March, 2020

Text: Jonathan Davies


Funding. The necessary evil of athletes worldwide. No one wants to spend time on – what really are – business deals, but it has to be done. Endorsements, sponsorships, speaking opportunities – just a drop of snow in the mountain of possibilities you as an athlete get. When time comes for the hustle and bustle, a long-term endorsement is a lucrative way to increase that training-camp budget. 

A sense of stability, a more predictable financial situation; just two practical matters that, once settled, help you focus on what you do best – get that gold. It’s no wonder that getting an endorsement is a lot harder than a one-time presentation at a corporate conference. Don’t worry though, we’re here to help. 

Here are the things that brands want from their endorsed athletes

1. A connection that makes sense

Sometimes a company approaches you. Sometimes you approach a company. Irrespective of who kick-started the conversation, you need common ground. The thing that ties you together isn’t money. Money, for you, is just the result. To make a relationship last, you need a deeper than a wire transfer to your bank account. You need to connect based on your core values. 

Think of the things that define you as an athlete. Which nouns and verbs describe you best? Lisa Furze, a well-known brand consultant and designer, shared a list of 200 examples of brand values. Here is a glimpse:

  • Adaptability
  • Bravery
  • Confidence
  • Drive
  • Exploration
  • Humility
  • Innovation
  • Justice
  • Liveliness
  • Power
  • Quality
  • Respect
  • Speed
  • Teamwork
  • Unity
  • Wonder

Take a look at the full list and pick out the words you feel describe you best. This is the starting point of your common ground. Most brand’s marketing departments will have a list that has a similar amount, so regardless of who reached out to who, ask them for it – and be first. Words like “teamwork” might not match entirely to brand values like “inclusivity”, but there is a common thread. True teamwork revolves around capitalizing on everyone’s unique talent, and that unique talent comes from a unique (cultural) background. There you go, you’ve found your link. Talk to brands on that level, and they’ll be eager to continue the conversation.

2. More than just a logo on a shirt

Practically speaking, you should have a list of options that brands can use to show off their sponsorship or endorsement. A logo on a shirt is great, but it’s only the meat and potatoes. Dive beyond the shallow and think of:

Speaking opportunities: it isn’t easy to reach your level, and your story can inspire teams within a company. Brands love that. Much further, if you manage to connect on a deeper level, you could talk about products for them. It doesn’t have to be in just a venue either. A predetermined amount of Instagram posts or YouTube clips will do. 

Inspiring design: your aesthetic is a big selling point. The gear you use, the clothes you wear, even the way you look towards the horizon – all things that brands can use for banners, posters, quick clips and more. Get comfortable behind a camera, because you’ll be there a lot. 

Product use: Sponsored by a brand that specializes in protein bars? Then don’t just show a clip of yourself eating it. Ask for help from your brand in writing posts that talk about exactly which place those protein bars have in your diet and when you eat them. Give their consumers something more valuable than just an endorsement on how yummy it is. 

Come up with more examples – your future sponsor will love it.

3. Storytelling opportunities

Brands are a way for products to differentiate from the competition. It’s more than just a collection of product features and package design. It’s their story. Nike is famous for saying “if you have a body, you’re an athlete”, and that’s the reason consumers buy their products – because average Joe wants to be an athlete too, even if all he does is jog around the block twice a week. 

Brands are looking for opportunities to bring their story to life, and athlete sponsorships are a great way of doing that. You have credibility because of what you achieved (or are trying to achieve). That’s credibility a brand can’t buy. Through that credibility they want to tell a story, so make sure you have a pitch ready for them.

4. Creativity 

We’ve been emphasizing a deeper connection throughout this post, and you need creativity to come up with that. Don’t have it yourself? Look for someone in your environment that does. Coaches have seen it all, so they probably have some ideas. What about fellow athletes? Teammates? Or maybe just have a look at what your direct competition is doing? Creativity isn’t always an original idea. It can be the repackaging of a great idea. If you want some inspiration, check out this post on the most creative ways that athletes used to show off sponsorships.

5. Something to get their people and customers excited over

When teams come together and work hard towards a common goal, magic happens. Even if you’re in solo competition, you have a team behind you. You’ve seen this magic happen. It works the same in companies. They recruit people with talent that help them achieve their business goals. Those people work hard – together. Companies will do anything to create better team cohesion, and that’s where you come in. Your stories (see 3) can inspire a whole bunch of people to give their best every day. The result? Companies get more productive employees.

Another cool thing we’ve seen happen before: when companies sponsor an athlete, all their people will rally behind you. That is already a great way to create cohesion – something only you can offer. Tell your new sponsor that it’s a good idea to organize a company event around your matches. Getting everyone together in a room and cheering on “their champion” is a powerful thing.

Lastly, don’t forget that your sports expertise is something their employees will be interested in. Are you a wakeboarder? Cool, offer to give an exclusive training session to a select few in the company. The company itself can organize an internal competition around who gets to attend. Win-win? We think so.

6. Get to the point

We recently interviewed Richard Fitzmaurice, former CMO of TMF Group and founder of Logo and Legend. His perspective? Get to the point, and realize you’re more than a human poster wall for logos. Richard said:

“Firstly, when doing outreach, I would break sponsorship prospects into categories. That would appeal to companies too. Knowing you’re only going after one partner in one sector prevents sponsors competing with each other. Once you’ve decided on those segments I would be proactive and look at their website, find their values, which campaigns are they running and what are the owners looking to do – what are their goals and aspirations? Try to find what the link is and how they can get their message across through you. It doesn’t have to be 100% correct, it just gives them something to think about, and that’s what you need in your initial outreach to get them imagining the possibilities.”

“Anything that’s above and beyond ‘I’m looking for sponsorships, can you sponsor me?’ is already a win. Companies are overwhelmed with those types of requests, especially local SMEs. They’ll have heard about the Little League football team that needs sponsoring, because one of the people there will have a kid who plays in that team. Or maybe an employee is doing the London marathon. However famous you are, you’re still a stranger, so you need to rise above simply asking for money. Take it to the next level and articulate the value you will bring to their marketing campaigns.” Richard’s example looks like this: 

”This is what I stand for and this is how I think I can help you. I’m happy to do speaking events around these topics, which I think will resonate with your clients. I’m willing to be the face of advertising towards your clients and am willing to do XYZ. I am aware I don’t have all the context you have, so perhaps we can have a coffee and brainstorm these ideas, with the potential for a 6 month trial run?”

Powerful advice, if you ask us.

Make it easy for a brand to find the win-win in a sponsorship

End of the day, this is what it’s all about. Don’t be passive. The more proactive you are with your suggestions, the more opportunities brands will see to use your sponsorship. At the end of the day, you’re a channel for their message. Unlike their other channels, you are extremely flexible and can be utilized for a variety of purposes. 

Peakz makes funding easier for athletes

All beginnings are hard. We’re here to help. Peakz wants to level the sports-playing field by giving athletes easy access to funding. We’re now working hard to get the Scoutfunding platform live. Sign up, and you’ll be able to use the Peakz Scoutfunding and get those sponsorships and funding sorted.