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Sponsorship and Athletes

by on September 16, 2015

Following a post wrote ( it was suggested that a further post be written on the above subject. This may be a bit hard hitting but if we are to make a difference one needs to say it like it is and I can only write from my point of view and experiences. This will deal with sponsorship in the most direct way I can.

Firstly lets define a sponsorship in the South African context for athletes, in my opinion. – Running for a professional club, you would get a contract from them. Most clubs term this contract as a sponsorship contract. I beg to differ – it is not a sponsorship contract but more of an “employment” contract. But the club words the contract as a “Sponsorship” so they dont have to apply to the strict labour laws of the country.  The club has their sponsors that you as an athlete will benefit from, which sponsors provide finance, product etc which is then filtered to the team members based on how good each one is individually. There are obligations and rules you have to follow from the club perspective which you abide by and then you are supported as per this contract. My biggest gripe with these contracts is that athletes all agree to this without asking questions or looking after their own personal rights.
A club will have a sponsor who has rights with the club, who are then allowed to make use of the clubs athletes for their marketing purposes. What should happen in this instance is – The sponsor can use the athletes image appearing in club colours, but there should be 3 or more athletes in the picture to warrant as a team sponsor, but if the athlete is pictured alone in the advertisement or picture this does not constitute a club appearance but is actually infringing on being seen as a personal endorsement by the athlete for the club sponsor.
Personal Sponsors
Why do some of our top athletes struggle with personal sponsorship? Firstly we have to know what companies want, and then can unpack the rest

1. Exposure. A company will measure what they get in return. Company X gives product or cash to the value of X and they expect to receive a minimum of Y which is generally 3 times more than what they give. This is the yard stick they would use. This exposure is based on Media time, be it newspapers, TV, magazine or Social Media that you are able to drive as the athlete
They will also look at what they have to spend from their side to market their association with the athlete. So if they spend R100 on sponsorship they will probably have to spend an additional R300 telling people from their side they sponsor the athlete. As well as some additional costs like production of an advertisement, for TV, Magazine, billboard etc. So typically when you ask for R100 they will have to look at the budget and say they need at least R500 and will they get the returns in exposure they want or need.

The above two are main points to consider.
A very important part is – Do you appeal to the company’s target market, ie: if they sponsor you would this equate to sales of the product for the company which then takes care of the say R400, therefore not negatively affecting the bottom line for shareholders. As an athlete do you have the right image for them to generate the sales. Companies don’t want to spend on something they cannot recover.

One thing that many forget or don’t take into account – In general, Sponsorship of an individual is not a quick fix, it’s a long term association that is part of brand building so ideally when “Joe public” see you they think of the brand. That’s the end goal. Too many think that sponsoring one person for a year will show major returns. This only happens in in extreme cases, like winning an Olympic Games event or that type of profile event. Lots of immediate media hype and then it dies down.
The problem we have in SA based on the two points above is that there has not been many high profile events, and it was always only Comrades and the second Two Oceans as these were races that received TV coverage where the easy TV time and easy exposure was to be had. Essentially with only these two races having TV time it actually killed the sponsorship market if you were not a Comrades or Two Oceans athlete. In the 80s track and field got a lot of TV time but this is almost non-existent these days from a local point. But things are looking better from that side in that there are now Marathon distance races such as Cape Town, Soweto, Mandela that receive live TV, and others such as Gauteng (2012-2014), Petro SA, Ethkweni that receive recorded TV, as well as Legends Marathon 68km that has Live TV. This is opening the door for corporate SA to start looking into supporting our athletes.
Then there is the issue of results and performance – One needs to win the big races. You can go and win all the smaller races around all year, this does not mean you will get a sponsor. So you must be able to deliver top results at big events.

Are you a professional? Companies will also look at how you conduct yourself when you are not in training or at competition. They look at how you conduct your everyday life. Who do you align yourself with what do you do when not running? How do you portray yourself in public? What do you post on Social Media – In this day in age plays a significant part of our everyday life in showing the public who we are or what we are. Social Media is a major, when company X sponsors you, you cannot say “Like” a FB post by an opposition company. That’s just not right. If company X does not sponsor you, why wear anything branded by them. A company used to sponsor some of my athletes and when they pulled out, I simply covered their logos on any clothing until we got a new sponsor.
Are you responsible? Companies don’t want to associate with irresponsible people its bad for their image. When you take on a sponsor you are ultimately representing the company in everything you do, not only on competition but everything you do.
Bottom line is – Know what you are worth as an athlete – don’t accept something just because someone wants to give you something as a “Freebie.”

One thing to always remember – When you wear a companies logo – that logo will be with you for life, in that I mean that photos will be taken of you and these last a life time. So whilst a sponsorship may end the photos will always be in cyber space and can and always will be seen even years after a deal comes to an end. So choose carefully and always give more than you get.

I am contacted each week by +20 new athletes from countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana etc and all these guys want is an opportunity to race. We in SA are spoilt for race as there are probably 15 races every weekend around the country. Yes not all are big paying races but we have. These guys from the Rest of Africa only want an opportunity to prove themselves. In general all most ask for is a pair of shoes so they can do their “job” and will look at race winning for their income and then once they have proved themselves will look at contracts etc. But we in SA and this is not all athletes but a large majority all want retainers, shoes, supplements, clothing, travel before any results are posted. We say give me these things then I will produce. NO NO NO – Produce first and then you will get. What is producing – Guys and Girls – a top athlete is not a man that can run a 2H20 Marathon or a lady with 2H50, those times are just not even on the radar in world terms. Yes in SA race organisers don’t always have courses to run fast times so this need to change. You can go to Ethiopia or Kenya to training session – I can assure you form the 300 athletes that are there, there will be 150 men that have run under 2H10 in the last year and 100 ladies under 2H40. But they don’t have contacts and sponsors, but they are producing fast times, so until we as South Africans get away from “give me first” and then I will show you we will never attract the big sponsors.

Sponsors are few and far between and very difficult to get – We generated over R2M in 2 days at a race in Social Media exposure alone. I look at one of my athletes that has won Comrades – He alone through press interviews and the work that is done on Social Media behind the scenes on his behalf, around him the week of Comrades, and the TV time he generally generates from race day averages at over R25M media coverage. But he hasn’t got the Million rand deals! It is one thing to generate exposure but another one to marry this with the right corporate.

My advice – When you get a sponsor – Look after them, give them a good return, but don’t accept for the sake of having a freebie.

You have a value! Don’t undersell yourself!!! Work hard in training and deliver consistent and good results.

Before you sign ANY contract read the complete contract – Not just what you will be paid – read the terms and I always tell athletes take the contract to someone who is knowledgeable to get advice before signing. Even when i give management contracts to new athletes i ask them to have someone else read it and give them comment and then come back to me for any items that need clarification or further discussion. Only when all are 100% happy sign it!


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