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Sponsorship for Athletes: Everything You Need to Know

by | May 13, 2020

Why you can trust Sponsorship Collective

  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

While many companies are open to sponsoring athletes, there is a right and wrong way to pursue such deals.
This comprehensive, expert-written guide covers the most important athlete sponsorship topics. You’ll discover how to build your audience and value through social media and content creation, understand different types of sponsorship deals, proposal and follow-up best practices, and more.

Before you dive in, if you are an athlete looking for sponsorship opportunities, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for athletes” series:

How to Write a Sponsorship Proposal for an Athlete
How to Get Soccer Sponsorship
Personal Branding for Athletes: How to Market Yourself as an Athlete

How to Get Sponsorship for Athletes

male athlete running

Participating in athletic events is costly. Whether you are a bodybuilder, skier, gymnast, ironman, runner, swimmer, or cyclist, meeting your goals can become more difficult if you don’t have the budget. Many athletes miss out on opportunities not due to their athletic abilities, but due to a thinning bank account that doesn’t provide the funds to train and travel. However, if you can build up not just strength and skills, but also some gumption, you can learn how to get sponsorship from corporations with the budget to help people just like you.

While you might think that the last iron man competition was a challenge, getting sponsorships can prove to be just as difficult. Believe it or not, if you can apply the same drive, commitment and discipline to finding sponsors as you do to your training, you can find sponsors to help you meet your dreams of the ultimate win.

I will show you how below, but first, here are a few more articles we recently shared that will provide expertise in your niche profession.

You won’t want to miss them!

How to Get Podcast Sponsorship 

How to Get Sponsorship for Your YouTube Channel: Everything You Need to Know 

The Complete Guide to Sponsorship for Influencers

Why Do Companies Sponsor Athletes?

Athlete in designer sunglasses

Companies sponsor athletes for many, many reasons. Endorsements, even on a smaller scale, work for companies of all sizes because they bring the brand to their audience. Even events not televised attract large crowds of not just participants, but fans and supporters. These groups represent a large audience that can be influenced by the lifestyle they aspire to lead.

Fans take the trust they have in the performance of these athletes and place it in the brands they see these athletes support. It doesn’t have to be someone of celebrity, just someone living the “dream” in their eyes. Whether it’s the idea of being fit, strong and attractive, or the allure of traveling and living a life of glamor, people who attend competitions like marathons are drawn to the ideal persona these athletes represent. Athletes like you.

Brands sponsor athletes because:

  • Brand: Improve their image in the eyes of fans and other participants.
  • Sales: Increase sales through improved exposure to new fans and athletes.
  • Community and PR: Create a buzz about their brand providing inspiration, entertainment, or new connections with their target audience by showing they are socially aware.
  • Product Testing: Provide proof their product is effective by connecting the athlete’s performance with their product or service.
  • Personal Touch: Provide a face to their brand to become more engaging and acceptable.

When companies choose the right athletes with the right persona, they can connect with their audience on a far more personal level. In turn, they can meet their goals, whether it is brand awareness, increased sales, or something more personal such as improving their sense of corporate social responsibility.

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What Are the Benefits of Sponsorship for The Athlete?

While the right athlete can make a world of difference by endorsing a brand, the right brand can make a world of difference to your performance. The benefits of finding a sponsor are not only having more financial freedom to participate in your sport but also includes:

  • Goals: With sponsorship, you become free to pursue your goals in earnest, as you can go to major competitions and events around the world.
  • Training: You can focus on your training like a pro because if you find the right sponsor, you can spend less time working and more time training.
  • Focus: You can reduce stress to improve focus without underlying fears associated with the cost of attending events, taking time off work, etc.
  • Tools: You’ll have the equipment, athletic wear and training space needed to improve performance.
  • Recovery: You can access better medical professionals specializing in sports injury and performance enhancement, such as massage therapy and physiotherapy, to keep you at the top of your game.

However, there are also some unexpected opportunities beginning with the possibility of attracting more sponsors. With the assistance of one sponsor, you can participate in higher-profile competitions where there are larger audiences, increasing your chances of attracting more sponsors.

This is especially true if you are winning. It can create a snowball effect where you have the finances to up your performance, travel to major events, win more often and remain in top shape so you widen your audience and become a more desirable athlete for sponsors. You might even find increased motivation that helps you improve your personal best because you are also working for sponsors who have helped meet your dreams. This gives you a sense of purpose that keeps you even more focused.

Sponsorship Is Part of The Marketing Budget

If you haven’t tried to reach out to potential sponsors because you think any sane company or business owner wouldn’t provide “handouts” to athletes, this just isn’t the case. Companies of all sizes incorporate some form of sponsorship into their marketing budget. If they don’t have sponsorship specifically listed, they still have a marketing budget put aside to help them grow their business.

If you are professional and can prove your worth, you could tap into the funds businesses have put aside, whether it is a mom and pop juice bar in your hometown, or a larger corporation trying to reach your particular fan base. And it doesn’t necessarily mean your own personal fans but the people who attend your particular athletic events. You just need to prove your worth. But how? You need to build an audience.

How to Build Your Brand

Who is an athlete you admire, or hate? How do you know them? What are they doing to get attention? Who are the athletes in your circle and beyond your circle who have sponsors? Answering these questions is the first step to helping you build an audience. You want to look at the athletes doing it right and see how you can follow in their footsteps. However, you also want to avoid becoming a copycat athlete and instead focus on creating your own personal “brand”.

Branding yourself is the first step to helping you build an audience. To do so you must discover who you are and who you want to become to your fans. Are you:

  • Aggressive, cocky and strong?
  • Low key, intense and committed?
  • Witty, fun, and outgoing?
  • Caring, supportive and inspiring?

There are tons of different athletic personas, each with its own ability to influence. Your goal is to find who you want to be in the public eye in a natural way that suits your lifestyle and integrity. It’s hard trying to be someone you are not, so creating your brand should be close to who you really are. However, tapping into your most prominent traits can help you create a stronger and more desirable brand that attracts fans. The fans are important because, without them, you’ll have a harder time attracting an audience. This brings us to our next tip: Building an audience.

How to Build an Audience

Here are some ways to get started:

Use Social Media

Social media is the best way to establish any brand, regardless of what that brand might be. Your social media pages should be focused on a goal such as:

  • Sharing your journey
  • Inspiring fellow athletes
  • Gaining notoriety
  • Offering tips based on your lifestyle, training, discipline, etc.
  • Supporting your community and younger athletes

Once you determine what goals you want to set, you can begin to create content to help you meet those goals. Consider live streaming your events, sharing videos of your training, making your morning smoothies, adding links to articles or blogs you read, family shots and events, recipes, etc. based on the brand you wish to create. Invite as many people as you can to follow you, and follow others in your circle and within your sporting world to try to get them to follow you back.

Create a Blog

Next, find ways to capture emails. An excellent way to do this is to create a blog. Just like your social media, your blog should help you meet your goals. Your content should be focused on helping build your brand and everything you do on your blog should align with what you do on social media. In fact, your blog posts are an excellent social post. Set a schedule and try to come up with an editorial calendar. A blog can follow your event schedule and where you are, your training program, highlight a recovery to inspire others with injuries, log your travels, share training, and diet tips, etc. Ask for email contacts to then share new content as it comes up.

Create a YouTube Channel

YouTube videos showing people how to train, how to cook healthy foods, using a GoPro to show your latest run, ski jump, or cycle path, etc. can attract a following. Post links to your videos on your social feeds and share them in your blogs.


If you’re a good speaker consider doing a podcast series either on your own, with your trainer, with guests, etc. to help generate an audience.

Email Newsletter

Create a newsletter you share weekly or monthly via email as an excuse to collect email addresses to share your content.

Basically, you want to become a thought leader and inspiration for fans so you can show potential sponsors you have an audience worth sharing. Don’t underestimate other things you have achieved, such as being mentioned in other athletes or groups on social media channels, local or national media coverage, community involvement, etc., to help show who you are and that you are recognized in your community and beyond.

Understand the Types of Sponsorships for Athletes

Sponsorship is available in many different forms and can come from many different levels of financing. You can look for sponsors to provide you with athletic wear or go for gold and ask for a company to support your travels. The most common forms of athletic sponsorship include:

  • Financial: A sponsor provides a financial contribution to support your participation in events.
  • Product or In-kind: Brand products are provided from gear to training equipment and sports drinks to phones or sunglasses.
  • Service: This can cover a wide range of services from medical such as physio to graphic design for your website.
  • Affiliate: You share advice and product recommendations for a brand on your social media and other content in exchange for a percentage of what your followers purchase.
  • Ambassador: Your name and “brand” are used to represent your sponsor in exchange for cash. However, you can also do it to help raise awareness of your brand by partnering with a charity, which in turn could assist you in finding sponsors.

Usually, you start with sponsorships of less value and make your way up the ladder as your name attracts more fans as well as interest from higher-profile sponsors. However, the bigger the audience you can provide, the higher up the sports sponsorship ladder you can find yourself.

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Securing a Media Partner

If you find it difficult to gain recognition on your own, try reaching out to find a media partner. So who do you follow on social media? What podcasts do you listen to? What YouTube channels do you subscribe to? There could be a goldmine of followers waiting if you have the nerve to approach people who have built their own empires.

Think of the audience you want to tap into and do everything in your power to find ways to leverage what others have built by offering something of your own. It gets back to the brand you are building and how you can use that brand to forge lasting (or even short-lived but highly persuasive partnerships) with like-minded people who might find you interesting. Reach out to the gurus and thought leaders you admire and offer them something they don’t have. Share your tips in their feeds to help build a name for yourself. If you start to create a buzz, you can then increase your own following, but also potentially start a formal partnership that can be used to attract sponsors.

Don’t forget more traditional partners such as industry magazines. These magazines can provide a direct line to desirable audiences sponsors will want to reach. Remember, the larger your audience, the more value you bring to the table.

Understand Your Value

Before you can begin prospecting, you must understand your value. If you can focus on how you can help sponsors achieve their goals, instead of how much money you need, sponsors will be more likely to see your value. So how do you show your value? Show them your audience. First, have tangible numbers for your mailing lists, followers, media partners, etc. in hand with attendance numbers when you compete. Audience data will help you find the preferred brands that are the most likely to find you appealing.

Next, consider what you can offer sponsors such as:

  • Participating in your social media posts
  • Interviews on your podcasts
  • Appearing in your YouTube videos
  • Wearing/using their product
  • Product recommendations
  • Sponsoring a booth or table at an event where you sign autographs

There is a long list of things you can offer limited only by what you are willing to do. Do research on how much other athletes or advertisers charge to come up with the value of what you offer. Be realistic based on the exposure you bring and the fan following you have, and you’ll be able to show sponsors why you are worth the investment.

Sponsor Prospecting

Prospecting for sponsors begins with a list of categories:

  • Brands and services, you use or would like to use (right now you might not have the money to rock those Ray Bans!)
  • Companies with connections through friends and family
  • Local businesses
  • Businesses you frequent from gas stations to grocery stores and hair salons to physio clinics
  • Businesses known to sponsor your sport and events
  • Businesses who provide a product or service relevant to your sport and event such as gear, athletic wear, bikes, skis, etc.

List the companies you would like to approach from each category and then do your research to find the right contact on LinkedIn. With your list in hand, you can then begin reaching out to your prospects.

Initial Contact Email

Initial contact is less painful if you follow these steps:

  1. Address the email with a personal touch being sure to use the person’s name.
  2. Introduce yourself simply in a way that encourages a rapport. Use whatever you’ve got to encourage recognition, such as five-time winner of such and such marathon, podcast host and athlete with 100,000 followers, spokesperson for such and such a charity, etc.
  3. Try to keep it to three sentences if possible, covering who you are, what you want and why they should be interested.
  4. Do not ask for money, but instead offer a solution, such as I love your products and would like to introduce it to my fans, I have a direct line to such and such amount of people and am looking for new products to share, etc.,
  5. Suggest a time for a phone call to connect and never, ever send a proposal, sales letter, or any form of attachment. That said, feel free to have an email signature that includes your social media links, as this could work in your favor to pique their interest.

The important thing to remember is this is not a sales pitch, but instead an introduction that allows you to make first contact in a more productive way. Once your email is sent, follow up in a week, and try to get them to respond with a commitment to speak.

Sponsor Sales Meetings

While some athletes have a natural gung-ho attitude and can use their enthusiasm to sell themselves, this is a professional situation that calls for some tact. Your goal is to learn more about the sponsor so you can help them with their marketing strategy. While your numbers in fanship and followers are important, the prospect’s needs must be met here. Get to know them by asking questions such as:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • How do you normally engage in sponsorship?
  • What does your target market value?
  • What can you tell me about your sales goals for the coming year?
  • What would you consider to be the most important elements of sponsorship?

As a single entity, you need to be certain you can help them. If their answers don’t align with what you can offer, then sponsorship is off the table. Listen to what they have to say and you can then create a proposal that will wow them. Show them why you are not just a good fit, but also have the means to help them resolve pain points. You can then determine how you can work with them such as:

  • A podcast or YouTube video featuring one of their experts to discuss their product or service
  • Partnerships on social media sharing posts back and forth
  • Your appearance at an event in their name such as a healthy lifestyle conference
  • Retail shop appearances to promote their products
  • Guest blog posts
  • Links to their products via an affiliate site

Your personalized proposal will provide them with viable options that work easily for you as it suits your brand persona while offering solutions to help them meet their marketing goals.

Proposal Best Practices and Follow-up

Your proposal should include:

  • Page One: Title Page or Sponsorship Proposal Letter
  • Page Two: Describe Your Audience
  • Page Three: Describe Your Opportunity including your brand, your opportunity, and your audience.
  • Page Four: Menu and pricing
  • Page Five: Sample Activations via a menu of what you offer and how it helps them meet their goals. For example, if you need money to go to a high-profile event in France, you have to show them the larger, more elite audience you’ll reach to justify the higher cost for this package.
  • Page Six: The Contact Page with a call to action encouraging them to contact you with questions or suggestions.

Give your prospects a few days but not longer than a week to consider your proposal. Then send an email or call them to find out how they are feeling and if there are any changes you can make to better suit their needs. It might take a few tries to get them to respond, so be diligent in your follow up efforts.

Prove Your Worth

This is a business deal. If you don’t deliver what you promised you could be faced with very unhappy sponsors who might even go so far as to ask for their money back. Therefore you have to prove your worth and track everything to provide proof you are meeting your commitment. If a sponsor pays for you to go to France, collect information on how many people attended. If it involved social media, show them the number of engagements in shares and likes. If you autographed their t-shirts count how many you signed.

Take lots of pictures and provide hashtags to fans so you can track all their shares and posts. The more data you have and the more images showing audience engagement, the more successful your sponsorship appears.

Once you collect all your information, put it together in a fulfillment report listing the deliverables promised and confirmation each deliverable was met. Include examples of how you went above and beyond in hand with easy to read graphs that show attendee numbers and engagement metrics. Add clips or links to press coverage and social media mentions, and calculate ROI so they can see the success in dollars and cents. Instead of just sending the fulfillment report, arrange a meeting to review it to continue to build your relationship for future opportunities.

Athletic sponsorships are available for any athlete who can show their worth and with the drive to meet their goals.

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