Burning Question: What Constitutes Value From a Sponsored Athlete?

Mar 18, 2021
by Matt Wragg  

While the pandemic has brought a bike boom with it, few in the industry are cracking out the champagne just yet. Sure, things are going well now, but the shipping backlog is keeping more than a few people awake at night, much of the public-facing industry (including racing) is stuck in limbo, and nobody knows how things are going to evolve next. Do you order more stock, hoping that sales will carry on at their current level? What if the boom is followed by a crash? Do you reinvest your rewards in new ideas or start building a war chest in case things get bad?

With this as a background, things have never been harder for sponsored athletes, and that is before you start to account for lockdowns and social distancing. These days only a fortunate few have contracts that list their goal as just "winning races." Put yourself in the shoes of a marketing manager as we head into a second uncertain year. Ok, it was expensive paying your racer all last year, but if that contract is up for renewal now, could you risk that expenditure for a second year? A third? Without the races, there is a lot more time to think about what value that racer is bringing to your brand away from the racing. This isn't a new trend, as the idea that a racer cannot be just a racer is one that has been gaining traction for many years now, but the pandemic has pushed it into overdrive. The word 'value' can be an ugly one, but without a definition it is just nonsense business-talk, so we grabbed a range of people whose job involves sponsoring athletes to see if we could find consensus on what this elusive value really is.

What Constitutes Value From a Sponsored Athlete?

Matt Jones performs a gainer flip during Design and Conquer.

John Oldale, Marin Bikes

bigquotesAt Marin what we look for in a sponsored ambassador hasn’t changed since the pandemic, we have always only taken on board ambassadors that reflect our brand’s mantra “made for fun”. Whilst we still sponsor a smattering of “racers,” the reason we support them is for their results but more for the atmosphere they create both in and outside of the tape. We look for ambassadors that have no ego and are not only keen to engage with everyone from toddlers to our dealers. We look for people that ride their bike with a smile on their face whilst riding. A prime example was Crankworx 3 years ago; During the slopestyle event several riders had a bad run and immediately retreated to the athlete tent at the bottom of the hill. After a tough time the year prior Matt Jones was eager to have a faultless run, instead he landed the first drop and got a puncture – it would have been easy for him to hide in the athlete tent, but instead he took nearly an hour walking down through the crowd talking to the people who had paid money to be there and see him ride. That to me is an ambassador worth sponsoring!


Andy Waterman, Tracksmith

bigquotesI think a lot of what we're doing at Tracksmith is about ambassadorship, and that extends beyond athletic results or social media reach. We're a running brand and we're relatively young, so obviously we want to grow our slice of the pie within the running industry, but it's also important to grow the pie as a whole. If more people feel confident to say, "I am a runner", that's good for them, for us, and for the sport in general. When I see mountain bike riders doing stuff like appearing at schools and doing backflips in the playground, the result of that may not be entirely measurable, but at the same time, I know that the athlete doing the backflip is valuable to me as a sponsor as those kids will remember that and go home stoked on the sport. In the last year we've taken on two elite middle distance runners as employees. They work for us in community roles and they still get to train properly, while they also get health insurance and all the benefits of a salary. I think that works really well and is an innovative model: with there being so few events in the last year, they've not been racing, but they've still brought a ton of value to the business, hosting podcasts, writing Journal posts and speaking directly to our community. I can imagine a lot of athletes on more traditional performance deals will be pretty concerned about their future, but the way we're doing things means everyone feels valued. It's also true that we have an Amateur Support Program where we support a select group of Olympic Trials Qualifying athletes with kit, and we also supply kit to a small group of elite amateur teams, but that's almost an altruistic thing. Brands have a responsibility to support their sport, and as runners ourselves, we know precisely what kind of effort is required to quality for the Olympic Trials while working a full-time job - we think that deserves recognition, and those athletes often have amazing stories even if they rarely have the capacity to manage huge social media followings.

We don't do a great deal with influencers as such, inasmuchas we don't tend to flow gear and cash to people with large social media followings, but we do other stuff, like for instance, we recently launched the Tracksmith Fellowship, where we asked creatives to apply for a share of $50,000 of funding to help make a project of theirs come to life. They also get mentorship as part of the deal. As part of that program we're helping to fund podcasts, sculpture, documentary films and even a hip-hop album. Running like cycling is an inherently creative pursuit, but unlike cycling, running has never really spoken about that relationship, so it's something we're excited to explore. For us at this stage, I think there's more opportunity for us to be found in projects like this, supporting creators working in the culture of running, than there is supporting individual athletes. 

Vali Holl on home turf for the biggest event of the year.

Sarah Leishman, SRAM

bigquotesRiders who want to make a meaningful living riding their bikes have to hustle these days. Those who are the best at it manage to find a magic sweet spot between performing at the highest level in their sport, being a good human being and finding ways to positively impact their community, all while telling relatable stories along the way. Of course, not everyone does this equally well, but I think the riders who are excelling at this formula are rewarded with sponsorships, exposure, and bigger opportunities.

I spent 2020 (my first year on the job at SRAM) gaining a firsthand appreciation for the work our brand and sports marketing team is faced with as we adapt to constant changes and challenges around the world. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t re-imagining the ideal balance between performance, invention, advocacy and inclusion when we build our partnerships with the riders who represent us. SRAM, RockShox and ZIPP are just as excited about setting our riders up for success as we are about benefitting from their wins, no matter what those wins look like.

2021 Rocky Mountain Race Face Enduro Team

Stephen Matthews, Rocky Mountain

bigquotesAthletes and the programs they are a part of create excitement within our sport. The overarching goals of an athlete program should be centered around the riding community itself. These athletes should inspire riders to head out on the trails, or educate them about a product, or even help them find their place as a part of our community.

Reaching more people is always desirable, but supporting athletes that engage with the riding community is a much bigger deal. Whether we're talking about creating how-to videos for new riders, inspirational content for long-term fans, or proving perfection with the top step of a podium, being a true ambassador for the people of our sport is what proves value. The medium might change from year to year, but how the inspiration and information is delivered doesn't really matter so long as it's making an impact. Trends of how to reach people come and go but the notion of making a positive impact shouldn't changes. We run these programs and work with athletes because their efforts bring positivity into our community.


James Fairbank, Atomic

bigquotesThe short answer, for me: value is reached when the relationship between a sponsored athlete and a brand is balanced and both parties are pushing and supporting each other to drive a sport forwards. This can be done in multiple ways, across many levels.

Atomic’s global athlete roster is significant, we sponsor over 200 individuals across almost all skiing playgrounds. The roster covers a range of people. From Mikaela Shiffrin: one of the most successful athletes ever to grace alpine skiing to Chris Benchetler, someone who helped shape modern all-mountain freeskiing. Alongside the globally recognizable names, we also support a number of individuals who help define the sport on a local level: mountain guides and members of the bergrettung (mountain rescue) In many cases the local ambassadors aren’t active on social media but they’re hugely important and extremely influential in their local communities.

Together, Atomic and our family of athletes and ambassadors are all orientated by the aim of driving skiing forwards, trying to make it more relevant to more people and inspiring people to move through the mountains in winter safely We have very long relationships with many of our athletes, even after retirement from competition many remain an integral part of the Atomic business, becoming an essential part of the product testing process.

Compared to the road cycling world (I was previously the Central Marketing Director at Rapha) skiing sponsorship is much more about individuals, but there are some common threads between the two sports. The most interesting and valuable sponsorships across both cycling and skiing seem to happen when you try to work with people who’re capable of stretching what sport currently is. On the road/MTB side of things Lachlan Morton is a wonderful example of this kind of character: a world-class athlete who’s capable of communicating the simple joy of just riding a bike.

DFL for Gwin but you gotta give the man credit for riding a tire wheel combo from halfway to the first woods at the top of the track all the way home. Sure 39 seconds off pace but he never let off the gas. Photo Colin Meagher.

Friso Lorscheider, DT Swiss

bigquotesEvery talk I had with young athletes about sponsoring in the last couple of years, I told them, be prepared to promote yourself and your partners. There are only three athletes getting medals. This was and is true even without corona. Think about people like “Eddie the Eagle”, it was never about his skills in ski jumping, but the results were the only number to count on back in the days. Today there is much more, especially with social media, but this means as well more responsibility. Today everyone’s lives are pretty transparent.


Benno Willeit, Team Manager, Specialized Global Racing

bigquotesSooner or later you have to justify what you do. We're in the pandemic... How much and how much longer will you rely on something that is purely tied to events if no events are happening, right? Okay, in the bike industry, we're doing well, at least we can pay some of the salaries but you don't want to waste money. So if there are ambassadors or different people out there that give you more coverage, at some stage as a brand and as a company and as a business, you need to ask yourself, is it worthwhile? Is it worthwhile having a cross-country team, a downhill team, a race team out there doing nothing because they can't? It's not that they don't want to, but we cannot do the traditional way of marketing. You can come up with your own events, you do your own things. They can be locally, outside, or they can be virtually on Zwift, on different platforms or even just Instagram, whatever it is. But you do need to think differently at this stage and make sure that you can justify the spend. I still want to pay our riders all year long, racing or not. If I can show the company that, "Okay, we haven't done the traditional racing, but we have been out there in the public eye in different ways", whatever that may be. Like I said, it is a business. Someone is paying our bills. I wouldn't like to waste money for no reason. Therefore we are trying to make sure that we get the most out of the team. We already have the second team camp coming up now. Just because some of the events are canceled, I still go out there with the team and make sure that yes, we may be not racing, but maybe we do another team camp and we can help the developers in Morgan Hill to work on new product and help them a little bit more because all of a sudden we have a little bit of extra time that we can dedicate to specific product testing that we wouldn't have done if all the races kept going. So now I'm just changing certain stuff around but we're definitely not sitting at home doing our own things or doing nothing and just waiting for stuff to happen. 


Alice Peyredieu, Alpkit/Sonder Bikes

bigquotesI think it's been hard for our sponsored riders when the pandemic first hit as races kept on getting cancelled and there was this climate of uncertainty. But actually after a few months we still managed to work together in different ways - all of our riders work for us because they just love riding bikes, it's simple but true! They've discovered new tracks and roads near home, had more time to share their bike knowledge with us and our customer base through content pieces and did some fun challenges like the MTB wheelie challenge from their garden. We also had a few riders who decided to use their time off bike during lockdown to do some crazy paint jobs on their Sonder bike frames. In a way it felt like we all got to know each other better and they are now all ready to get back to racing, more motivated than ever!

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Member since Oct 29, 2006
750 articles

  • 158 8
 A lot of these comments fly out the window when brands are associating their names with horrible little scrotes doing wheelies at oncoming traffic, but rack up 300,000 Instagram subscribers in the process
  • 45 3
 im pretty sure i know exactly who your talking about. does this particular scrote also ride electric motorcycles in public parks making rut trails.
  • 53 6
 How about those scrotes promoting illegal trails at the expense of the riding community... shitting where they eat in the name of self promotion.
  • 31 4
 @Eatsdirt: i think we are definetly talking about the same scrote. promoting illegal and stupid trailbuilding techniques for there army of teenaged morons to replicate
  • 22 2
 if we're talking about the same lad im pretty sure he's not sponsored by any of the companies that he rides except frame but i totally agree - he's an utter knobhead and national embarrassment
  • 20 2
 @mackay66: i believe hes also sponsored by a wheel company a tire company a brake company and an energy drink. could be a different guy though
  • 11 2
 @NivlacEloop: Not sure who you're talking about but there are many.
  • 8 2
 @NivlacEloop: no longer the brake company but yes you are correct
  • 14 1
 Who who who who ? What’s his/her name begin with ?
  • 3 0
 @Matt115lamb: I also have no idea, but I agree with the sentiment.
  • 14 0
 I believe they are referring to Kevin Arnold. According to his brother, he is the ultimate scrote.
  • 12 0
 @rocky-mtn-gman: IG wasn't around in 1968-1973... can't be him. But I do think Paul Pfeiffer really did turn out to be Marilyn Manson.
  • 35 49
flag mr-fabio (Mar 18, 2021 at 12:24) (Below Threshold)
 I subscribe to SP only because he is legitmately having fun on his bike. That's what matters. Same reason I subscribed to Matt Jones channel. These guys pass on the good vibes riding. I don't wan't to see those "heavy" videos like Aaron Gwin's. Nothing against him but it seems that he carries a burden and is not riding a bike for fun. It's the same vibe I have at work, I don't want that vibe in my leisure time.

And to be honest is that a big problem the "stupid trailbuilding techinique"(seriously?!?), riding on oncoming traffic, ruts, electric bikes and so on? Guys are just having fun, don't be a Karen.
  • 2 2
 Hello Specialized, we're talking to you!
  • 26 3
 @mr-fabio: Yes, his behavior is a problem. I kinda like having access to the trails and don't feel like losing it because some d-bag just does whatever he wants in the name of fun. Sometimes you just gotta grow up the tiniest bit.
  • 3 2
 @Eatsdirt: +10000000000000000000000000000000000000000
  • 11 7
 even more apt at the minute when they're off doing "essential journeys" to ride with their mates when the rest of us are stuck inside
  • 2 0
 @NivlacEloop: is this person sponsored by a particular saddle brand?
  • 1 1
 @dualcrownscottspark: does his name begin with the letter ..........A........ lol
  • 1 0
 @mackay66: Speak for yourself mate.
  • 2 1
 do you mean mr pilgrim ?
  • 64 4
 I might be too blunt in this thinking but ultimately sponsoring riders, whether they are racers, or YouTubers, is a business decision. I am always a little bit confused when people get upset about the idea of YouTubers getting a sponsorship because they think a racer "Deserves it more". It's a capitalist society! If a rider wants to be of more value to a company, then they need to influence more people into buying more bikes for the company! It's not much more complicated than that.

Another line that confuses me is when people say "These racers are working day in and day out and risking their lives, they deserve $xx,xxx amount of money. AGAIN, you don't get compensated for how much risk you take on, that's never been true. You get compensated for how much value you bring to a company. The last year has made it clear that riders need to be able to adapt and need to realize that their job is ultimately to bring value to a bike company. Some have done it well, some have not. But ultimately this is what is going to determine who succeeds and who does not.
  • 13 2
 Social media is starting to become more and more important in marketing and it is obvious, the real question is: do we want companies to sponsor talented people that happen to race or make content on the internet wich is perfectly normal, or is the actual problem that more people are trying to become ANNOYING ''influencers'' at the expense of followers for exposure? If you do cool shit in the form of racing or instagram and youtube maybe all, great, just hate seeing random ass idiots that don't know what wheel size they are riding making stupid content on insta and being sponsored, other than that it's perfectly ok with me!
  • 6 1
 Rightly and wrongly, this is a fantastic commentary on business and our civilization as a whole, "you don't get compensated for how much risk you take on, that's never been true. You get compensated for how much value you bring to a company."

"Value" should probably be in quotes, as there is no objective definition for it.
  • 2 0
 @Dopepedaler: Exactly. I'm not at all saying it is right or wrong, but it is the reality. I completely understand where people are coming from when they want the riders doing the coolest things to be getting rewarded for it, "the "elite" in a sport should always be at the top of a pay grade, right?"... And I definitely see where people are coming from when they are upset to see annoying YouTubers and influencers taking that pot of money away from elite racers. BUT I think we need to be realistic about what big bike companies exist for. Yes there are of course exceptions where a company will continue to support a rider who maybe isn't selling the most bikes ever, just because they believe in them as a rider etc, but ultimately the long term goal is to maintain a good image and good relationships with people to be successful and influential in the sport. Businesses need to make money to keep doing what they are doing, and this comes down to how each individual business determines to be the best way to do that. Definitely an interesting conversation!
  • 6 1
 @Davidmihai04: You don't have to watch, follow, or look at a sing "random Idiot" making "stupid content" and being sponsored for it. Maybe these guys get all the hate because everyone else knows that it could've been them but it isn't?
  • 4 0
 based on that risk comment, I think josh bender would be a much bigger deal..
  • 8 0
 I'll probably get slammed for this comment, but I am an ambassador for multiple brands in the bike industry and run a small youtube and instagram page. I get the argument that brands should be sponsoring pro athletes, of which I am definitely not. I'm just a 40 year old mtber with a family of 5 that races and can usually pull a podium at local enduros. But I work EXTREMELY hard and professionally trying to create content, inspire my local community to think bigger when it comes to MTB and Fatbiking etc. I work with a local shop and honestly just create content and help them out bringing skills that maybe some of the employees don't have as far as social media, consulting about racing for customers, or whatever I need to do to support them. I put in the work, and brands appreciate it so far. Marketing has changed so much over the years and biking as gotten SO expensive especially with 3 kids that love to ride, that it's a way for me to have a side gig and help support my families recreation and fitness etc. So I think for a professional athlete now you just need to be more well rounded in what you bring to the table. Winning races is still #1 I think but unless your that top 10% worldwide just like your day job you need to strive to be well rounded and develop skills that will provide value long after your racing career is over and be the best you can be...
  • 50 0
 Would have liked to hear Red Bull philosophize here a little. Nobody has seemed to boost athletes more in the last two decades yet still grow their business.
  • 35 0
 Yeah RedBull confuses me. With a product that really helps no one because its just soda with caffeine, they sure bring a stigma with athletes. One that says “youve made it, heres your helmet.” Maybe its the exclusiveness to their brand since the only thing you can get from them is their product and no merch. Although they did start a clothing company? The company just confuses me.
  • 10 0
 @chillrider199: It says you've made it because you get excellent benefits from being a Redbull athlete. Crazy medical and physio assistance, sports psychologist/coaching, etc...

But if you mean they're limited on what they sell to customers, that's true. But it seems to be effective as hell. My son is always pushing for a Redbull when he's going for a long session with his friends.
  • 6 0
 @chillrider199: It's easy: they sell soda that cost about 10 cents to produce, they make a shit load of money, they pour some of it in marketing, they sell more products and the wheel goes round...
  • 29 0
 @chillrider199: I think it's because they show a legit commitment to pushing the boundaries of action sports. I bet the extra income is well worth it, but no other company goes out of its way to sponsor crazy events that show the top talent taking on difficult courses (think Rampage). And yeah, they sponsor the best athletes, which brings about some cache. I bet the Red Bull F1 teams actually make money given how successful they are.

I'll pick up a Red Bull just because I appreciate the company's commitment to the sports I love. Maybe that marketing, IDK, but I don't care that much.
  • 6 0
 To tack on my comment a bit more, a lot of sponsors stay away from what can be deemed "highly dangerous" portions of action sports. Clif Bar, for example, dropped Alex Honnold because of his free climbing. Totally fine for a company to do this and I get it, but Red Bull does not.
  • 3 0
 @chillrider199: Why does that confuse you? They sell a product that fans want because its associated with their idols. Its no different than a kid wanting to ride a Trek because Semenuk shreds on them. They single handedly created the energy drink industry and then subsequently created the marriage between energy drinks and actions sports and built that image and now have an almost monopolistic hold on it. It'd be no different than if Reeses or Snickers had made a foray into action sports, even tho their products aren't beneficial to the athletes. It makes total sense, they found and built their target market and now market to it. Like others have said, whatever your thoughts are on their product, they have brought a lot of money and prestige to sports around the world that were just "fringe" activities.
  • 4 2
 Right or wrong, Red Bull has supported so many incredible athletes the amount of great content they've produced is astonishing. And for all that I never touch Red Bull the product.
  • 2 0
 Just wanted to say I did not mean stigma. I mean more of something along enhanced appearance. Definitely screwed that one. My bad everyone.
  • 6 0
 Lets take Danny MacAskill as an example, millions of views from people that are not mountain bikers. Exposure for the brand is insane, and it's cheaper for a global brand to sponsor the creme de la creme across action sports than it is to run a series of adverts across the TV advertising worldwide. It's just business.
  • 2 0
 Red Bull supports athletes for media and the support they give is second to none. It is not drink sales they are after, it is media. Media provides advertising, advertising provides $$$$
  • 60 9
 influencers aren't nearly as valuable as they think they are, and frankly, are mostly just really annoying advertisers
  • 37 2
 I consider an unpaid testimony for a product way more than I will ever consider the opinion of an "influencer"
  • 4 0
 @HB208: thanks for reminding me that I should've used quotes around "influencer"! I concur.
  • 10 1
 @flipfantasia: Lol, I always get reminded by who pays the bills when I think about the backcountry.com controversy and all of the outdoors "influencers" defending them. "It is totally cool that they were suing companies for using "backcountry" in their name or marketing because they pay me money." I stopped shopping there after that whole thing. I can spend a bit more time going to a local shop.
  • 4 1
 @HB208: posts scenic photo with bike and cliché quote #sponsor #sponsorsmarketinghashtag
  • 7 22
flag downhillin4life (Mar 18, 2021 at 11:25) (Below Threshold)
 Yes!!! Influencers and YouTubers are not real athletes and shouldn’t be sponsored, save the product for real racers.
Change my mind
  • 3 1
 @downhillin4life: Well, if an athlete does not have a strong social media presence or is not getting into the MTB circles, the brand dollars are not being used wisely (because no one cares who a good athlete is sponsored by if they don't know the athlete). If an "influencer" has hundreds of thousands of social media followers, the brand at least knows they are getting exposure. Influencers that just rely on social media followers and "being peppy" are dumb, but there is a fine line between serious athlete and influencer.

Braydon Bringhurst for example. He is so good that I would not call him an "influencer", but that is essentially what he is for Canyon since he does not race and only makes videos and content.
  • 13 1
 @downhillin4life: I think Remy, for example is the most entertaining athlete, and best marketing any brand could ask for.
  • 7 5
 @downhillin4life: that's not what I said at all. I actually think a lot of (most) people shouldn't be sponsored, athletes or otherwise. I'd much prefer brands did a lot more to support individuals who contribute to their local community clubs, trail networks, and getting youth involved in riding. The rest is just a bunch of dumb ego stroking. No athlete or influencer has ever motivated me to purchase anything they represent, but as someone else said, on many occasions they've absolutely made me decide to not support the brands they're promoting.
  • 5 0
 @downhillin4life: I am not a "Real" racer, in fact i train and ride A LOT with the goals of being mid pack in my local enduro. We have a local bike shop sponsor our team. We genuinely like riding bikes and helping any novice we meet on the trail from technical ability to repairs. We bring that local shop value in the hopes that our interactions with everyone we meet will eventual turn into a customer. The Youtube and IG crowd is just a scaled up version of that. Pay person X in the hopes that there interaction will the public (directly or indirectly) eventually lead to a future customer.
  • 5 3
 @downhillin4life: Sam Pilgrim. More exposure than all the world cup racers combined and does it twice a week.
  • 1 0
 @downhillin4life: It's all about who helps the brand sell more products. Being a "real" athlete has nothing to do with it, even if we could define such a thing.
  • 2 0
 Agree 100%
  • 2 0
 I run a small Youtube channel and instagram account and try my hardest to not be an annoying influencer or advertiser. (woops, I just did it didn't I?) But, at some point you need to think about it, even pro athletes at the top level are at the podium thanking their sponsors and drinking their sponsors drink on camera even if it's just water in the bottle. The simple fact is, these brands are the ones fitting the bill and sponsoring athletes individual endeavors. When you get into marketing as an older athlete you learn through marketing metrics how much you actually influence and in the grand scheme of things I think your right, influencers aren't really as valuable as they think they are most of the time. But that doesn't mean someone like me shouldn't be working my butt off to provide value to brands, trying to inspire or help a local riding community and in the meantime make biking slightly more affordable for a family of 5 does it?
  • 34 1
 I don't often get to comment on a PB article in my area of expertise so I guess today is a special day.

I work on the giving end of this relationship in a totally unrelated industry and I can say for myself; I am completely and totally exhausted with the state of play. "Influencers" are still valuable. But I'd argue that most people who think they are influencers or are seen as such aren't actually. They're entertainers - which has value for certain types of products i.e. not durable goods.

We had the biggest influencer in our industry when he was at 20,000 subs. We dropped him at 150k. Now he's at 570K and I couldn't be happier to be rid of him. He now has a warped perception of reality and the value that he actually adds. He's an entertainer. He could probably sell the heck out of iphone cases and T-shirts, but not what we're selling.

Another we signed on at 60k and he's now up over 450k subs. We pulled out a while back because he never materialized as an actual influential voice. His numbers don't match his knowledge and his credibility. Looking back, I'm pretty sure he bought a lot of those subs too. His view and comment ratios don't match.

We still have two people that we're working with. They're both teachers. They are seasoned professionals. They offer up free and USEFUL information to their audience and they do more to help people learn than they do to entertain. This is where it's headed. I think more brands will jump on board and focus their dollars on people who don't have baggage, aren't risky, and are genuinely productive, helpful people ..... that happen to have an audience.

I also predict that more brands will bring some of these activities in house. We do it. And it's paid dividends. We're a $100m company and we routinely crush every other company in our industry in online views and watch time. That includes a lot of $1b+ companies too. People just want authenticity. Eventually brands will figure out that paid ads are not the most efficient way to get this done.
  • 10 1
 This is a more useful analysis than most of what was said in the article. Clearly the magic is in measuring how efficient an athlete-influencer is in converting followers or views into market impact. I'm sure someone is developing machine learning models to look at social media post comments for example to try to quantify gauge levels of engagement. A favorite recent example for me is British sailor Pete Goss, who recently made a video of why he bought a Garcia 45 so he and his wife could go world cruising. For the sort of sixty-somethings that might buy such a yacht, Goss is very well known as having survived some of the most harrowing adventures in the southern ocean and elsewhere since Shackleton's boat journey. If Goss thinks this is the best boat for world cruising with your significant other, that has the weight of a thousand boat shows, salespeople and glossy pamphlets. Likewise I feel I've been influenced about the value of e-bikes more than anything by Ben Cathro and Danny Macaskill possibly because they are Scottish, but mostly because of how they come across as fundamentally credible people who are also excellent riders and can articulate or demonstrate reasons why these bikes are compelling. I'm similarly super impressed with Jill Kitner and Bryn Atkinson who make stylish videos showing riding of the kind you aspire to if you ride on the kinds of trails we have here. Incidentally, I dispute the comments in this thread about people getting older and not being interested more extreme content. As you get older and you advance in your own professional career, you are still compelled by excellence, you just get better at spotting BS.
  • 3 0
 @The-Foiling-Optimist: of all the words I've read and heard about ebikes, Cathro was the only one who I felt like actually properly demonstrated why they can be useful, and he didn't have to shove it down your throat to get the point across either
  • 27 0
 Here's a question for all of them to answer anonymously: Who would you rank as the top three MTB'ers for sponsorship value? Then post the results.
  • 3 0
 Guess it depends on the market they are trying to reach.
Brendog would have to be near the top as he’s the only one (to my knowledge) who has a film on Netflix which reaches billions of people globally. There’s always rad clips/images from the races plus he’s always putting out social content.
  • 1 0
 That would be interesting - and I'd also ask who are the top three in terms of quality of content and/or perceived authenticity?
  • 2 1
 @razor: hookit seems to be very focused on race results and doesn’t translate well to social media athletes. I went on and got a bad score because I haven’t entered many races, I even got marked down because I don’t ride every day (these videos won’t edit themselves!).
  • 2 0
 I'll bite. Hans rays Danny mckaskill Fabio wimber
  • 27 0
 how many stickers they can fit on their helmet
  • 26 0
 The bigger the head the more advertising space.
  • 12 0
 @robomatic: they should all sponsor me then. I’m not fast, don’t go big, but I have a huge head
  • 5 0
 @CustardCountry: XXL helmet checking in. My skate helmet has as much ad space a vw beetle.
  • 8 0
 (Opinion) Mtb seems to have a strange identity issue where "riding for" some company will somehow legitimize a person. Meanwhile, they offer little or no value to that company. Top athletes- they deserve it. They've crafted themselves into a well-tailored product (their athleticism, mindset, public relations skills, etc) that is of value to a company & vice-versa. A small minority of "influencers" do a good job of this. Otherwise, everyone else.... go ride your bike, make friends, and do it because you love it. We as riders are not owed anything. After all, your bike is a toy, riding it is a privilege, and it's all for fun.
  • 14 6
 sponsored athletes make no difference to what I purchase unless they are tits that break rules then I'm unlikely to consider anything they use.
  • 8 3
 I tend to agree with this. The one exception is when companies use sponsored athletes for R&D input and listen to them. Specialized Stumpy Evo seems to be a case of this happening and I put a deposit on that bike yesterday.
  • 22 2
 Sure they don’t. You’re a 100% rational actor unaffected by marketing.
  • 2 2
 @malcolm-eggs: just because an actual athlete uses a product has no effect on me, even more so with youtubers. someone being paid to promote a product is completely biased. I've not bought anything just because some person uses it.
  • 2 0
 @mtb-scotland: I feel like most riders just want a brand to sponsor them without caring if they like the product or not. Though sponsored riders can't really review the products they are sponsored with, I feel that if they do actually like the product, they with actually bring up good reasons as to why you might consider this product. Aside from that, most riders just say, "look at me, I'm sponsored" and then they go and tell everyone to buy from the brand they are sponsored by.
  • 6 0
 Many of these athletes and ambassadors still need a physical as well as virtual platform to help deliver their content.
Please, therefore, consider all the race and event organisers bending over backwards, please carry on supporting / sponsoring / attending as we've had it hard over the last year. Thankyou.
  • 5 0
 Love this question.

I think a mixture between modern media, the covid situation and the results of certain athletes have changed the answer to this question drastically in the last couple years.

It used to be results results results. With a few exceptions. Now... you have those people. Some people don't operate well on social media and don't really create content on their own so results are critical to those people. But on the other hand you've got a new segment of riders that aren't competing (much) and are creating crap tons of content for themselves. So putting dollar figures with those results is the real question. How much value do guys like Reed Boggs, DJ Brandt, Ethan Nell, hell Wyn Masters, etc bring to your brand?

In my opinion... a lot.

When Wibmer hit the market and was talking with brands for sponsorships a few years ago I think it was a huge mistake that FOX slept on him. But FOX is very much.... a results brand... and these days... race race race. So it didn't fit the vision. But sometimes there should be some flexibility there. 100's of millions of views worth of flexibility.

This question for me gets very very important as these guys age and life/competitions change. Look at say... Tyler McCaul and Cam McCaul. Both of them put out crazy awesome content. Both of them have names that people know, history. Both of them have potential current and future in the booth. Both of them are industry loved. So what's their value? High if you ask me. A brand like Marzocchi can do a lot with those guys... with or without competitions. Sometimes you have to look at more than just results and dollars and think about what feels right for the brand. Does the harm of tossing someone outweigh the money you pay them?

Brett Rheeder... dudes still young but he's coming off and injury with priorities shifting away from competition. But what type of value has Symenuk brought to his brands as his career changed? Not holding on to Brett right now is uh.... silly if you ask me. Dude can still win any Slopestyle contest on a good day and Rampage while he's at it. And his content is just going to improve as the time spent making it goes up.

Being in athlete/brand marketing right now is insane. Everything is changing and it's incredibly hard to put numbers down in front of number crunchers that only know numbers. Unfortunately the industry workers know wtf they're talking about but the industry management is all about numbers right now. At least for larger brands. There's so much money spinning around in the industry right now and it's gotten more and more corporate. Boards. Marketing people from outside the industry up at the top. Etc. How do you monetize clicks, views, followers?

Reminds me of when YouTube was just becoming a thing. A lot of people didn't... hell still don't see the value in it. Meanwhile a 10 year old is making $27m a year opening up toys.
  • 4 0
 Pretty simple answer here IMO: the value of an athlete will always be how much product they help sell, full stop. Whether that's race results, brand awareness, sponsored posts/video, affiliates, it's all aimed at that.

I think what's mixed in here "what medium should this be done through". Feel sorry for "athletes" because a traditional show up and race or just be in a yearly bike video release no longer really cuts it. If a youtube video or instagram post gets more traction (and therefore sells more product), then yeah, it's going to be more valuable to sponsor those people no matter what.

Can't really change that equation unless you change the behavior of the peeps buying the stuff, aka us.
  • 1 1
 Agreed. I skipped through most of their answers because they were filled with jargon and waffle. But you'd expect that from marketers. And if the question to them was as posed in the heading, then none of them answered it.
  • 3 1
 @iamamodel: The problem is there is no actual way to quantify how much product a sponsored athlete is actually helping to sell. You can see how many followers someone has, see how many views their photos or vids get and things like that, but none of that actually results in an actual value figure. You still have no idea how much influence a person really has. If their audience is really the the audience that's going to act and go buy the product. I find a ton of athletes fun to follow on youtube of insta but at the end of the day not many are actually going to influence any purchase of good that I make. This is why you get such BS answers from these guys, because there really is no actual answer to how much actual value is being created.
  • 5 2
I believe a lot of the purchasing power in the mountain bike industry has reached an age and risk level where they know that a double back flip to manual is not in their future. Becoming a parent makes you a lot less likely to be attracted to videos of people playing in traffic at high speed. Personally the things I look for are great trails to ride in my area, stuff that might actually work on my bike, and future changes in the industry, told as a brief compelling story. The thing I look for most is someone who will try a product that isn't any good and say "this isn't any good" or "you don't need this". Entertainment, bike skill legitimacy, a truthful voice rather than a sponsor voice. I am allergic to "this bike is sweet because they pay me".
There is a lot of hate for entertaining medium-skill youtubers but they changed this game and there are a lot of tire prints following their trail.
  • 3 0
 If brands want the good times to carry on they should continue to invest in the participation pathway.

So we have a bunch of new riders. How do you keep them interested? How do you open the sport up to them? It's a about lifestyle... what is #mtblife it's many things it's adventures, it's social, it's competitive, be that at DH worldcup or chasing your mates down a trail.

(A) Invest in events

(B) Invest in community e.g. sponsoring a new trail hub

(C) Invest in visible role models that will participate themselves and promote your brand and the sport

Provide that space for adventure, for socialising and for competition then more people will participate, more participation means more customers.
  • 3 0
 Value = number of Instagram followers + number of Youtube vues + number of Facebook likes

Winning a race is already integrated in those numbers, because winning means more followers/vues/likes :-) !
  • 2 0
 Why it implied there is a "sweet spot" "between" being the best and being a good person? All the best are really a*sholes? The nice guys actually do always finish last? I don't think so... Those aspects are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive.
  • 2 0
 I would be interested to know what research has been done into the generation of sales from racing vs social media posts. When I worked managing a LBS, the owner and I agreed that sponsoring racers had much less return than sponsoring ambassadors who would lead group rides, clinics, visit schools, etc. That would seem to indicate social media has the edge. However, the high view/follow counts of some of the "extreme" content seems to indicate a younger audience that often cannot afford to turn that influence into a purchase. As was mentioned earlier in the thread, that type of content is much less appealing as one gets older, has more responsibilities, heals slower, or has spent time doing trail work and advocacy.
Perhaps my experience is only illuminating to small businesses and large corporations benefit more from the exposure alone.
  • 1 0
 It's really hard to know. I imagine that is why brands prioritize "followers."
  • 1 0
 At the LBS level I think 'locally and socially' is the way to go. A few years ago I was pushing my LBS sponsor exactly as you said, plus reviews in the local riding website and many people went to my LBS due to my spruiking - tens of thousands of dollars in sales.
  • 2 0
 No one willing to state the obvious: the value of a sponsored rider is their ability to generate sales. Don't know why we have to pretend like there's more to it. The question is, post pandemic, has the way they generate sales changed? DT Swiss came closest: "Every talk I had with young athletes about sponsoring in the last couple of years, I told them, be prepared to promote yourself and your partners."
  • 5 1
 In other words, like every industry they want their employees to do more for less.
  • 4 1
 Most of these comments from brands stop making sense if you consider that they choose to rather associate with social media clowns instead of real athletes.
  • 1 0
 We were always told that for every 1 piece of product we were given, the company needed to sell 10 to make it worth it. That scaled to money as well, when you factor in what product costs them, the expectation was to sell a lot. It was always hard to justify what you were doing to sell that amount of product, but at the end of the day, a sponsored athlete is a sales person and nothing more. If you don't do something that increases sales, you're not worth it to the company.
  • 1 0
 The guys on the Santa Cruz Syndicate past and present are an excellent example of what top riders and characters can bring to a bicycle brand with clever entertaining videos etc, while still allowing the riders to express their individual characters. While most of us might never buy a V10, just imagine Santa Cruz without the Syndicate!
  • 1 0
 These businesses, dispite their protestations to the contrary are Amoral. They want the employe to generate as much return as possible. They talk about engagement, what they want is excess labor past the contractual obligation.

The marketing world has shifted to the smaller venues ( Instagram YouTube ect) because it cuts costs. However due to the promotional codes, it gives clear metrics on engagement leading to sales.

Sponsoring Aaron Gwinn is harder to quantify than giving a 5% off code to some YouTube channel. You can see exactly what your dollars buy you as a company.

Additionally the people doing this are fungible. You are putting very little into these people in exchange for huge amounts of their time. Shooting and editing on a schedule that pleases the algorithm is time consuming.

The influencer has replaced an entire ecosystem of professionals who made a living producing professional content for brands.

It of course still exists, but the pool of professionals has diminished.
Replacing them with anyone with a gimbal and a DLSR. Which further drives down labor due to ubiquity.

The Influencers have no choice to but to sell their labor in a highly competitive environment at the whim of an algorithm that can render them obsolete.

Yes some of them 5% do alright with the fee structure and sponsorship.
1% do huge business. This is the methodology of these systems. The winner takes all.

Anecdote time:
I dated a girl trying to make it as an sport influencer. I run my own business so I helped her run the numbers for hers. She made about about 1.50 per hour in product. She would have had more equipment and free time if she got a second job.
  • 3 0
 That skier nailed the photo, ski brand, check, goggle brand, check, watch, check, hat, check. Sign her up!
  • 1 1
 A return to normal means a return to contraction of the bicycle industry and closure of B&M retail bicycle shops. Sponsored athletes push product...the ones that are better at being fake and bullshitting the value of gimmicks are rewarded. Many of us would never sell our soul to the capitalist pigs.
  • 2 0
 That's a little unfair. Imagine trying to make a living out of riding. You'd find it hard to say no to money when you can't afford new tyres for the van you've been sleeping in all season.
  • 2 1
 You have to remember the reality is that it is the customer that pays for all sponsorship. Not the company or brand. It all comes from what we pay for our bike, apparel and components
  • 1 1
 I really like theway the running brand does it. Also would suggest something like this for mtb. Many of the riders do or did somekind of studies or worked in different fields. E.g. Scotty Laughland has a mechanical engineering degree. If i would be a brand that works with him i would try to get some engineering done by him, maybe 50%, in the off-season. Or Camille Balanche has a degree in somethibg sports marketing etc. and now does alot of the sponsor relations stuff for Dorval AM.
Emilie Siegenthaler has a studied psychology if i'm correct. Can be of huge benefit for a team.
If someone did something in finance they could be working part time in the finance department of one of the brands. Off-season in the northern hemisphere often also is the season of financial year-finals (dont know how its called in english).
I think that this way a brand could sometimes benefit more than just getting 40'000 views on youtube or getting tagged on a instagram post.
  • 1 0
 That Atomic picture illustrates the state of the matter brilliantly.

We should ask the Marketing team of Barilla, how much they'd like to grow the ski community and push the sport forward Big Grin
  • 4 1
 Couldn't make it past "inasmuchas" lol
  • 3 2
 Like the cube one about Danny getting out to just ride with “the people” at the bike park. There is no better way to sell bikes.
  • 1 1
 Hart is a sponsor's dream, not only has he got the racing pedigree (rainbow collar and cuffs) but with the Descend bike park there's a high profile opportunity to put their bikes in people's hands as the hire fleet. Sure he's not the most charismatic of people in front of the camera, but he has the influence directly or indirectly to get people to at least consider Cube when they purchase a new bike.
  • 4 0
 @ROOTminus1: I think Danny's stepped up his camera charismatic level 100x over the last couple of seasons. He's one of few I really want to hear from during the races on Wyn tv not to mention his POVs from tracks are pretty incredible. He's certainly living and breathing this MTB ish. He seems like he'd be riding every day even if he wasn't getting paid.
  • 1 1
 @robito: There's no arguing the guy knows how to ride a bike and you know he'd still find a way to make money out of riding if racing wasn't a thing.
That was my point, he might not be the sexy face of the sport with his helmet off and a mic pointed at him to attract new people to mtb, but he still gives value to his sponsors because anyone already here knows he is a man to listen to
  • 3 1
 “Ambassadors that have no ego” ........ an oxymoron
  • 5 3
 The term "content" is to art as cancer is to life.
  • 2 0
 Unless you work in content, where you'll find it's surprisingly difficult to come up with useful synonyms for it.
  • 3 2
 this article will be a tough read for Broworshippers
  • 1 3
 Value in an athlete, is also using them for fun, creative videos that are against the norm, and having media outlets use the videos-but PB won't run them for whatever reason, is real fun.
  • 1 0
 Riding style how they talk to fans etc promote the sport of mtb
  • 1 1
 What constitutes value from a sponsored athlete? A good photographer friend with a lot of time
  • 1 0
 Is it all about community or all about the community buying bikes?
  • 1 0
 Exposurer that leads to sales
  • 1 1
 I continue to not burn. In fact, I feel kinda cold.
  • 1 1
 whilst whilst whilst
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