to enter a new segment of the market or access an audience from another region. An example could be the sponsorship that Banco Santander and the McLaren F1 team had with Fernando Alonso. This agreement helped the bank entering into the strong market of the United Kingdom.

Linking the athletes’ values ​​with the brand image: in this case, the sponsor seeks that the followers associate their brand with the values that the athlete embodies, ​​such as effort, ambition, confidence, etc. This saves time to the brand and can, at the same time, strengthen the brand image of the sponsored. A good example can be the sponsorship of KIA with Rafa Nadal.

Increase sales volume: get sales of a specific product or service directly increased by the sponsorship of an athlete. Creating e-commerce on the athlete’s website can be a good option for the athlete to contribute directly to generate sales. Athletes such as the Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno already opted for this option.

Generate content: currently, almost all companies in any industry have a presence in social networks. One of the great difficulties is to generate interesting content on a consistent basis and using your sponsored to do this can be a good option. A good example of this is the energy drinks brands who practically do not talk about their products in their social media profiles, but share experiences of the athletes.

Once we know what companies are looking for, we can ask ourselves, what should an athlete do to be attractive for a brand?

It is clear that sports performance will be key and that it should be the priority of any athlete. However, nowadays there are other aspects that become almost as important as the results obtained in competitions, and in some cases these allow athletes with fewer awards or victories to enter brands’ radars even more than the most successful athletes. Many of the objectives we mentioned above are related to reaching an audience. For this reason, brands will use the presence of the athlete in the various communication channels to get their message across. Traditionally this supposed that the presence of the sportsmen in television, radio, and press was the key element of the success. However, thanks to social media, athletes can reach a global audience by sending their messages directly and without filters. This change has meant a revolution in marketing and a great opportunity for athletes who have become great influencers. For this reason, it is essential that an athlete works on their communication in social networks to create a strong, authentic and unique personal brand. We are not going to analyze how to do it since it is not the purpose of this article, but in a previous publication of this Magazine, we gave some tips to gain followers on Instagram that can guide you in this particular matter.


So, if we do not have a large fan base, can’t we get sponsors? If we had to give a quick response, we would say that getting sponsors is already a very difficult task in itself, and if you do not have already a consolidated fan base of at least five digits, it is practically impossible. But, if reaching a large audience is a process that takes time, what can we do in the meantime?

The first thing we recommend is that you focus on looking for the quality of your audience and not the quantity. To do this, first of all, you must think about what audience you want to address. At this point, it is important to bear in mind that, as athletes, you are role models for many people, even if you are not megastars yet. Therefore, who do you want to inspire? Once decided, it’s all about creating valuable content for your audience and followers. Give them advice, show them your day to day, motivate them, inspire them… Show yourself as you are and interact with them.

Our second recommendation is that you create a community, a relationship despite digital limitations. The more interaction (engagement for marketers), the more influence you will have on your audience and more interesting you will be for brands (even though you do not have many followers). And this brings us to the third point, to attract brands it is necessary to stand out and stay relevant, therefore, it is important to share interesting content on a constant basis. Therefore, you must draw a plan that guarantees your authenticity, because if we do not take the time to reflect on what we say and how we say it, they may not perceive us as we want. In addition, the generation of content, as we have already mentioned, is one of the objectives that companies pursue when sponsoring athletes. So, if you have few followers but you can explain stories that catch your audience and interact with them, you have more chances to win the attention of those commercial brands that seek to attract the audience you are targeting.

Finally, if you want to get sponsors you have to work to perform at the highest level. This is essential, but often it is not enough. You have to work on your personal brand to be authentic, create a good base of followers and generate quality content. Once the two previous points are achieved, we need to analyze what the companies want and create a fully customized proposal in which we demonstrate that we can help brands achieve their objectives. All this may seem like a lot of work, and indeed it is. But you need to do it if you want to get great support. If you think that managing your communication, analyzing what brands want and preparing proposals is a job that you can not do for yourself, either because of lack of knowledge or because you have to be focused on your training and competition, seek the help of professionals. At Bewolfish we will be more than happy to help you with that!

A common mistake in agreements

between brands and athletes is that they

include an excessively high number of

promotional publications.

Finally, we give you some final tips to complement the explanation:

Make a customized proposal for each sponsor. We tend to talk a lot about ourselves, which is very interesting, but the company is concerned about its sales, its image, its future. You have to talk about yourself, your career, your challenges, but also about how you can help the brand achieve its goals.

Quote examples of activation or actions to be carried out. If you do not have a lot of followers, you can always think of guerrilla marketing actions taking advantage of the nature of your sport. With very little budget, it is possible to raise a lot of awareness. A good example is the action of Nike with Cristiano Ronaldo in the streets of Madrid.

Measure the result of your actions. Marketing managers need to demonstrate that sponsorships are profitable and to do so they calculate the return of the investment (ROI). If we can not prove that we generate direct sales, one of the ways to do it is to compare the advertising cost that the appearance of the brand would have had through sponsorship in social networks or traditional media. Analyze the impact you have, the social networks can provide you with information on the number of views, likes, etc.. In addition, platforms such as Accesso can help you measure the impact on conventional media.

Keep an eye on the commitments you make. A common mistake in agreements between brands and athletes is that they include an excessively high number of promotional publications. Exceeding in this type of publications can cause rejection by your followers. They may start thinking that your profile is too commercial and, if this happens, you will probably stop being interesting for sponsors. For this reason, it is necessary to be creative and offer interesting content to our fans, and whenever a brand is visible, it must be in a natural and coherent way.

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