Sponsorship 101

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IWill Power celebrates with his crew after winning the 2010 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.t seems everyone and their uncle offers advice these days about how to get sponsorship, all you have to do is pay $199.95 to unlock the secrets they have found. Well I’m here to tell you that there are no secrets to attracting and keeping sponsorship. And although it’s impossible to share every ounce of knowledge I have gained over the years, I can offer some tidbits that may open your eyes to what it really takes to get the job done.

“Sponsorship”, just what does the word mean anyways? Well if you’re trying to find one official definition you better have a six pack on ice because you’re going to be starring at your computer for a while. The majority of the definitions out there have no relation to what we as racers can offer a potential “sponsor”. The reality is that the word sponsorship is grossly misused by corporate “suits” when it comes to categorizing opportunities that come their way. However, as racers it’s not our job to reinvent the wheel, but instead to make the wheel a well greased machine that works to our advantage.

A sponsorship, in its most basic state, is the act of someone giving another person money for which they expect no return on that investment. Think of your friend who participates in an annual event asking you to “sponsor” them to support their participation. Sure, you get a warm and fuzzy feeling that you have done something good, but beyond that there is no value in that investment for you, nor do you expect to receive a return. This was the way of thinking in the early days of racing when all racers were concerned with was getting enough money to make it to the next race. “Give me some money and I’ll put your name on my race car” was the way they thought. And in most cases that worked because you were dealing with the owner of the company who understood that having their company name on the side of a race car in front of 50,000 spectators would give them a return on their investment in you.

But times have changed on the corporate landscape. Acquisitions, mergers and corporate accountability have taken the owner out of the mix and put a group of people in their place who know nothing but what they’ve been told is acceptable within their corporate structure. They no longer think “out of the box” when it comes to marketing concepts, everyone afraid of taking a leap into the unknown for the fear of the consequences that may come upon them should their idea fail.

Thus, as racers, we need to be more aware of these obstacles and ways to overcome them, so that sponsoring a race team seems less like a leap of faith and more like a strategy to increase brand recognition and loyalty for those companies.

Of course, the majority of racers don’t have to deal with corporate decision makers to secure major sponsorship to the tune of millions of dollars per season. That’s not to say however that the lessons learned by those people can’t be applied to the grassroots competitor who only needs thousands of dollars to run a successful sponsorship program.

In the following instalments of this series I will touch on what it takes for the grassroots competitor to be successful in attracting sponsorship, as well as what needs to be done in order to maintain healthy sponsor relationships after the work in the trenches is done.

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