Sponsorships. It's something that many riders want, but few will actually receive. Many of you reading this are probably incredibly talented and you know it. You probably would enjoy the benefits of a sponsorship or two. Who wouldn't? It's great getting inexpensive gear and even better if you can pull a paycheck out of it. But, it's not as simple as just being a very, very good rider. You have to have a brand to go along with all that skill. Being sponsored means you have another job besides riding your bike: you have to help sell your sponsor's product and that goes way beyond what happens on two wheels.Gully is known for being a pretty fun dude on and off the bike. No matter what's going on, he's probably going to make you laugh.
As "corporate" as it may sound, branding is something that can be beneficial for not only companies, but athletes as well. As a former team manager for an action sports company, I used to receive emails and phone calls from athletes looking for sponsorship on a regular basis and my first question was always, "What are you doing to set yourself apart?" Often times I'd hear answers about filming, competition, and being a great ambassador. These answers aren't wrong by any means, but they're not unique enough for a lot of athlete managers to warrant a salary or sponsorship. Let's face it, if you're competing you need to be relevant at the highest level these days. Podium finishes are awesome. They bring a brand exposure and influence. While a 7th place finish out of a huge pile of competitors is undoubtedly a job well done, the impact of that placement falls off heavily after the podium steps end.Kelly's wild hair makes it easy to identify him from afar.Being a brand ambassador is more than just riding a bike. Getting people stoked on the sport and your sponsors is key.
So, what can you, as an athlete, bring to the table that companies will want to associate themselves with? Having some kind of characteristic that is memorable, so people will instantly recognize you in photos and videos, or resonate with you in person, is key. As random as it seems, having a unique trait is something that people can remember and associate with.
Athletes who do this well: Kelly McGarry and his wild head of hair. Kelly's hair may seem like just an insignificant trait, but it's instantly recognizable, and therefore makes him a marketable athlete. You always know who's in that distant photo because you always see his hair. Kelly rides for Diamondback, so that's an instant win for them, even if the ad is for Adidas. Brett Tippie and...well just being Brett Tippie. There aren't many people that are better ambassadors for the sport than Tippie. Always smiling, coaching, or hosting, he's a genuinely great face for the sport and for his title sponsor, Rocky Mountain. Geoff Gulevich is well known as being a really likable guy. Gully gets more media hits than most other riders simply because he's willing to put himself out there, he's willing to be different and quirky, he's easy to work with and he injects humor into pretty much everything he does. KC Deane is a dual sport athlete (bike and ski) and has massive social media following that companies love. While KC is still fairly new to the bike industry, brands recognize his cross-sport popularity mixed with a massive audience following his skills online. This is a great way to bring new people from different sports to the companies he's representing. The Athertons are fortunate enough to be the first family in biking. Each are world-class talents in their own right, but the Athertons are often marketed as a package unit because three elite riders showing off how great a brand's products are is better than one. You get the point. While top-level talent is paramount, these athletes have other ways of being remembered.
Brett Tippie is a big mountain pioneer who has managed to leverage his wild and fun personality into a long-term career. Rachel is probably the most marketable female rider in the world. Being a part of the Atherton crew, arguably the fastest woman on a bike, and extremely handy with the media are all traits that companies love.
As an athlete, your number one job to your sponsors is to sell their product. Your second job is to be a mountain biking advocate to bring new people to the sport and keep motivating current riders. Different companies will prefer different styles of riding and personalities to represent their product, but exposure and marketability are two extremely important factors no matter who you represent. Your unique feature or trait is going to add to your marketability and desire for media to photograph you and include you in their videos because you're memorable and people recognize and remember you. This increases views on their videos and photos, making your exposure rise, and therefore pleasing your sponsors even more. KC's post of this shot and one similar to his Instagram account received over 4,000 likes. That's to an audience of skiers, mountain bikers, surfers and photographers - all potentially interested in learning more about the sport.
So, next time you're looking to pick up a new sponsor, think about what you can offer that is unique to you. Figure out how to turn this into something memorable and you'll already be ahead of the majority of athletes looking to get the attention of brands.