How to become a sponsored athlete is a question that many athletes and fitness fanatics struggle to find the answer to, from understanding what sponsorship is, to building a high enough calibre profile that is lucrative and appealing to potential sponsors, but don’t worry…… we have you covered.
In this article we will be guiding you through the whole process of how to become a sponsored athlete and the reasons to why sponsorship is something every fitness fanatic can obtain! The UK health and fitness industry has seen rapid growth within the last decade, with a current estimated value of £4.9bn in 2018. More and more people are being exposed to fitness trends and the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and the internet has played a pivotal role in achieving this.
Health and fitness companies are realizing now more than ever the importance of marketing their products to appeal to consumers over the internet, and sponsored athletes and fitness influencers are the driving force to achieving this agenda. This includes sponsored athletes that we all know like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps through to social influencers and everyday people getting signed by major brands such as Addidas, Nike and Asics.
The best part, anyone can do this as you will see later in this article the exact steps to getting yourself signed by a brand to become a sponsored athlete….
Why Any Athlete Can Get Sponsorship
The reason to why any fitness brand or company would look to sponsor a specific athlete is closely linked to their marketing strategy and the type of audience they are trying to appeal to. Only once you understand what a brand is trying to accomplish can you actively try to become a sponsored athlete:
In 2017 I received my first ever semi-pro American football contract for a team in Serbia, and although I personally felt that I was not one of the best players in the country for my position, nor did I have the greatest successes within the sport, yet I was approached by an American football equipment supplier who wanted to sponsor me for the season. Getting sponsorship isn’t always about being the fastest, the strongest or having the most successes within your respective sport, although those factors do help.
Getting sponsorship is sometimes about your current influence within society and whether it best fits a potential sponsor’s current agenda.
Companies take into consideration many other factors that athletes themselves may not value as important. Begin to comprehend that if you can contribute towards helping a company see growth in their business functions, you are already half way towards answering the question of how to become a sponsored athlete.
How Do I Become a Sponsored Athlete?
By becoming a brand of authority yourself!
The world is encompassed with millions of brands, and you are one of them. When you log onto social media and post pictures or any kind of content, you are branding yourself. When you go out into the street and what you elect to wear is a form of branding. Every decision we make in our lives, we are portraying the type of person that we believe best reflects the person in the mirror, companies do the exact same thing, but with a much bigger budget and audience.
Becoming a brand of authority is where you become a go to expert within a certain remit, which people know, trust and value.
This can be achieved via one or more of the following:
We will show you later on exactly how you can achieve all these steps in our step by step guide, but first, take a look below at Gym Shark athlete David Laid as what you can achieve by doing this….
David became a Gym Shark Athlete as a consequence of building his social media presence, through producing high end content, that was regularly posted, connected with his audience and was genuine, that his audience loved. His YouTube subscriber base is now at 803K and he is only 20! This shows it can be done and you don’t have to be a professional athlete to gain sponsorship.
Gym Shark is obviously a massive brand, with over 100million turnover, but smaller fitness brands are the key to becoming a sponsored athlete!
Smaller fitness brands work with influencers and athletes themselves! And its not just fitness apparel companies either:
Every company regardless of size if after the same thing, exposure, awareness and profit. Fitness companies within all the industries come in all different sizes, from new startups through to the Gym Shark’s of this world!
They all want to work with influencers to improve their position within their respective market and the influencer does not need to have millions of followers for them to achieve what a brand is looking for. See below:
The way in which sporting companies, big or small, successfully align their brands with consumers, is by providing them with sponsored athletes who are relatable, but moreover, athletes who demonstrate goals that are attainable or have great user engagement.
Nowadays, it comes to no surprise when we see the likes of athletes such as Simeon Panda or Michelle Lewin (pictured below) have more of a social presence than most professional athletes competing in professional sports leagues.
This is again largely due to the change from traditional TV marketing campaigns which included TV, radio and billboard ads. Social media speaks to a broader audience and it does so in a way that makes the consumer feel more connected with the athlete. Moreover, they need to attract athletes in which to align with their brand and long-term goals they are trying to achieve.
The best part is, we all have access to social media and can all work with brands following our step by step guide in the next chapter….
Step-by Step Guide to becoming a sponsored athlete that you can implement right now!
As we have established social media is the key to becoming a sponsored athlete and the size of your audience matters, this can be over one platform or multiple ones, but the overall figure, levels of engagement they have with you and your appeal will determine if you become a sponsored athlete or not.
In this section we will show you how you can set-up your socials, create an audience and how to land your first contract with a fitness brand, so grab a coffee and let’s jump straight in!
STEP 1 – Find your Niche
When picking the niche, you need to be really specific. Fitness is a huge topic and you need to become an authority figure within one area of fitness. You want to surround your content just about one topic that you are passionate about or have a very strong interest in. Where people go wrong is thinking the broader I can be the better as it will appeal to more people. The reality is that it will appeal to nobody instead and leave your social channels empty, too generalised and uninformative. Think of it like you’re a football player, but like all footballers they have strong and weak points, hence why footballers specialise by position. You want to be the best footballer for your position.
Here are some example ideas for you:
This will attract people that specifically interested in your designated topic area and help will help you build your authority as an “expert” within that particular niche.
STEP 2 – Form Your Brand
As mentioned earlier, you are a brand and as with any brand you can create a brand name. Create a name that is relatable to your audience, but it can simply be your name.
STEP 3 - Set-Up Your Profiles (Properly)
Create your profiles on your respective social media accounts, ensuring they are filled in with correct links, high resolution images that fits the scales required and have in depth descirptions. Below is a little check list for you:
STEP 4 - Create Top Quality Content
Once have our social platforms now looking spick and span and decided on the niche we are targeting, we then want to start planning for the type of content that our audience would want to see. Content comes in many forms and sometimes using a variety of different types is best. Here are few types of content for you to think about:
Statistics show the more posts you do the more followers you get, see below:
Assuming you don't have unlimited time at your disposal, try and post on mornings, lunctimes and weekends to maximise social platforms increased user levels.
Use hashtags, around 10 on average per post with some general hashtags such as "fitness" or "strength" and mix them up with some tailored or longer more specific ones such as "Legstrengthtraining". The more general hashtags will disappear fast down the hastag search engine, but whilst at the top will get you some followers, whilst the longer ones will stay longer at the top and get you more targeted followers.
Remember.......You will only follow and interact with good quality content, so high resolution images, well thoguht out articles etc are on your feed otherwise nobody will follow you, regardless of how often you post.
STEP 5 - Tools to Boost Your Time Management & Following
Tools and tech software are essential to maximising your social media efficiency. Every successful social media account harnesses tools to schedule posts, follow users within their niche, like, comment and more. Doing this manually would take a lifetime and is completely unnecessary.
Software such as Tweepi.com helps you find and follow people on Twitter, Hootesuite for tracking mentions and scheduling posts or Combin for auto commenting, following and liking on Instagram. There are hundreds of tools that you could use to get more followers and increase interaction or enhance your activity level on social media.
Following niche relevant users is like giving them a nudge to say "Hi, I'm here, I produce the type of content you like". On average 12% of people will follow you back and start engaging with your content on following based platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
Let's use Instagram as an example using Combin.
A) Create an Account
Go to https://www.combin.com/pricing/ - Sign up for a personal plan which $12 per month. A little bit of investment is need, but for what you get back its definitely worth it.
B) Find Niche Influencers
Using Instagram, click "search" and using key phrases to find user accounts that focus content on what you intend to focus on. For example, if you are looking to find UK users that offer yoga content, type in "yoga UK". This is what I have done below. Copy and paste their handle without the "@" symbol.
C) Use Combin to Follow Their Followers
Go over to Combin and click "search users" and then "+new search". This will pull up the screen below. Copy and paste the handle in as shown and click "find users"
D) Start Following
Wait until Combin has found 1000 for you to follow and by pressing the little man icon in the top left hand corner, the software will start following all their users, staggering it against Instagram's security rules, keeping your account safe.
E) Repeat The Process
If you keep repeating the process of producing high end content that is niche relevant, following and unfollowing users that are targeted, you will go from 0 to 10K following in no time at all. Using this same approach as above we created this account and over a 4-month period grew our Instagram account to 9062 followers in just 4 months:
Later we will show we will show you how to be proactive and find brands to connect with and how to outreach effectively to them. Even those with 9 or 10K following as we saw earlier in this article can get sponsorship to become a sponsored athlete.
What would I expect to get when becoming a sponsored athlete for a brand?
If you have decided that becoming a sponsored athlete is the right avenue for you, you need to know what you will actually get from a sponsorship and what the brands wants in return! More often than not sponsorship falls into one of the following categories:
1. One off - Reciprocal Sponsorship
The free sponsorship option is where there is not necessarily a transactional fee involved between yourself and the brand, but they may have something you want e.g. equipment, clothes, qualifications etc, normally you get the products or services for free as a one off gift in exchange for promoting their brand or services, but can just be a discount code bespoke for you that they offer. This type of sponsorship is very common and ends as a one off encounter.
2. Continuous - Reciprocal Sponsorship
Brands are more and more trying to develop longer lasting relations with fitness influencers and are creating them as “brand ambassadors” to promote their service all year around. As with one off reciprocal marketing no fees are exchanged, but the service or free products that you receive is also continuous as long as you remain an ambassador.
3. Retention Sponsorship
Becoming a sponsored athlete through the retention method is the same as continuous one, apart from the addition of fees. The brand will pay a retention fee to you, in the same way they pay any staff member each month for you to promote their services and products.
4. Reward Sponsorship
Reward sponsorship is where you get rewarded based on the success of a marketing campaign. This is where you promote a brands service, but you get paid based on sales and keep a percentage of the revenue agreed. Depending on the product or service you are promoting this can be hit or miss.
5. Contribution or Donation
The base type of sponsorship that doesn’t require much in return on the behalf of an athlete is that of an organisation or person contributing funds towards a specific cause or event. This type of sponsorship is quite often utilised when athletes create a Go fund me account or approach businesses for funds that will allow them to either travel to attend competitions, or use funds to purchase equipment on a one off one way transaction. Generally, nothing is expected on the behalf of the athlete but a social display of gratitude would go a long way.
6. Professional sponsorship
Professional sponsorship is what every athlete aspires to. It can mean never having to pay for sports equipment or having all your flight costs getting paid for so that you and your family attending your sporting competitions, then a salary on top. These types of sponsorship tend to be long lasting with an agreement of multiple years, and in return, the company benefits from using your name and your social influence. In 2015, NBA basketball player Lebron James signed a Lifetime deal with Nike with an estimated worth of over 500 million British pounds, as lucrative and as easy it is to wish to have such sponsorship, it is important to note that Lebron James is arguably the best basketball player on the planet. These types of sponsorship deals are reserved for the elite and most recognisbale world superstars within their respective sports.
Ultimately when it comes to sponsorship with most brands, you can negotiate the terms and it can be a combination of all sponsorship types mixed into one (professional sponsorship exempt). The larger your potential audience and social standing, the more power of negotiation you will have.
But what does the brand typically ask of you?
When thinking about how to become a sponsored athlete, you always need to factor in what they actually will want from you and whether it is something you can deliver on or find worthwhile. Below are the top 5 aspects to what a fitness brand would expect from you:
1. Social shares
To promote offers, news announcements, blog posts and reviews. This is the most common as it directly leads to sales for the brands, but it will generally be mixed in with the below points.Tag them into social media posts – This enables the brand to get the attention of your audience and drag across your followers to become their followers too.
2. Reviews and testimonials
They will ask you to review and write testimonials on the product or service, and yes, it would have to be a fantastic review, leading potential consumers to buy the brand’s offering. This is particularly potent when it come to bloggers and vloggers as opposed to social influencers as blog posts and YouTube videos last longer over time.
Backlinks from your website to their website – If you own a website you might be expected to link out to the company that you have become a sponsored athlete via. This helps the brand’s SEO (search engine optimisation) to help them rank on Google and Bing.
4. Links on your social media profiles
Sponsored athletes with Addidas or Asics to name but just a few ensure their brand ambassadors have their website link on all their social profiles as default. This is to ensure they maximise brand identity and any followers who miss a post and check out your profile.
Becoming a Sponsored Athlete – check the contract
Companies the size of Nike and Under Armour will always have a contract to protect their interests and brand reputation. It is your responsibility however to check the fine print within the contract to ensure you are happy with every component before signing anything. It might sound great, becoming a Nike sponsored athlete is what dreams are made of, however that could become nightmare if you do not do your due diligence. See below a list of potential terms or issues you need to consider:
If you are looking to work with multiple brands or maybe looking to move from one brand to another for a more lucrative offer, you may need check the competitor clauses or the exclusivity term.
Like any contract, it will serve for a duration and will be legally binding. Ensure the contract length reflects your ambitions and is exactly what you expect it to be. Some contracts may have contract lengths in excess of 12 months, which although maybe a good thing for security, it might be a bad thing your looking to try your hand at something else before your contract time is up.
What you will be endorsing and putting your name to
Always check for what products or services you will be supporting, promoting and sharing with your audience as a sponsored athlete. Ensure it matches your own ethics as well as the ethics of your audience, otherwise you might lose what got you sponsorship in the first place, your audience! A good example of this would be if you produce pro-vegan related content and then promote fitness equipment that is made from leather, this would not go down well at all!
Frequency of Posting
Companies may expect you to post once per month all the one through to once per day and every platform. If you’re on holiday, away with family or ill, they will still expect you to post so checking the posting frequency that is expected of you and negotiating this term is crucial. The frequency requirements may not be sustainable and not worth the monetary value to you, which is why you must check this as a must.
Major brands more than smaller ones, may include a contractual clause to your past, current and future image rights within terms of service, which can lose to revenue loss even after collaborating with a brand. This should be the only non-negotiable part for you as your image rights need to remain yours, if they are not, either tell the brand or halt discussions.
Content you can and can’t post
Brands really care about their image and reputations, therefore they may have contractual clauses that affect what you can publically post even when you are not posting about them.
When news broke out about Lance Armstrong using banned substances throughout his cycling career, the multi-time tour de France winner lost 8 of his 11 sponsorships within a single day, Trek, Easton-Bell Sports, and many more discontinued their partnership with the athlete as they felt it would damage the company’s image.
Yes, you may not be Lance Armstrong, but you are representing a brand in the public spotlight, thus tred carefully when posting about controversial topics such as politics or religion for example as this could result in termination of your contract.
Notice Periods & Cancellations
Always check the notice periods that are within your contract. You might be thinking that you are getting paid a retention fee every month for 12 months, but hidden cancellation and notice periods can leave brands able to drop you at the drop of a hat. This can be particular pertinent, when you are turning down other companies and income, only be dropped the very next day.
What sponsored brands can do for you
Additional to adding a revenue stream to your income or giving you free stuff, brands can also aid in other ways:
Enhance Your Social Presence
When looking at how to become a sponsored athlete, you need to also contemplate that they can boost your socials probably more than you can boost there’s. Most fitness brands will have a bigger audience than your own, even smaller brands (generally speaking) and even though they are paying you for social mentions, they in turn will do this back, pushing their followers over to your accounts.
Give You Credibility & Validation
Working with a brand, gives you a massive boost in terms of recognition with you peers and your audience that you are an authoritative figure within that particular realm of fitness. This helps create further engagement, potential opportunities with other companies and validation within media outlets that may link to your website or reference your content within articles, enhancing your credibility further.
Allowing you to test their new product ranges
Companies need to see how their products function outside of a controlled environment. They spend a lot of resources and time designing and manufacturing products and services so that the consumer can receive maximum value. Companies put their sponsored athletes in the centre of attention of new products development, by giving you free products in order to get feedback from trusted sources. This is typically how companies like Adidas or Nike develop their performance shoes.
Introduce you to other Decision Makers
Through becoming a sponsored athlete for a major brand, you may get the opportunity to meet other important decision makers that the brand is affiliated to, creating new opportunities for career progression or expanding your fitness business repertoire further.
Reward & Satisfaction
Of course, being signed by a major brand to become a sponsored athlete is a prestigious moment and as a result of your hard work paying off. This should give you a great sense of pride, satisfaction and be proud that a brand wants you to represent them.
STEP 6 - Outreaching to Gain Sponsorship
Once you build a reputation and gain credibility through your content and social following, you need to consider which companies appeal to you and start making a list.
Going after the big brands such as Nike isn’t a bad idea, but you have to understand that companies such as Nike look for partnerships with athletes with multiple years of experience who are performing at the pinnacle stage of their careers. This is not to discourage you but rather to encourage you and give you something to work towards.
Moving focus away from massive international companies, there are thousands of fitness business' wanting to grow their brand, and that’s where you come in.
- Using Google, search your first aspect of the industry e.g. supplement companies, collating email addresses and Facebook accounts of each fitness business into a spreadsheet. Try and aim for 50 email addresses, you might be on page 15 of Google to do this.
- Repeat this process for every part of the fitness industry e.g. fitness course providers, fitness equipment etc until you have reached a 1,000 email addresses and FB accounts.
- Compose your outreach email ready to send to each respective company, here is an example one below:
When writing outreach emails bear this in mind:
Message them on Facebook also as emails get missed, but every business opens their Facebook messenger.
Out of the 1000 business we reach a certain number won't reply at all, a certain number will say "they are not interested", but a good percentage will positively respond. When we here the term "its a numbers game" in sales, this also applies to things such as this. Hopefully by the end of a few phone conversations you have got yourself a few brands that you can work with on a re-occurring basis.
When thinking about how to become a sponsored athlete, you have to make brands engage with you and this is hard work. But, we reap what we sew, the more work you put into your social accounts and more outreach you do, the better the end result!
Let me know in the comments below which tip was the best, what techniques did I miss? Did you find it useful?
Love to hear your thoughts!