One of the most important things all major companies consider before endorsing a new athlete is brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is a consumer behavior related to personal preference for a particular company, brand name, or product line. Loyal customers purchase products from their preferred brand regardless of convenience or price. This is the kind of relationship companies want to have with the athletes they choose to endorse.
It is imperative for athletes seeking sponsorship to have a strong history with the products or brand name they are seeking to promote. After all, you will act as an ambassador of sorts for their brand through representing their company name and logos on your t-shirts, competition uniform, banners and social media platforms. You should demonstrate brand loyalty before seeking sponsorship with a company.
Brand loyalty is directly related to the personal integrity of the athlete. Being completely and utterly loyal to a company or brand is an ethical commitment. Your personal integrity, as well as the integrity of the sponsoring company, means that wearing and otherwise promoting any other brands within the same market is wrong. The integrity to be loyal to your sponsors and their brand means not only wearing their products and supporting their products but believing in them. As a sponsored athlete, every class, every tournament, every photo opportunity is a chance for you to proudly promote and show support for your sponsors. This is easy when you are honestly proud of the products you promote.
Integrity also speaks to the willingness of an athlete to promote their sponsors without being prompted. If you have chosen your sponsors correctly, promoting the brand won’t be a hassle; it will be welcomed habit. Companies also want to know that the athletes they choose to support have a high level of personal integrity in the practice room and on the competition mat or canvas.
A high level of sportsmanship is a prerequisite for getting and maintaining the sponsorship relationships you need to support your competition career. Winning certainly helps, but if you lose a match, it doesn’t mean your sponsors are going to stop believing in you. After your opponent’s hand is raised, you shake their hand and the hand of their coach and learn from your mistakes.
Athletes seeking sponsorship need to know how to present themselves as potential ambassadors. The first thing every athlete needs is a brief one-page resume reviewing commitment to the brand or product, recent achievements, as well as a detailed description of how you will promote that brand within your community. A solid resume should also outline a history of competition results, with focus on your recent victories within the past year. Providing a list of products that you already use and believe in, a clear explanation of what you are looking for from your sponsor, and pictures/videos of you competing in the company’s products are all very important elements of a sponsorship resume.
Knowing what you want from the brand before applying for sponsorship is key. If you are seeking a gear sponsorship, lifestyle/apparel sponsorship, help with competition entries, travel, incentives or training costs/tuition, then be sure to communicate that up front. Often times, taking a diversified approach to seeking sponsors can help athletes here. While you may seek a gi sponsorship from your favorite kimono company, you might receive assistance with your competition entries from sponsors within your local community. Very rarely will any one single company provide an athlete with full support for all of their training, competition, and travel expenses.
Circle of Influence
An athletes’ circle of influence is an important factor in sponsorship. The broader the circle, the more an athlete can give back to their sponsors. Effective sponsorship involves much more than wearing a kimono in the local tournament.
If you own a Jiu-Jitsu school, your circle of influence could involve introducing both the students on your own mats to your sponsors’ products as well as the other coaches and school owners within your association. If you don’t own a martial arts school but are an active competitor, you can still promote your sponsors by wearing their gear during training and networking with those around you. Every time you explain why you prefer the brand name rash guard and fight shorts you are wearing, you are solidifying your relationship with your sponsor.
Social media platforms are also key communication avenues for your circle of influence. Sharing pictures and videos of your sponsor’s brand establishes a clear track record of loyalty. Once sponsored, promoting your sponsors brand on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. will help promote both the athlete and the sponsor. Making and sharing posts about your sponsors products and creating your own pictures and videos of your competition footage in all of your favorite products can reach thousands on major social media platforms.
For most companies, consistency is a major consideration when endorsing an athlete. Do you have a strong commitment to training? How often do you compete? Are you committed to continued competition?
These are all important questions, that aren’t always necessarily based exclusively on your competition results. While in the Jiu-Jitsu world many companies look at who is making the podium at major IBJJF events, consistent competition can be just as important. Every time you step on the mat is a chance for you to promote your sponsor.
Companies want to know that once they invest in you the relationship will continue and even grow through mutual benefit and support. It is important for companies to know that you are committed to furthering the relationship through consistently doing your part.
In short, companies want to know that the athletes they choose to support will consistently and effectively communicate brand loyalty to their circle of influence with sincerity and integrity. My relationship with my amazing sponsors is based on these principles and should provide you a model for building your own list of sponsors.
My name is Brian Wilson; I am a purple belt in BJJ, full-time martial artist, owner of Força Martial Arts & Fitness in Russellville, Arkansas, and a sponsored athlete. I am also a historian and martial arts scholar holding a Master of Arts in History.