If you’re an athlete, you have undoubtedly asked yourself this question: “What does it take to get free gear or become sponsored?” Just to clarify: you can be a good, sponsored athlete without being classified as a pro. Think of each sponsorship you earn as a step toward pro status. Actual pros race in their own category, known as “elite”, and most of them have achieved multiple podium finishes. So while it helps, being a pro is not a prerequisite for sponsorship.

Gaining sponsors can help support your training efforts and allow you to commit more fully to the sport. In this article, we’ll give you some unique ideas for landing sponsorships – but know that a sponsorship can only happen through the athlete’s devotion, so there are no guarantees. Yep, it’s on you.

Different Levels of Sponsorship

There are a few unofficial levels of sponsorship, and most athletes have spent time in each one. Note that it’s entirely possible for an athlete to skip a step or stay on one step without advancing.

Level 1: earning product discounts as an advertiser (affiliate)
Level 2: getting free gear as a competitive athlete
Level 3: earning a commission for exceptional performancess
Level 4: earning a salary (pro sponsorship)
Writing an Athlete Resume

The first thing I’d recommend doing if you want companies to sponsor you? Create your athlete resume. Your resume can include:

all completed races and their respective times
a professional plan for the upcoming season (including big-name races/events)
any volunteer work you have done – this shows companies that you are active in the community
personal goals
why you chose this company, and how both parties could benefit from the sponsorship
what you’re looking for in a sponsorship
your contact information
Make it easy for companies to get in touch with you, and make sure to take copies of your resume to every race you participate in. It’s best to be honest and creative with these resumes. Don’t get caught up comparing your results with those of elite athletes and assume that companies won’t be interested – you might just be the piece of the puzzle they’ve been looking for.

Joining a Triathlon Club

Find a list of tri clubs nearby and attend several training sessions with each of them – and then pick your favorite option. Most triathlon clubs have group sponsors, which can lead to an individual sponsorship if you have a foot in the door. Plus, joining one or multiple clubs can help you expand your personal network – and that’s also beneficial for growing companies.

Engaging with Sports Companies

Strong performance isn’t the only thing companies look at when giving out sponsorships – often, they’re interested in your involvement. Active and consistent participation in the sport, how involved you are within the tri community, if you can volunteer at sports events, etc. – these are significant factors in your eligibility for sponsorship. Here’s what else you can do:

Affiliate programs become more popular each year. At start of the season, check different websites for affiliate applications. I’ll say it again: share your athlete resume often. Keep several copies on hand for local businesses, and consider mailing some out to 10+ companies each week. Making cold calls might not seem effective, but it can work in your favor. Contact different departments at nutrition and gear companies: pitch creative ways that you could join forces. Engage via social media. Many companies respond to tweets and Facebook posts, so ask how to get more involved with their brand and see if they will be attending any upcoming events.

Asking a company for any form of sponsorship is a lot like talking yourself up at a job interview. The key is to know exactly what you want to get out of the sponsorship, and to know a lot about how each company operates. Find out its mission statement and tailor your request according to its core values.

Creative Marketing for Athletes

Sometimes just getting your name mentioned publicly within the triathlon community is enough to get companies’ attention. There’s no better way than via the web – here are some possible strategies.

Start blogging about the sport. If you don’t feel comfortable giving out tips or creating tutorials, feel free to simply blog about your personal experience with training and racing. Boost the brand’s social media influence. If you have a lot of influence on social media, brands will have all the more reason to team up with you. Work toward a strong race performance and wear a specific company’s logo at that race. If you perform well, the brand’s employees might wonder why you aren’t already on their team. Forge friendships with the employees of the company that interests you. It’s a win-win: you make some new friends, and that brand will pay more attention to any of your requests. Set up a sponsored “discount code” with a company in order to bring in new customers. If your unique code gets used enough, the business will probably arrange some sort of sponsorship. Volunteering at Sports Events Most companies have a marketing schedule for events they are attending – if you can get your hands on this, you’ll be able to show your face at all of the company’s big races. Don’t worry, you don’t have to train for every race: instead, try volunteering.Volunteering at a race gives you a chance to gain some perspective and learn how brands network during the event. Be creative – offer to volunteer in return for a gym membership, for example. Dedicating some free time in order to eliminate expenses is a big first step. Better yet, if you really want to make an impression on the community and get noticed by companies: help organize a community-sponsored 5k or cycling event. You’ll create almost-immediate, strong relationships with potential sponsors. Give sponsors what they want

Companies arrange sponsorships that will increase sales. Show brands that you are outgoing and able to give them lots of exposure throughout the season’s racing and training. You can become a company’s window into the sport of triathlon if you are well-known, accomplished, or just great at networking with athletes and coaches. Just remember that the whole process takes time and requires a high level of involvement – and that it’s worth it to you and your sponsor.

Article written by: Trenton Kennedy you can find him on twitter.

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