It is a well-documented fact that corporates and organisations spend an astronomical amount of their budgets on sport; whether that be individual athletes, teams, sporting organisations or events, sponsorship is certainly an abundant item on the collective corporate profit and loss statement.
Large corporates make these commitments a central part of their business strategy. For example, a brand such as Nike spends in the region of $6 billion per annum on their sponsorship programs and endorsements of athletes.
And they are not alone.
Cadbury provided $1 million of much-needed funding to the Australian Paralympic team in January this year, while in the advertising space, well-known Australian brands Woolworths, Suisse and Optus spent in the region of $10 million each for their Rio campaigns alone, using athletes to endorse their products.
But there are a number of non-monetary reasons why being a sponsored athlete makes you more employable (and indeed that being a sponsor would be a great investment), particularly with respect to an athlete’s life after sport, something which I will delve into later in the piece.
Sponsorship puts food on the table while your head's in the game
Vickie Saunders, the Founder of The Sponsorship Consultants, says, “Athletes seek sponsorship for various reasons, with the main one being to reduce the financial strain of participating in their sporting activities. The reduction of this financial strain can mean that the athlete may be able to work reduced hours, or not at all, to focus on their training and events, or it may mean that though they continue employment, they can now set their sights on even bigger or more frequent event participation.”
The fact is that as an athlete, your window of opportunity to compete – and perhaps even to make above-average dollars – can be relatively small, so you need to maximise the opportunity of your talent, both in terms of performance and earnings.
Furthermore, some sports have expensive equipment and gear such that if you don’t have the capital yourself, might preclude you from taking part competitively and fulfilling your obvious talent.
As a direct consequence of finding appropriate sponsorship, you might find you have greater recovery time, more travel time to and from events and most importantly, reduced stress.
Therefore, sponsorship can be vital to your entire well-being and hence performance.
What type of sponsorship can I get as an athlete?
Saunders says that there are effectively two types of sponsorship: Soft and Financial.
Soft sponsorship involves Product (eg. exclusive use of supplements or equipment), Service (eg. physiotherapy or coaching), Media Partners (eg. aligning with a publishing company or broadcaster that matches your sport and brand), Cost-reducing (being offered a significant discount on a sponsor’s product).
Financial sponsorship is an endorsement amount in the form of an agreed amount (usually one-off or for a limited time), or an ongoing salary-type sponsorship, or finally as a commission-based income on the sale of products/services through a referral from you.
What can sponsorship do for me in my life after sport?
One of the beliefs we have at The Final Whistle is that by having self-awareness about your passions (both sporting and non-sporting), your lifestyle choices, your values and your behavioural profile, you are able to better determine your career options for a life after sport or indeed to confirm whether your current non-playing career path is on the right track.
There is a common misconception that a sponsorship agreement is a means to tie you down for your useful athletic life, after which you are jettisoned to the scrapheap for a younger, more hungry model.
While there are certainly stories like this and indeed of athletes feeling used and being controlled robotically by sponsors (“You have to wear these undies at this event on this particular day!”), there are certainly ways to prevent this.
Saunders hits the nail on the head when she says, “It’s about creating mutually beneficial relationships and promoting a business to a target audience.” And we believe that this is the case in their life after sport, too.
Networking your way to transition success
One of the biggest advantages of having a sponsorship arrangement while you’re competing is the exposure to a much bigger network than what you would be able to put together yourself. Businesses partner with other businesses all the time to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, and merely by aligning to one, you are potentially aligning to many.
As a result, your contact base becomes significant, thereby reducing the amount of graft you have to do when it comes time to hang up the boots. Your credibility also increases and you might even find additional sponsors approach you as a result of your existing arrangements.
“You are developing relationships, skills, networks and experience, that, combined with your skills and personal attributes gained through your sport, will make you a very desirable candidate for future career opportunities!” Saunders says.
The Final Whistle too believes that possessing transferable skills from sport, in conjunction with a huge network, is a highly undervalued asset that any employer should be utilising more as it can bring immediate impact to a business.
Working smart not hard
Using both your public and social media profiles effectively can also help you to leverage sponsorship during your transition. Not only does this enable you to maintain your existing profile and avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” epidemic that engulfs other sports stars when they retire, but you can ensure that some cash flows in during the transitional period where little to no income from sport is being earned.
Former Wallaby Nathan Sharpe achieved this with some of his sponsors and some of the other Australian Rugby Union sponsors during his transition, and he now finds himself as the Director of a company with whom he has been associated for some time, while still being engaged with media commitments.
Therefore, by aligning with sponsors that match your brand, your passions, your values and ultimately your post-athlete career options, you too can become one of the many athletes who end up with fulfilling employment at the company who has sponsored them.
And that would be some weight off your shoulders.