Sponsorship and Ultra Running 101

This week we’re looking at the topic of sponsorship in ultra running. We’ll be publishing two articles, the first of which (this one) looks at some of the basics you need to consider if you’re seeking sponsorship with a brand – a kind of how to get you started, particularly with the average runner in mind here.

The second will look in more detail at some of the dos and don’ts, as well as what we believe are some of the mistakes that are being made right now both by the brands and the athletes. A few home truths, but also some help and guidance as to how to get this area right. While it’s all very well to point out mistakes, how to rectify them is what counts.

Vickie Saunders started Sponsorship Consultants to provide resources and consultancy to athletes of all levels seeking sponsorship. One thing that really struck me when chatting to Vickie is how sponsorship isn’t just for the elites – a perception probably many of us have. We wanted to understand how you, as an average runner can look for and gain sponsorship, particularly if you’re seeking to use your running to raise awareness around an issue or charity.

Sponsorship is open to runners of all abilities, you just have to find your niche and understand what value you can bring
Sponsorship is open to runners of all abilities, you just have to find your niche and understand what value you can bring

Vickie knows her stuff. Over the past three years she’s engaged over $190,000 of sponsorship with partner Richard Bowles. Through this and her career of marketing and proposal writing, she has developed what she believes, is a successful and simple approach to sponsorship. We chatted with Vickie to outline some of the myths of sponsorship, as well as the simple things you can start to think about if you’re looking get sponsored in some way.

U168: What does sponsorship mean for Ultra Runners/Trail Runners?

VS: There are so many misconceptions around what it is, what it isn’t, who can get it, who can’t, and those who think they’re entitled to it just because they’re good at their sport.

The biggest myth, and the one that I love to smash as often as possible is that there isn’t much sponsorship around because of the ‘current economic climate’. There is an ABUNDANCE of sponsorship available here in Australia and globally, and it is available to athletes of all levels and in all sports.

The word abundance means that there is more than enough, and this is something to keep in mind when you ever feel like you’re competing with other runners for sponsorship. Leave the competitiveness out on the trail or track, and when it comes to sponsorship know that there is enough for everyone, so support and encourage each other. It’s about making connections with the right sponsors, in the right way. Not every sponsor and athlete will be the perfect match.

U168:You say that sponsorship is not just for elite athletes, so how can an everyday or even non-competitive runner get sponsored?

VS: Ultra runners generally have some pretty outstanding abilities, and while you may be mid or back of the pack, the fact that you’re out there pushing your own limits, creating challenges for yourself and going beyond what many people think is humanly possible, means you have something to offer your sponsors. In the business world, the very skills that get you up that mountain, through that pain barrier, or literally just get you out of bed and out for a training run, are the kind of skills they want to impart on their staff; commitment, focus, drive, determination, persistence and an ability to work towards goals big and small.

As a sponsored athlete you can become a brand ambassador and a part of the companies who sponsor you, getting involved in company in-house motivation and training sessions as well as representing them at trade shows and events they sponsor, participate in or organise.

U168: How should you choose which companies to approach for sponsorship?

VS: I always recommend starting with companies you are either a loyal customer of or already have some kind of personal or professional relationship with (it’s via a family member or friend).

When you look at a company that you want to engage sponsorship from, look first at what you can give back to them, and try to be creative! Look at opportunities that are obvious but also think about how in the future the relationship may develop. Maybe they have marketing plans that you could be a part of such as attending trade shows and conferences with them or on their behalf, or perhaps they’re launching a new product range and you could be the face of it.

Sponsorship isn't just for elite runners
Sponsorship isn’t just for elite runners

Find out about the company before you contact them. Check out their previous or current sponsorships and event participation, sense where and how they advertise, and get a good feel for what they’re all about.

Social media and media activity are valuable benefits you can offer to sponsors, so it’s important to get really active in these before you start engaging sponsorship. Show your sponsors that you’re able to offer them a wider and potentially new audience, but make sure that this is relevant to their business, there’s no point marketing a beauty product range to a bunch of sweaty, muddy trail runners – or is there? 🙂

U168: You say that media coverage is valuable, but how easy is it to get?

VS: You can get lots of media coverage, most ultra-runners have interesting stories and those qualities I mentioned before are all great content for magazines, podcasts, radio and newspaper interviews and sometimes TV. It’s about putting yourself out there, thinking a bit outside the square and contacting journalists and offering to share your story with them. A great pitch to potential sponsors is that you can offer them media coverage with outlets they already advertise, with so it draws more attention to their adverts, or in place of their advertising, thus saving them thousands of dollars and giving them great return.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started, make sure you contact the media outlet prior to writing the article, they may have other great ideas for you:

  • Offer to share your story with a lifestyle magazine and discuss what it’s like trying to train for an ultra while working full-time and having kids.
  • If there’s a fun run in your local area, offer to write a training plan and motivation column for the local paper.
  • Contact your local paper and offer to write a weekly column on great walking/running trails in the area
  • Chat to your local radio station and ask if they’d like to talk to you about the sport of ultra running, or perhaps there’s a local race and you can offer to do a race review.
  • Business magazines are a great opportunity for you to share the mind skills you use to complete your mammoth runs.
  • If you’re a woman, share your story with a womens’ magazine, maybe you got into ultra running later in life, after having kids and the incredible impact it’s had on you, your self-esteem, your health etc…

There is media available for everyone, it’s just finding or creating a niche for yourself.

U168: What are some of the benefits of being a sponsored athlete?

VS: The list is too long for this article! At the most basic level, you can engage sponsorship that will cover the costs of being an athlete, such as race entry, gear, and travel costs. But from there it gets really exciting.

  • You open doors to new opportunities and networks
  • Your professional and personal skills will be developed
  • All of the things that you offer sponsors as benefits to them actually benefit you (increased media and social media activity and increased audience)
  • You may get to attend events and functions either as an ambassador or guest of your sponsors
  • There may be career opportunities that arise during or after your sporting ‘career’
  • On a personal level it’s incredibly exciting, confidence boosting and ironically quite humbling to be sponsored by a company who can see the true value that you offer them through your sporting and non-sporting activities.
  • The stress that is alleviated for those athletes seeking substantial sponsorship (which may then mean they only need to work part-time or not at all) can have an incredible effect on their performance and may be the difference between competing in their sport at the highest level.
Sponsorship is not just about someone flinging you some free gear
Sponsorship is not just about someone flinging you some free gear

U168: What is the biggest challenge facing Ultra/Trail runners who want to get sponsored?

VS: Themselves! They’re either stupidly talented but humble as hell, or they’re mid packers who don’t realise that they can get sponsored and be wonderful ambassadors not only for their sponsors but for their sport too! The first part of my seminar is a bit of a love in. I spend time getting everyone on the same page, and telling them just how worthy they are of getting sponsored, that it’s not about how many races they win, that it’s about how they offer value to sponsors in so many other ways.

Everyone has something to offer, and by going through a process of identifying your assets objectively, you will begin to see how you can give a great return to sponsors. One girl phoned me a few weeks ago and said she’d read my book cover to cover in 2 days, then went and spoke to her physio about sponsorship (offering him some great benefits) and he’s given her 12 months of physio! I love seeing people connecting with the abundance of sponsorship that’s out there, it gives me goose bumps!

U168: What advice do you have for any runners seeking sponsorship?

VS: Part of the process I go through with my clients is figuring out exactly what they need from sponsors, it may just be product and services, or it may be finance. Then we talk about what they really want out of being sponsored, because if it’s just some free shoes, I would advise them to just buy them and not waste a sponsor’s time. The athletes who see the bigger picture, that it’s not just about getting free gear, are the ones that will truly benefit from being sponsored and in turn, will truly provide value to their sponsors.

If you’re not sure if you can get sponsored, but you’d like to, check out her website www.thesponsorshipconsultants.com.au and read some of the blogs, grab a copy of her book Sponsorship for Athletes or a ticket to one of her upcoming seminars (Bondi & Brookvale (Sydney) April 5th, Brisbane April 11th, 12th, 13th).


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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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