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I'm currently racing a state XC MTB series and will be moving up to Cat. 2 next year. As part of my goals, I'd like to get some sponsorship for the 2014 season. I have a few questions about this though, and I'd love to hear from racers or industry employees who may deal with this.

  1. Form letters: Do you write a form letter/email and essentially send the same thing to every company and hope they bite? Or would it be better to personalize each?

  2. Sponsorship level: How do you figure out who gets to be the primary sponsor and who gets a tiny logo on your bike? Is this done before contacting places, or after amounts/materials have been decided?

  3. Influence of on/off the bike: Obviously you are a brand ambassador of the sponsor, but how much should you emphasize your contribution when on or off the bike. Everyone will see your kit when racing, but will another helmet for dirt jumping help sell the brand too, for example.

I'm not trying to hit WC status in a year or anything, but I feel like being proactive is better than the "look how good I am, now sponsor me" approach.

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I think this applies to other sports/passions/activities too. I'm keen to find out what people advise. –  Saxman Oct 8 '13 at 2:13
    
Believe it or not it is already late (for 2014) to be looking for sponsorship. Most decisions will have already been made or close to being finalized. –  Rider_X Oct 9 '13 at 5:37
    
Do you currently have a cycling coach? Aside from helping you with your technique and helping you set and achieve performance goals one of the additional benefits would be their knowledge and connections within the cycling world. Many coaches will have links with local and international companies and be able to facilitate sponsorship either under their banner or directly to the individual. –  DWGKNZ Oct 10 '13 at 21:59
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2 Answers

How To Reach Out

As an individual, you must reach out in person. I would show up at their place of business, or at the very least call them. I wouldn't expect anything from a letter - personalized or not.

What You Offer

Now that you're actually talking to someone... what comes next? What are you going to provide them?

If you're active in the racing community, by promoting races, doing trail work, teaching skills clinics, etc. - then that is what you sell to the companies.

If you blog/write/podcast/tweet and have an active following, then that is what you sell them.

You're Just a Racer

If all you are doing is racing, then you'd better expect to put the time in and get good enough to regularly place on the podium in Cat 1 (not Cat 2). While racing Cat 2 would be a good start, there are literally hundreds of people just like you also racing Cat 2. (side note: as soon as you start placing on the podium in Cat 2, you'll likely be bumped up to Cat 1 the following year (or even mid-year, depending on the rules)).

You have to figure out what makes you different than the other 100 guys racing Cat 2, what makes you stand out, what your story is. If it is compelling, then that is what you sell them. If you don't have a compelling story, you'd better be winning all the time.

Who Will Sponsor You

I'd start local - ask businesses in your community for sponsorship.

Chances are, if they're willing to provide sponsorship, they'll want to sponsor with what they deal in. A brewpub might offer you discounted pints, a salon might give you free haircuts, a bike shop might give you discounted prices on parts and labor. Our team was sponsored by a sign making shop - they give us any sign/banner we want for free - that's an amazing deal (literally 100's of dollars of value if we make use of it) - but probably not that useful for an individual.

If you want sponsorship of a company that isn't small or local... you've got to win. For example, Kona sponsors up-and-coming racers. Their 2013 team could be found here: http://2013.konaworld.com/grassroots.cfm The gal I know on that team won every local (state-wide) XC race she entered, and placed top 5 in the XTerra world championships. That's the level at which you need to be racing to get that level of sponsorship. So start local.

Levels Of Sponsorship

If you're a racer, about all you have to offer (in terms of marketing space) is a spot on the jersey. The bike is just too small a platform to be of any use. If a part of your agreement is to wear your jersey at bike parks, then get a free-ride jersey dolled up the same way as your XC jersey and wear it at the bike park.

As far as deciding the different tiers of sponsors... when starting out, I'd treat every sponsor as a major sponsor. If you get two sponsors your first year (Kate's Knitting and Joe's Tire Shop) - give them both big spots on your jersey. Once you have enough sponsors to need to prioritize, then you'll have an idea of where to draw the line.

Good luck!

Edited to add: Looks like Pinkbike agrees, check out their article "So You Wanna Be Sponsored?"

Note: I'm just a dude who started racing a few years back with a local club team. I have no experience getting sponsors, but I do know what our team gets in exchange for sponsorship. Your best bet at getting sponsored is to join a local club team and get the benefits from that.

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I used to sponsor riders, this is a good answer. I never used to respond to riders who wrote letters. I was looking for riders who would be an ambassador for my brand. –  Callum Wilson Oct 19 '13 at 21:22
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I've only ever had some pretty minor 'sponsorships' from local shops (free tune ups, discounts on gear, that sort of thing). So I can't really speak with personal experience regarding what the meetings are like or how to approach a company.

However. I did come across this recently and found it interesting, and perhaps useful to you. http://www.stagescycling.com/support-sponsorship

Stages actively solicits requests from individuals or teams looking for sponsorship and they do you the favor of listing what they take into consideration. Basically, it seems they are looking at how you will help them sell more stuff. I thought it was interesting that they wanted links to your social networking pages, your blogs, and what you plan on doing for your local cycling community to represent their company.

Based on that it seems they are taking a holistic look at potential recipients, not just looking at their race results but also their contributions to cycling, character, and how they conduct themselves. It seems reasonable to assume that other companies have similar attitudes towards the athletes they are considering sponsoring. Perhaps you can use the Stages request as a template for others.

Good luck!

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I am thinking that you achieved those minor sponsorships through personal contact, which would be what I recommend to the OP. –  andy256 Oct 9 '13 at 0:10
    
Even stuff like free jerseys, water bottles and tune-ups can help with your costs. One of my local bike shops has a whole bunch of paraphernalia with their name on it. I even got a free jersey from them, and I'm not even a racer. I just go on the group rides run by the shop. Getting people to know about the bike shop is half the trouble of running one. –  Kibbee Oct 22 '13 at 17:29
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