Thursday, June 7, 2007


Believe it or not, that was the opening line of a request for sponsorship I got a couple of years ago. The rest of it went something like this:

"Sponsor me cause I rule and Haro sucks. All my friends ride Kona's, so Haro needs my help. Write back." (and this was followed by his name, phone number, and e-mail address)

I'm hoping that this request was some sort of a joke written by a kid who got a big kick out of himself for sending in such a smartass request. However, there's also the chance that whoever wrote it was dead serious. You would seriously be surprised at some of the requests that come across my desk at work.

I have to admit that many are very nice and professional. But I also have to admit that the vast majority of these folks expect the moon. The sense of entitlement many racers have these days is nauseating. Damn, you're the reigning sport class US National Champion and you need a free bike because you tell me the exposure I'll get through your results will help sell bikes? OK, I'll get right on that. Need your expenses paid too? OK, here's a blank check...

My friend Eric up in WA sent me a link to a fantastic article on Bicycling's website written by Soulcraft Bicycles owner, Sean Walling. I highly recommend that you click here to read it; you will either get a kick out of it or an education. Personally, I got a HUGE kick out of it because it really could have been penned (or typed...nobody writes anymore!) by my own hand. Somebody FINALLY had the cajones to just come right out and and say it!

One of the main reasons we stopped supporting a big factory pro team is the fact that (in our opinion) very few bikes are sold as a result of a team's or rider's presence at races. For the most part, the only people who pay attention to who wins what race and what bike they are riding are other racers. And I can't think of too many serious racers who are willing to walk into their local bike shop and buy their bikes and parts at full-pop retail based on wanting to ride what their favorite racer rides on. Most want it free or at a deep discount. Some aren't even happy with that. "Oh, you mean you can't pay my entry fees and give me team kits, too?". I have actually had people turn down an offer for a free or discounted bike because I couldn't offer them cash for entries and expenses...and the sad thing is these ingrates weren't pros or even semi-pros. The pros and semi's have's the amateurs who have the worst sense of entitlement.

What many of these folks don't realize is that the state of mountain bike racing is hurting. There's only about 5 pro mountain bike racers on the circuit who are earning a 6-figure salary from racing their bikes. The rest struggle. Many (and this is especially true of some in the women's pro field), are happy to get bikes and expenses...if they are lucky, they might have a bonus program in place with their sponsors. A couple of years ago, I had one of the circuit's top female DH racers approach me (who will remain nameless) for sponsorship after her team cut her; at that point, she was just about willing to ride for bikes and expenses. It's that bleak out there. I would have loved to have accomodated her, but lucky for her, she did manage to secure a spot on a team who was willing to pay her a salary.

I'm sure I'm going to ruffle a few feathers out there, but I think there are some feathers that need it. My goal (beyond just plain bitching) is to just put it all into perspective for a few racer-types out there who feel entitled to free product just because they race. Sure, if we give you free product you'll go tell all your other racer friends how great it is...and then chances are, they too will go straight to the source for the "hook up" instead of buying it at their local shop.

As cheesy as this will sound, if all you amatuer racers want to be more successful at securing sponsorship for yourself, borrow (and modify) a line from JFK...and that's to "ask not what your sponsor can do for you, ask what you can do for your sponsor". Show us what value you bring to the table. Show us how you reach out to your community. Show us your advocacy efforts. Show us you are passionate about cycling and approachable. Show us you want to be an equal partner in our marketing efforts and aren't just looking for a handout. Sometimes you receive more by asking for less.

And for God's sake...don't begin your request for sponsorship "Hey....bitches!".

Happy trails!


James said...

It is unbelievable that so many riders don't understand that race sponsorship is a two way street. Racers who are savvy understand that they must offer more that raw talent to compete for limited slots, and that they really need to sell the sponsors on the benefit they can bring.

Just curious, do you as a product manager in the industry think that racing blogs give riders an edge in seeking sponsors? It seems like a great way for a rider to promote his or her sponsors to a wider audience. Quite a few racers are doing a good job of that now (Carl Buchannon is the first one that comes to my mind- Of course, racing team blogs make sense too if the riders actually contribute content and actively promote the blog. The problem is that the idea goes against that sense of entitlement that you brought up. The “winning races is all I should have to do” attitude is pervasive even among those who are incapable of doing it.

By the way, while "Hey...bitches" may not be a good opening line for a sponsorship request letter, it certainly makes a good attention grabbing title for a blog post.

IB Rich said...

One of the classic old Bridgestone Bicycles catalogs from the early 90's had an article about how to secure sponsorship. A line from that article stuck with me during my years at a couple of manufacturers where we would see many sponsorship requests. It went something like this: "Should Kodak send you free film just because you like to take pictures and will tell your friends about it?" Manufacturers are looking to sell stuff to hobbyists (amateurs), not give it to them.

I love free stuff as much as the next guy, but the sense of entitlement that exists among bike racers is pretty astonishing.

Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

Awesome. I remember that piece by Walling, it was great then and now.

Sponnsurrships (spelling is usually great in these requests too) are based less and less on a great resume these days and more on what kind of partner that rider or team can be. Partnerships are key, in my mind anyway... but what do I know?

Donna T. said...

Amen! Although we don't get as many racers wanting sponsorships, we do get hundreds of events wanting sponsorship. Some are great and to the point. Some are pitiful - although, I've never seen one start quite the way yours did. That is unique. Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking when they send something. Seriously.

wrw said...

The 'Big four' motorcycle manufacturers have devised a viable method for managing varied global riders.
'Ride our cycles for good pay following our corporate policies or else!"
Should their representatives (rider) abuse this policy, dated equipment assuredly awaits.
Play 'king of the world' in the press, no jobs are found awaiting this rider from ANY other major manufacturer.
(Note: Dealers are presented with one (1) year contracts for this reason.)

Chris Harges said...

Nice post Jill. You hit on the root of the problem: the flawed nature of the gear-for exposure equation. I own a graphic design firm that does a lot of work in the outdoor industry and even in that market, where there are few competitive events and even less in the way of media coverage, companies are barraged by requests for pro-deals and expedition sponsorships.

I think the problem stems, at least in part, from industry marketers who are too close to their sports. Their familiarity with and admiration for a sport and its athletes makes it hard for some marketers to be objective in evaluating the effectiveness of sponsorships as a marketing vehicle. Whether you look at sponsorships as arming opinion leaders to influence the masses or as a way to prove the authenticity of a brand by linking it to an athlete, there’s very little to suggest that they do much to influence sales.

We had a client in the outdoor industry who ran an ad campaign that featured full-page headshots of its athletes. The best known of the athletes (Conrad Anker or Lynn Hill) probably had minimal name recognition with even the readers of Outside and Backpacker magazines. And of those that had heard of them, only a tiny fraction would have recognized their faces. The client bought into the concept from their ad agency because they thought of their athletes as famous.

For years I've been threatening to give a talk at the industry trade show called No One Has Ever Heard of Your Athletes. Unfortunately, the practice is so ingrained in sporting goods marketing that I’d probably alienate a slew of potential clients.

Fritz said...

Conrad who?

jill hamilton said...

"No One Has Ever Heard of Your Athletes"...I love it! Can I be one of your guest speakers?

Your comments about sponsorship being internally ego-driven is right on the money. We did it for a long time before realizing that a big factory team doesn't translate into sales. It took a few years to "get over ourselves" to finally realize this.

kenda matt said...

Wow, this is a great and very insightful topic. Touching on the "entitlement" issue, I have a story I'd like to share.

Prior to my employment at Kenda, I worked for one of the industry's larger mail order companies. Said company was/is located in a town in Colorado that is home to many Pro atheletes. It wasn't uncommon to have both male and female pro roadies, mountain bikers and triatheletes walk through the door to buy parts eventhough most were fully-sponsored riders.

While working the retail counter one day, Mike Creed (when he was riding for the Discovery Team) stopped in to pickup a saddle for his new bike. After a bit of chatter, he hands me his credit card, I give him his saddle and the transaction is complete. Never did he ask for a discount. Never did he say, "Hey, since I ride on the same team as Lance, does that get me anything?" or anything to the like. As a matter of fact, the only thing he did ask for was an tape measure in order to keep his fit the same.

Mike installed his saddle, thanked me and resumed his training ride. As he rolled out of the showroom another customer came in. I also knew this customer/rider as well. In all fairness, he's a strong CAT 3 racer that holds his own on the local scene. And as luck would have it, he too, was interested in a new saddle. I grabbed him his product, he confirmed that was the one he wanted and I began to ring him up.

While doing this, he stopped me and asked, "Hey bud, can you work out a discount for me because I ride for (insert team name here)?"

I turned around and I retorted, "So your riding for (team name here)? You having a good season this year thus far?"

Racer boy countered, "Well, I haven't been on the box yet, but I'm in the thick of it....."

I posed another question, "Good for you, but let me ask you one more thing. Are you faster than Mike Creed?"

"Hell no! I'm only a CAT 3!" he quipped.

"Well, Mr. Creed just paid full retail for the same saddle, and he's a sponsored pro. So why should I give you a discount?" I countered.

I saw his face twist a bit, as he thought of a retort, but then thought twice, dug in his wallet and handed me his credit card with a sheepish grin.

It couldn't have been more perfect.....

Autoctono said...

"Hey ... bitches!"? -- Brilliant! I think that is fabulous! if someone had sent me something as creative and as out of the box, something so indecent, so crude, something so sharp, so breaking the rules, something that no one else theres to say beacause they fear they won't get any cash.. I mean, I love this one. This one would have gotten my money because they are obviously not afraid nor intimidated by "the way it is supposed to be" So whats up yo, bitches in?