Marketing A Modern Day Athlete: Caroline Buchanan

Competing in any sport costs money… it’s that simple, where it starts to get complicated is when you start looking at different levels of competition. As an example, for my kids to play weekend football at our very local club, it’s a couple of hundred dollars combined in fees, boots and socks (uniforms are owned by the club and lent out for the season, and balls are supplied part of their fees and part sponsorship from the national body), then the added cost through the season of getting to the games and supporting the club at fundraisers and family club evenings, pretty soon it adds up! We belong to a tiny club that’s pretty humble, so our fees are low and our facilities pretty basic, but I’ll be honest it’s a lot of fun to be part of the club community. We know other families who pay far more because the club they belong to demands more. They pay for their own uniforms, pay higher fees and have expectations of new boots each season etc, in fact keeping one child at that club cost more than double of what we pay for two.

I have an old colleague, a former news editor whose son is riding competitive BMX, he’s 8, and their budget each year has been roughly $10,000, including bikes, parts, tyres, bike mechanic/tuning, clothing, protective equipment, entering events and travel. He’s been competing for three years now and there’s also been a lump of cash gone on a special trailer and whilst he’s got some discount from his regular bike shop, he’s currently unsponsored. He’s in the top 10 nationally… and so far his parents have carried the cost. The costs are not always direct either, sometimes they become indirect, such as we need to own a “X” type of car so we can tow the trailer and carry the gear to events. There’s the travel and accommodation costs for many events, including time off work to get prepared and get there… wow, it all starts adding up… however, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to start saying we should stop all competition and keep our kids at home, but rather go into this with your eyes open and don’t fool yourself about the costs. It’ll still be fun, heck it must be fun, but once you get to this level of commitment, it’s no longer cheap, so don’t be trying to fool yourself or anyone else, it won’t work, just be honest.

What happens though when the time comes and the decision is made that competing in your sport of choice is to become your immediate career? While the first thing is understand that it’s your immediate career and that you may have several careers in your life. A school friend of mine had a career as a world-class competitive athlete, he represented his country at very high-level events, but long-term injury stopped his running, he’s since gone on to have careers in a number of varying industries, but for a period of time (several years) for all intents and purposes his careers was to run very, very fast in a straight line. The second thing is understand, what do I need to do to sustain this career? Clearly, this is the money/funding question.

No-one has bank-rolled a competitive career on prize-money alone… no-one! There needs to be some initial funds put on the table to start it all off, generally it’ll come from family and then can be supplemented with community support (discounts, fund-raising) and depending on what you compete in, maybe some prize money. Really though, the serious career enhancing money comes with sponsorship, both direct and in-direct.

Direct sponsorship comes in a couple of forms, the first is funding from an existing sporting body, such as your local/regional mountain biking group. Their funding can have a number of channels, but in many cases it’ll be  government funded and there are rules on how the monies are distributed. Generally applications will need to be filed, supported and securing funding is pretty competitive. The other options is source sponsorship from a commercial enterprise directly, for mountain biking this could be a retail company, a manufacturer or distributor or a company that has a product or a service they wish to align with the sport and it’s community. Mostly you can use both of these options at the same time, but always read the fine print, as accepting sponsorship from one could effect the other.

A word or caution, there’s many a tale of people getting a great deal from a sponsor only to find that their sponsor has a product or service that many people don’t like or is at odds with your sport, obvious examples are tobacco and alcohol products (though often they are regulated), less obvious would be taking money from a company with controversial employment practices or a plain shoddy product. The same can apply the other way, a commercial/direct sponsor may not approve of money from a sporting body if it dilutes their sponsorship opportunity.

In-direct sponsorship is different as it can come in so many varied forms, it could come in the form of “things", such as bike frames, tyres, clothing or it could be the use of a vehicle, a place to stay, coaching assistance, paid leave from an employer. In-direct sponsorship can be subtle or unsubtle, you may get a vehicle plastered with stickers or it might be as is. In-direct sponsorship can be less obvious, it often saves expenses for an athlete, reducing their cost of living, so as an enabler, it can be very powerful.

It does not matter whether your sponsorship is direct or in-direct, there is one simple thing you need to understand now, you are their representative. You will have taken on the role of representing their brand/products and ensuring you reach as wide an audience as possible and you’ll have to work hard, not just in competition, but alongside any event to get in front of their potential customers and that includes using the media.

For a look at what you need to do when you’re not training/practicing/competing have a look at this video featuring Australian BMX and mountain bike World Champion Caroline Buchanan, it gives a great idea of how much time and effort you need to put into working to keep your profile high, which keeps your sponsors profile high.

Source: Caroline Buchanan

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