BMX Shop Sponsorship Basics – Part 1
Courtesy of Jack Baruth at www.bmxbasics.org
So you’re convinced you want to get sponsored. Okay, then – let’s ask a very important question, “Why the heck would a company ever sponsor anyone?” Let’s look at some basic economics, starting with bike shops. According to the L.A. Times, a family of four needs to earn $33,500 per year to keep their heads above water. The average bike shop comes up with about a 20% margin on stuff. That means that the shop owner needs to sell $160,000 worth of product a year to feed his kids – not to mention that he needs to pay rent in the store, keep the lights on and advertise. Let’s double that, which is conservative, and say that a bike shop has to do $320,000 of business a year – pretty much a thousand bucks every day the door is open, even more if he wants to have someone else working in there. I worked in a Schwinn shop when I was fifteen years old, and I can tell you that there were plenty of days when we didn’t sell a hundred bucks’ worth of stuff, let alone a thousand.
Bike shops sponsor riders in the vague hope that they will bring people into the shop, and those people will buy parts instead of stealing them. The owner needs to sell about eight bucks’ worth of stuff for every dollar he spends on the sponsored rider in order to make it worthwhile. In other words, if the shop spends ten bucks to pay your entry fee at a local, they need someone to see you race and decide, based on seeing you race, that they should go in and spend eighty dollars at your sponsor’s shop. Now, honestly, what are the chances of that happening? No wonder bike shop teams are few and far between nowadays.
What about factory sponsorship? This is a more fertile ground, but it’s still tough to make an economic case for sponsoring riders. The average small bike “manufacturer” picks up between fifty and a hundred bucks on each frame they sell. If a factory pays for a rider to race two classes both days at a National, they’re out $140 – between one and three frame’s worth of profit. Add hotel expenses, travel, and the cost of giving someone a working bike to race on, and pretty soon you’re talking big bucks – maybe a thousand bucks a weekend -and that doesn’t include any salary paid to a rider. Ask yourself, what kind of riding could you do at a National that would make ten kids want to go out and buy a new frame? Don’t forget that we are rapidly returning to the era of the fifty-moto “National.” Of a maximum four hundred riders, do you really think that ten will change their frame after watching you ride? Nah, I don’t think so, either.
That’s the bad news. The good news, from the perspective of a wanna-be sponsored rider, is that there are other reasons to sponsor riders besides raw “additional sales.” The primary reason is something we’ll call “mindshare.” According to a color-rag survey I read some time back, 15% of the kids who responded owned a Haro, more than the next two brands combined. Why do you suppose that is? Well, Haro has done a good job of tying their sponsored riders, and the successes those riders enjoy, directly into their brand image. Put two, two-hundred-dollar bikes in front of a new rider, one with the name “Dave Mirra” on it, and one without, and which one will he buy? Heck, I bought a “Jerry Bagley” bike despite the fact that I wouldn’t recognize Jerry Bagley if I caught him stealing my lunch tray at Burger King. Although industry history has proven beyond a doubt that advertising is the most effective way to sell bikes, today’s advertising needs to feature competent riding to be effective.
However, we’re very quickly running into another problem, that problem being the difference between mainstream BMX and racing. (I know, I know. It really annoys me that racing is now a “fringe” 20″ activity, but the numbers don’t lie.) A lot of kids want to be like Dave Mirra, but how many kids want to be like, say, Charles Townsend? What about Danny Nelson? There are personable, popular Pro riders – Bubba Harris, John Purse, Donny Robinson, myself – but the general public hasn’t heard of them. Most purpose-built race bikes sell to kids who are already racing, and those kids have something else on their minds besides looking up to Pros -namely, winning themselves and finding a sponsor.
Put all that together with the fact that BMX companies are going out of business or being purchased with amazing speed and I think it becomes plain that sponsorship isn’t exactly growing on trees. I’m telling you all this because it is possible that you might do everything right and still not find a major sponsor. It happens to plenty of riders. There are National #1 riders out there paying their own way. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
So… you want a sponsor. Let’s talk about what you need to get one. You will need the following:
- A history of success where it matters. Many riders win a #1 Novice plate and then find that nobody wants to help them. Know why? Because Novice is the second division. That doesn’t mean a Novice can’t find a sponsor, but it does mean that doing so will be tougher and most sponsorship may come in the form of product discounts. Want to wear someone else’s jersey? Go out and beat the best. Turn Expert if you are under 18 and Pro if you are over.
- Marketability. Do you remember the last time Todd Lyons won a race? I do, but that’s because I am more than thirty years old. Todd has a sponsor because he has an image that people want to associate themselves with -the laid-back, super-skilled California rider (from Upper Arlington, Ohio) type. It’s not enough to win -people have to remember you. Be memorable. If you can style during a race, do so. Do you have a nice-looking bike, or one that is famous for looking lousy? Between motos, keep your helmet off so people can see your face. Talk to people. Try to get a nickname that isn’t obviously fake.
- Dependability and respectability. When you meet potential sponsors, look them in the eye. Lose the slacker accent and speak in clear, concise sentences. Sponsoring a rider is like buying a car -if it looks shady, the buyer gets nervous. Answer questions and ask a few of your own. Be direct and forceful. I get a lot of email from kids asking me to sponsor them, despite the obvious fact that I don’t make a red cent in this sport. Most of the emails are something along the lines of,
Dear Jim Boswell Can you sponsor me I am a 15 Novice. I need help getting to the races.
What in that message would inspire me to sponsor them? How about
Mr. Boswell, My name is Joe Jones. I am a 14 Expert from Akron, Ohio. I have been racing Expert for six months with six victories and four top-three finishes out of twelve local races. I raced the Buckeye National, made the main and took fourth. Please visit my SponsorHouse profile www.sponsorhouse.com/members/screenname where you can find recent race results, several videos of my races, as well as photos of my jumping, on and off the track. Please let me know the best way to contact you to discuss further how I may be of assistance in promoting BMX Basics.
That sounds like a good rider, and someone who I should look at more seriously. REMEMBER, I DON’T SPONSOR RIDERS!!! THANKS -JB. By using a service like SponsorHouse.com, you can organize your racing and personal history in a clear and concise fashion and submit sponsorship applications to sponsors in a way that easily allows them to make a decision and get back to you.
- Preparedness. Get the following materials together for your SponsorHouse profile before you go sponsor hunting: A few good photos of you in the best racing attire you have, clean and neat; Some action photos where you are leading a moto -I don’t care if you have to cut the photo to remove the real first place rider; Some jumping photos, if you are twelve or over; Some off-track photos showing that you have “street credibility,” perhaps at a local trail or skatepark; Have as many good videos as you have available in the event a sponsor wants to view them; Include a career statement detailing your major events and how you did; Personal references. Don’t make a potential sponsor wait around while you look in your basement for old videos or photos. Get the stuff together ahead of time.
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