Dirt bikes are expensive right? I know I didn't grow up rich and my dad worked more than one job to get me to the races on the weekends. Sometimes the only time I saw my old man was when we went to the races on the weekends. I knew it was hard on my dad’s pocketbook to get me new shit all the time, so I started to look for ways to get sponsored in order to try and get discounts on parts, gear, dirt bikes, and whatever it is that we needed to go racing. Even though sponsorships have evolved, I have seen some old school trends coming back within the motocross industry. I wanted to sit down and get you all some insight on what it might take to help yourself and or your family to get you to the races every weekend. Read through this carefully and just know that it takes more than just being fast or winning races to get sponsored. There are tons of fast riders out there, but there is only one you!
Although many people assume only elite athletes can obtain sponsorships, this is simply not true in the motocross and off-road racing world (where amateur racing is the foundation of our sport). The following helpful hints and steps can shed some light on the often-misunderstood process of sponsorships and can give you a leg up on other riders looking for the same opportunities. This just might be your time to become a sponsored athlete and save money or maybe make money on doing what you love—riding and racing your dirt bike! To me that is the definition of “making it”.
Ultimately, it’s about selling products or services. Different companies use different marketing strategies. Those that sponsor athletes use sponsorship as a form of marketing to sell its goods. The riders they choose to support usually represent its target demographic/market. In some cases, they are elite riders, but in other cases, it might just be someone who is exceptionally marketable (look at social media influencer Axel Hodges as of late). Or maybe it’s a local dealership looking for the “blue-collar privateer” racer type or a company marketing to teens looking for that “edgy” rider. Keep in mind that all these companies are looking for someone who represents its desired image and who can help the company sell more of its products. KEY PHRASE HERE IS SELL MORE PRODUCT!!! It is better to be a novice and act professionally than it is to be a professional and act like a jackass. I tell my son Aden all the time to always watch how he acts because in today’s day and age someone is always watching you.
When searching for companies to sponsor you, consider your own image. Are you an off-road rider who races enduros and cross-country-type races? Are you the local motocross rider who shows up on the weekend or are you the local pro that is looking to head to Supercross? How many times a year do you race? You have to be highly visible to the public (even if it is only locally) if you want to get sponsorship from any company (this is where social media comes into play). Look for companies that market to your racing lifestyle, and know your identity so you’re aware of what you have to offer.
This isn’t the 90’s or early 2000’s as simply showing up to a race isn’t enough, even if you finish well. This fact seems to be lost on most, even with some of today’s top riders. You're virtually useless if you don’t have an audience beyond the very few people who might see you at a race. By developing an audience, you dramatically increase the number of people who see your sponsoring company’s message. A very select few can develop this audience simply by winning (think Eli Tomac or Ken Roczen). These individuals don’t necessarily have to actively build an audience. The media coverage they receive serves that purpose.
For the rest of us normal folk, we need something else. Social media pages and a blog or vlog can be a great way to build an audience. It’s very cheap and easy to get into. It does take significant time to write, shoot and edit video, and to develop a following, but it’s one of the simplest/cheapest ways to do so. There are also websites that can help you provide all of your information and race results like HookIt.com or SponsorHouse.com. These websites let companies view your profile and any updates you would like to share throughout the year. However, I see a trend with more companies going away from sites like these and are using more of an in house approach again.
Another great avenue is a social network such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Having thousands of followers and/or friends is a ready-made audience. Also, there are other ways to build an audience. If you have your own business, your customers are an audience of sorts. Basically, it boils down to the fact that, in order to be valuable to a potential sponsor, you need people to pay attention to you. Companies and manufacturers take note on how many “followers” you have and how much you post. When you do have these followers don’t blow smoke up their asses and try to be as transparent as possible. No one wants to see a social media post of some kid drinking an energy drink on the back of his truck with the caption reading “quenching my thirst in between motos”. We all know that is bullshit man! Create an engaging caption and be “real”. Tell a story! People love stories! Let us get to know you, not some fake ass two minute post. When you are “real” people will engage with you more and in doing so your sponsors product has a higher chance of being seen/purchased by viewer. No one likes fake people!
Once you have an audience, a sponsorship level goal, and a target company and the contact, you can begin formulating the actual proposal. Email them or write them! WHAT A CONCEPT RIGHT? COMMUNICATION! HOLY CRAP, IT’S LIKE A LOST ART FORM!! Keep it very short and to the point though. Tell them who you are, the size and demographics of your audience, and what you are seeking. Shoot between 100 and 200 words maximum. These people you’re contacting don’t want a biography; they want to know what you can do for them and how much it is going to cost them. Be courteous and humble. Arrogance is almost always a recipe for failure. “PLEASE” AND “THANK YOU” CAN GO A LONG WAY! Try to be genuine and don’t just ask for all of their shit! Ask them what you can do for them as well. It’s a two way street!
If you're contacting a relatively large company, it's likely they receive tens if not hundreds of requests like yours per month. In most cases, the companies have identified and already reached out to the racers they want. You’re fighting for a tiny fraction of the remaining slice of the marketing budget pie.
If you are at a race and you meet someone representing a company, approach them and ask about their product. If you do not know anything about their product ask about it and how it works. Why would you ask for a sponsorship if you have zero knowledge about their product? That is lame as hell! Asking for free stuff and not knowing the background of the product/company is a red flag almost immediately to industry folk. The best way to represent a company is to fully understand their product beforehand and use it on your own machine or yourself. If you DO NOT like it, don’t ask for a sponsorship. Always believe in what you are pitching or selling. Whatever you do, DO NOT walk up to any company and just directly ask them, “Will you sponsor me?” This tells a potential sponsor that you will “take” and not “give back.” We have enough of these type of people in this world, so don’t add to the list. The off-road motorcycle industry is small, and word can get around that your dumb ass is looking for a handout and only looking out for himself. Don’t be that guy! A sponsorship has to be a 50/50 commitment between the company and the rider (similar to a marriage or any relationship). According to some industry insiders, out of all the riders who receive sponsorships from companies during the year, only half ever use the company’s discounts and order a single thing throughout the sponsorship year agreement. Does that sound like commitment to you? No it sounds like you just screwed up.
Ok let’s say you make it this far and have signed a contract for sponsorship to said company. Now it’s time for the real work—to trying to keep it! Or, if you’re receiving a discount on products, maybe getting a heftier discount in the future. Every sponsor is different and will have its own objectives and expectations. Yet whether you’re seeking money, products, or services from a sponsor, it is seeking a few select things from you as well, so you should shape your approach like this:
Visibility and Exposure: Companies want to know that those who they sponsor are providing them with unique and revenue-generating exposure. If you can’t provide consistent brand visibility at events or races, you have little to offer a company in terms of long-range sponsorship.
Image Compatibility: You’re the image of the company; you should fit the idea of the image it is trying to promote—not the other way around.
Local Track Involvement: Businesses benefit when they are identified with a commitment to their local track or even yours. For example, collaborate with a sponsor to organize a ride day or maybe do a kids’ class at your local motocross track. This effort will go far.
• Personal Availability: Depending on a variety of factors, a company might want to have you endorse a product by making appearances or advertising on its behalf. Obviously that is not going to happen to everyone, but make sure when you are at an event you are available to other riders or spectators who want to know more about the products you’re endorsing.
Communication: This is huge! If you listen to the Pulp MX Show you know I am big on communication! Keep your sponsors in the loop on what you’re doing and what your future plans are. Don’t rely on them to find out when you are racing or when you are doing an event; they have many riders, and they can’t keep up with all of them. You can do this by communicating directly to the company, using your own personal social media outlets, weekly emails, or other websites. Whichever outlet you choose just be sure to inform them of all your events, and even though results are not always important, it is nice to let them know how you are finishing when you race.
Personal Touch: Saying “thank you” and “please” can go a long way these days. Not just in the real world but in the motorcycle industry as well. Yes, we all know you should thank sponsors on the podium or when you do interviews, but what about writing or typing a letter, old-school style, telling the company you appreciate all of its help? Showing personal attention to companies and writing them or even emailing them shows your appreciation and doesn’t hurt. It’s nice to get a letter or email without having the words “can I have?” involved. And just like your initial proposal, keep these updates very brief. If you see the sponsorship coordinator you work with at an event, go up to him or her and introduce yourself. Don’t expect them to know who you are through email and phone conversations. Some people think this is called “ASS KISSING”, but to me it’s being appreciative of what you’re getting. Our society almost frowns on nice people and expect people to be mean, so don’t fall into the trap of being an asshole. Be approachable and learn to speak in public. This is a very rare quality these days and can make you stand out in a industry players mind.
Loyalty/Don’t Be A Company Hopper: Don’t be the guy who hops around with each passing year because another company gives you a little more. Loyalty goes a long way within our industry still, but if you’re known to be a whore within the industry, no one will have respect for you. Our industry is small!
Trying to obtain and keep a sponsorship is much like trying to obtain and keep a job in the competitive world today. Each one of us is a unique individual, but it’s up to us to make sure that shines through so other people and/or companies see that. You just have to make sure you have a plan, you stick to it, and you keep your word. When you shake someone’s hand let that handshake be firm and a way of letting anyone know that your handshake and your word is your bond. That is what companies want to see when crunching sponsorship dollars come résumé time. A sponsorship is a privilege, not a right; so make sure to let each company know that you appreciate what they are doing for you.
This all seems like a lot of work and you would be right! It is a lot of work, but just know that these companies are putting their time and money back into you so following these guidelines could give you a long lasting future on helping yourself save some money on what you love to do the most! Ride and race dirt bikes!
If you have any questions please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.