Raising sponsorship is a tough business. Even when times are good, sponsorship is often a misunderstood part of the marketing mix. There is perception by some, that sponsorship is just an excuse for excessive corporate hospitality – that is not a legitimate use of funds for a business. This has been underlined by American politicians developing regulations to stop companies spending government bailout money on sponsorship when they are still allowed to spend on traditional advertising.
Most sailors don’t go professional with the dream of becoming rich like perhaps a golfer or a football player. In fact most sailors are happy just to make ends meet, as they are participating in the thing they love.
Ben Ainslie has given some insights into how sponsorship fits into his sailing career. The comments on his blog come after renewing his relationship with J.P. Morgan Asset Management. Ainslie says:
“Sponsorship is a hugely significant element in being able to sustain a bid for success in any sport so I’m extremely grateful to J.P. Morgan Asset Management who have agreed to extend their title sponsorship of my Finn sailing campaign until 2012. They have supported me since 2007 and the importance of developing close relationships with key partners can’t be underestimated at whatever level you’re at because of the amount of flexibility it can give you in your campaign.”
Unfortunately, sailing, like some other sports is not a pure meritocracy. Good sailors with opportunity will always do better than good sailors without support and worse, average sailors with opportunity, (read money and connections) can do better than good sailors without such support.
Ainslie, now at the top of the sport, can point to results and show sponsors how backing him can deliver them exposure and help them achieve their communications goals, but positioning yourself as an up and coming competitor is a much harder sell. Ben’s insight is a valuable one – the sponsors are less interested in the data sheets, the boat specs and the rules, they are investing in a relationship with a person.
“When I was about 15, I started off, like most kids, writing what seemed like thousands of letters to people asking for sponsorship expecting the offers to come flooding in! I quickly realised in reality it doesn’t work like that and, particularly when you’re starting out, nothing beats working on the contacts you have like family and friends and pinpointing specific targets. The personal touch is everything and making people feel properly involved and valued makes all the difference.”
For a moden athlete, sponsorship comes with responsibility. While financial support brings flexibility and enables competitors to train harder and more efficiently, there are also media demands and time commitments for sponsors that many athletes never write into their proposals as a benefit.
“…I’ve always tried to build strong relationships with my sponsors as I want them to feel like they’ve been part of any success I’ve had. Also, it’s important they understand that especially in a sport like sailing where there are so many disciplines and challenges, you may not always be concentrating on the discipline they are supporting you in. J.P. Morgan Asset Management have been great in that way as they completely respect my commitment to Britain’s America’s Cup cause and know their sponsorship allows me to as good as leave my Finn campaign in the hands of my coach David Howlett, who is cracking on with making sure we’re getting together all the equipment we want and are as prepared as possible for when I get back in the boat full-time.”
The full blog can be read at www.benainslie.com