We receive a lot of emails asking us “How Do I Get Sponsored?” or “What Can I Do to Get Sponsored?“, so I am going to lay down a guideline of key points that are looked at by major companies when it comes to sponsorships, ambassadorships, and affiliates. Most of these guidelines will not only apply to equestrian sponsorships, but will also apply to almost any aspect of your life, whether it be a job interview or a new found business venture. If you are looking to take your career to the next level, you are going to need to make some changes, and some more than others.
1. Do I Even Want to be Sponsored?
This is a very valuable question and the true answer will ultimately determine what you want to do, what you’re able to do, and what you can do. Like most sports, 99% of sponsorships are usually intended for professional athletes who are paid by the companies who sponsor them, and are also paid by their respecting team, company, or contract-holders. For equestrians, the rules and regulations of sponsorships can ultimately land an amateur rider in default of the association’s policies for amateur status. Amateurs athletes are those who are not paid or compensated for their skill in that particular sport by any company. This is only fair. For example, if amateurs were allowed to be paid and/or compensated for their skill in riding, then your amateur classes could potentially be filled with riders who have an unfair advantage over the competition due to the reasoning for their involvement in the sport (Ie. money, rewards, tack, compensation). So the questions here are: “With your particular situation, do you even want to be sponsored?”, “are you eligible to be sponsored”, “are you ready to lose your amateur status because of a sponsorship?”. As you’ll find out later, Sponsorships aren’t always as glamorous as they are made out to be.
2. Why Do You Want a Sponsorship?
Like the old saying goes: “If your heart is in the wrong place for the wrong reasons, you’re asking for trouble.” Ask yourself why you want to be sponsored, and be truthful with yourself. Are you doing it for money? Are you doing it for free products? Are you doing it to impress your friends? If you answered yes to any of these questions, a sponsorship is not for you. The only correct answer is that you want to be sponsored because you love the sport, you want to move to the next level in your career, and your move to the next level can benefit companies in some shape or form by granting you a sponsorship. If you get sponsored for the wrong reasons, it is only a matter of time until the rubber hits the road and you are dropped.
3. Create a Buzz
Thats right, you need to create a hype about yourself. You need to create a reason that when people think of you, they know you are different from the pack. The concept of “creating a buzz” is very complicated and comes with a lot of work in and outside of the ring, headaches, research, and time. Although this step alone could constitute novels of explanation, the foundation can be summed up in two traits: Individuality and Passion. Under no circumstances should you ever “fake” who you are or “impersonate” someone who is successful, this is one of the worst and most common mistakes people make. If you’re trying to copy other people, how are you different then them? Be yourself and don’t let circumstances change you, you need to learn how to change the circumstances. Let the world work around your plans. The second point is Passion. Without passion, it’s over. If you’re truly passionate and driven by what you do, then all of the work, heartache, headache, and failure you experience are all worth the taste of success. Passion is the gasoline that keeps your career running, without it you’re not going anywhere. If you portray the person you truly are and you’re passionate about what you do, then you’ll do the research, you’ll go the extra mile, and you’ll work day in and day out without rest; not because that’s what you need to do, but because that’s what you want to do.
4. Know Who You’re Dealing With
If you’re looking for a sponsorship from a company, you need to target that company. Do not send out mass emails to companies asking for sponsorships, this is a drastic mistake. You need to research specific companies one at a time for what it is they are looking for. Look at their current sponsored riders, and research them. With this you can gather information about the type of people they are sponsoring and their qualifications. Each company has different policies for their sponsorship programs, so find out the age restrictions, the qualifications, how their application process works, and any other details you can find. You need to know the company if you want them to sponsor you, if you fail to go by their rules and restrictions, then you’re automatically out. You need to know how they operate in terms of sponsorships, and you need to understand the types of people they choose. Once you research these components, you need to ask yourself how you fit into the picture. Would you compliment their current riders? Are you enemies with any of the riders? Are you as qualified as the other riders? These are all valuable questions you need to take into consideration before applying for a sponsorship. The trick is to understand that sponsorship applications are just like job interviews: they are a game, and you have to understand the rules in order to play. Winning the game is a matter of research, leverage, calculated prediction, and your understanding of their operation.
5. Present Yourself to the Company in a Professional Way
RESUME. RESUME. RESUME. You need to have a resume, just like how you would for an interview for a job. I cannot believe the amount of applications we receive in which the sender has no resume, but instead sends us their credentials in paragraph form in an email. Half of the time these applicants forget to add useful information, such as contact information…which is not a good start. Think of yourself as a potential applicant to their company. I’m sure their company hires their employees on a resume basis, so why wouldn’t you have a resume? My advice is to sit down and create a full professional resume (examples can be found online), with all of your riding achievements, highlights, and training, and continually add to this resume as you achieve more and more. Keep your resume updated, and make it look as professional as possible (no goofy fonts, etc). Simple and elegant format of a professional resume should be in Times New Roman in a 12 pt font. Keep your resume simple and clean. If you wish to write a note or memo to the company as well, you can do that. Be sure to proofread what you write, and examine any errors that may conduct a negative view upon you to the company. As a sponsored rider, you are receiving benefits from the company just how an employee does. If you want to get taken seriously, you need to present yourself seriously.
6. An Eye for an Eye
If want to understand a company, you need to think like that company. Why do companies sponsor people, for fun? Not a chance. Companies sponsor people because their riding careers can advance their brand. Wether it be their winnings, their popularity, or their connections, it’s all the same to them. This is where you need to look at your career like a bargaining chip. You need to find and present a reason why a company would benefit from your career. Look at Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods…I’m sure they’re all great guys, but this is not why Nike pays them $40,000,000 a year. Nike understand that these athletes are icons and people are influenced by what they wear, what they do, and how they act. Tiger Woods is not the best golfer to ever have lived, but has a “hype” about him that people follow and love. This is the reason why Tiger Woods can ask Nike for $40,000,000 a year for wearing their products, and they agree to it. Tiger Woods understands that his following and “icon status” is a bargaining chip for Nike. If Tiger were to leave Nike for Adidas, then Nike would take a massive sales hit. Use your career as leverage against companies, and give them the information that proves to them that you would benefit them in some way, shape, or form. Companies are in the business to do business…an eye for an eye, a nickel for a nickel.
7. Insider Secret: Turning the Tables
This is a very simple concept, but it is extremely effective when shopping for sponsors: Turn the Tables of your viewpoint. Don’t think that you’re going to simply coerce a major company into sponsoring you and then you’ll become rich and famous and live happily ever after, because this is not a fairy tale. Shopping for a sponsorship is a business venture for you, and you need to think like a business person. Your capital and net worth are in your connections, your achievements, and your social status…not your money. A company looking to sponsor riders will look at their prospects like a Real Estate Investor looks at properties; the return on investment. It is easier and more rewarding for them to hire the next big rider while they are small and grow with them until they are top-level riders. On the other hand, if they want to sponsor a big, well-known rider in the horse world, they are going to have to pay a lot more money and will benefit less overall in the long run. The same concept applies to you! Instead of “shooting for the stars” by applying to well-known companies, why don’t you try to find an up-and-coming company to apply to and grow with them? Look at how these big companies work, and apply their tactics to your own career. Remember, once you leave the amateur world you are a professional in the business world. Don’t let a business get the best of you, get the best out of the business.
8. You’re a Professional Rider Now
Although you’re not a sponsored rider yet, you are still a professional. You need to think, act, and live like a professional. Think of your name, your barn, your career, and your life as one big package that you need to protect with your life. As a professional in the business you will face harsh competition, bad publicity, and people who love and hate you, but you have to learn to keep your “poker face” and stay focused on what matters. Be professional in everything you do, and don’t sweat the negativity that comes your way. Stay focused on achieving your goals, becoming a better rider, and a better person. Take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them. Embrace and understand the ups and downs of being a professional.
9. The Dark Side
This is the side of being a professional and a sponsored rider that everyone fails to see. Like I stated above, being a professional comes with a price. The price that you pay is that as a sponsored rider, you are officially a product. Your career is fueling the sales and awareness of a company, and your every move is being watched. Should you make a publicity mistake and the media companies are throwing dirt on your reputation, you could lose your sponsorship. If you were hired because of your winnings, and you fail to perform in recent competitions, then you could lose your sponsorship. As a sponsored rider, you are a product…if the product doesn’t sell and make people happy, then the company will discontinue the product. This is not anything new by any means, but it still very overlooked in the world today because sponsored athletes are professionals, and they will not reveal the battle that they are facing. Don’t be scared, the concept of looking at people as products is used in almost every aspect of life, but most of us fail to realize it. TV programs tell us what is attractive in the opposite sex, so when we see them in public we subconsciously objectify the person by analyzing their smile, their body language, their facial structure, and their body structure to see if they match up with what society tells us is attractive. When we apply for a job, the interviewer is analyzing us on how we can bring him money, not on our personalties, morals, or ways of thinking. When you’re in high school, everyone envies the QuarterBack of the football team, not for who he is…but what he is: his popularity, his connections, his “icon status”. These are all examples of how people are objectified in modern day society subconsciously, and the better people understand this, the easier it is to manipulate these situations. If you’re reading this in disbelief, here is one last example of objectification that should hit close to home: right now you are reading an article on how to better organize yourself so that you can benefit from a companies’ name and products. As you can see, objectification works both ways. If you understand that you are objectifying yourself by becoming a product of a business, then you can understand how leverage works. No one will be able to change how the world thinks, but if you know how they think, then you have the advantage.
10. Never Give Up
As a professional you understand how bad the downs are, and how good the ups can be. Through thick and thin you need to maintain true to yourself and never give up. Nothing good comes easy, and nothing worth it comes cheap. If you get knocked down by a company you need to get up, dust yourself off, and work harder. With the right drive and passion, it is only a matter of time until you succeed. No matter how big the wall is, there is always a way around it. Be creative, be genuine, work hard, and never give up.
11. Still Want to Be a Professional Sponsored Rider?
If you’ve read this article and you still want to be a pro who is sponsored by big companies, then you know what you’re in for. The big bad business world is not always made for the light hearted. To be a pro, you will need to sacrifice in order to gain. You must give in order to take. If you answered “yes” to this question, then I would like to personally congratulate the fact that you are passionate and driven enough to understand that with all good things come bad things, and with all bad things come good things. Riding horses for some is a way to relive stress and escape the world for a short period of time. For others it is life itself. Either way, the fact is that neither one is better than the other. Understand that in a sense, “riding is life” for these people regardless of the reason they do it. Wether you are a seasoned pro, or it is your first time on a horse…everyone is in this position for the same reason, don’t ever get that confused.
We would like to wish everyone a great riding career and we would love nothing more than to see someone gain knowledge from this article, even if it is just a few words. Best of luck to you all, do what you love and follow your heart!