So you want to be sponsored? (a long but necessary read)
I thought I'd post on here just because I too was the kid wanting to get sponsored before I could even drive... and because I'm deep in the industry right now and sponsored maybe I can provide some insight there... Quite frankly, it sparked my interest.
My personal info:
I've paddled for nearly 2 decades and currently I'm fully sponsored by Jackson Kayak, Stohlquist WaterWare, Zeal Optics, Freestyle Watches, Grateful Heads Helmets, Snap Dragon Design, Keen Footwear, KAVU clothing, H2O Audio, Werner Paddles, and Gaia Paddlesports and CKS... and GRANDMA, my most important sponsor... and even though I earned every penny for my gear even when I was 8 years old through yard work, my parents still qualified as sponsors... if you have a place to stay and good insurance... you're probably sponsored by your parents
I still consider mine as sponsors (need to make a sticker)
First, I think Max's Dad nailed it right on... seems like a lot of kids (and grown-ups) want to get sponsored to validate their skills... it sure isn't for the money (there's not much of that around). An example of this is on Hookit.com , a social media marketing site for hooking up athletes with sponsors... specifically with there first sponsors... most are happy with a 30% discount and then tell all their friends they're sponsored. The companies on the other hand, post up their pro team (sometimes) and then "sponsor" 400 kids with 30% discount deals, still making money.... using the desire to get sponsored to sell product... Corran Addison was awesome at that when he started Riot Kayaks... it was one of his bigger marketing strategies... geared specifically toward teens through women in bikinis and a surf style persona with flashy sponsors...
The Bottom line is that getting sponsored purely on the merit of skill is not likely to happen beyond occasional industry/pro deals (discounts). While skill is important, there's always someone better. World class boaters are everywhere these days and good boaters are a dime a dozen... and it's much easier to get good now than it has ever been. At the same time manufacturers have less money than they did 10 years ago and typically make less on products than before. This means sponsors are looking more for good marketers with industry insight and versatile skill who happen to be great boaters than just great boaters who want to model free stuff and run the goods...Personality, approachability, skill, and marketing savvy, are typical qualities sought by major manufacturers. Keep in mind that less than 20% of the sport is whitewater and an even tinier portion of that is extreme whitewater and hardcore freestyle... maybe 10% of the whitewater portion (I'm no math major but I think that's 2%... which is pretty generous). For a company to survive they have to reach out primarily to the other 80% which is the touring/rec industry to make enough money to stay on top... Sponsorship is an accessory budget which is important from a marketing perspective, but first to be cut from a business perspective.
With that knowledge sponsors are looking for the following:
- marketing savvy, including the ability to work with dealers, create new markets, promote to current markets, and market ones-self via shameless self promotion for the sake of sales...
- constant communication, staying in touch with each sponsor at all times (yes, you have to do all the work) and explaining how you benefitted the company today... updates are important
- Marketing insight, knowing the paddling industry deep enough to know how to get a manufacturer deeper into the paddlesports industry... this helps with larger brands.
- High quality, High Resolution Photos and HD video for use in marketing & promotions
- athlete branding in all photos, videos, and exposure, showing logos and gear
- cross marketing exposure via their logos in other sponsors ads
- Media Exposure as free advertising for them (yes you do all the work again)
- dealer visits, where you educate dealers on the product, perform clinics, and work with dealers to promote increased sales.
- Social Media updates for web content - this means blogging regularly on and keeping up with... drum roll... 10 different blogs... AT THE LEAST
- Web content (stories/writeups/etc...) for their websites... you have 10 sponsors you have to update 10 websites.
- Gear testing and feedback (actual R&D work is fun, but more work than it sounds)
- product assignments, getting specific shots of specific gear for specific ads
- and the least keeps going but you've got the idea...
In return you MIGHT get:
- free gear
- financial aid on paddling trips (that you have to mix with a full tour of dealer visits)
- money for exposure if you've got good sponsor
Did I mention you're taxed on your sponsored income??? keep up with those travel expenses!
How I make money:
well there are a lot of ways but these are what I've found to be the best...
- Selling photos to magazines - they're picky and it takes a LOT of work for $50-$300 a photo
- Media incentive contracts... created with some sponsors where they pay me based on where and how often their logo shows up in my personal exposure...also based on the circulation of the media it is in.
- clinics...great to split $$$ with a dealer for a clinic in their name
What I like to do is sell a photo to a magazine with good logos showing up, then cash in on media incentives, then send in the exposure to all my other sponsors who then send gear or other help in return... this way one photo is worth quite a bit more than it would be if you just sold it... did I mention mags only want exclusives? unless it's a world record descent... they don't want to publish a photo used somewhere else...
If you're lucky, you'll break even and get some awesome opportunities out of the deal. If you're really good, you can make a little $$$ but you'd make more as a teacher with 3 months off to paddle and every holiday
If you're Tao or EJ you might get 6 figures... but how many boaters out there are THAT good? and how many have THAT marketing savvy...
I only do it because for me it provided opportunities that I wouldn't have had otherwise, like traveling to Costa Rica with Ben Stookesberry to film Hotel Charley... trips like that are priceless to me and I wouldn't have had the opportunity otherwise. It also takes away a type of gear fear... not the fear of gear not functioning in this case, but the fear of having to replace it if this drop doesn't go as smoothly as I think/hope it will. I've also built up a hell of a marketing/PR resume' and gained priceless business experience through sponsorship that is helping me now... I should also add that through it all, I finished college with a degree in Biology and concentrations in microbiology & molecular cell sciences and Ecology... If I could stress anything, it's that school is more important!
Hope this helps!
JK Factory Team
(unfinished but check it out
... did the design/graphic work myself)
PS- if you DO get it... don't let it go to your head and don't think for a second you need to go do something just because you're sponsored. Companies would rather you stay safe and productive than injured from going big... trust me!