9 Essential Skills for Sponsored Riders

The challenge of competition is important to many riders and at a time of year when reviews of the 2016 season are replaced by planning for 2017, how many of you are once more looking at ways to attract a successful business to pay some, or even all, of your costs in the form of a sponsorship contract?

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If you’re a professional rider, sponsorship is likely to be a major consideration within your business plan, but many amateur riders are also actively seeking support to help them pay for what is actually their hobby. Together, they add up to a huge number of sponsorship proposals targeting different business in the equestrian market on a regular basis, so not surprisingly, success is far from assured.

Riders who enjoy ongoing support from their sponsors have learned a number of essential skills, which they use to deliver a return on the sponsorship investment they enjoy. How many of the following NINE key skills have you mastered?

1.      You will need to be a skilled rider, probably with more than one horse or pony to compete and have the time, facilities, resources and commitment to deliver credible competition success on a regular basis.

2.      It is essential to understand the brand and product range or service of your sponsor(s) and be 100% committed to regular use of them. You cannot develop a meaningful relationship with any sponsor if you use any competitor products on your yard.

3.      Decide if you are happy with product and equipment sponsorship, or whether you are looking for cash money. The value of the support will determine what your sponsor(s) expect from you in return. You must be able to deliver what you promise for any sponsorship to succeed.

4.      Evaluate the skills you have out of the saddle and plan support where needed. This might include a secretary or PA to manage your diary and communicate regularly with sponsors, someone to write a blog for you or create attention-grabbing social media posts, a PR professional to create and manage media opportunities, a photographer to ensure a supply of good quality images your sponsors can use, website updates and more...

5.     Understand the power and pitfalls of social media and set ground rules for yourself to ensure your posts always present you in the way you intend.

6.      Plan time to support your sponsors at shows and events where they have trade stands, at product photo and video shoots, retailer open days and more. Agree a commitment and always be smart and enthusiastic, having done your homework about the brands and products you will be working with.

7.      Know the law and the rules relevant to your discipline when it comes to carrying branding on your horsebox and wearing it on your person and on your horses.

8.      Remember that your sponsors like to sell their products, so getting to know their local sales rep and passing on potential leads will be important in delivering a return to your sponsor.

9.      Finally, when you agree a sponsorship deal, ensure you have a written contract, as that way everyone knows what is expected and should there be any difficulties further down the line, meaningful discussions will be much easier.

So now you’re equipped with the skills to deliver a valuable return on the investment you would like a sponsor to make in you, how do you go about approaching potential sponsors?

Before you approach a specific sponsor make sure you do your homework. Find out all there is to know about the company and develop a case as to why you are a good fit with their brand and what you can do to help raise the profile of that brand. Be realistic though, as you will not get everything for free and you will not be handed a wad of cash! Just because you have a horse and would like to compete more does not mean a company should sponsor you. Sponsorship is a two way street and you have to provide value for a company to consider sponsoring you.

It will be easier to approach companies that you genuinely believe in and have already got experience of using their products. Don’t give up, persevere and show your passion. Think about what the sponsor will gain from working with you and pitch to companies that resonate with your ethos and that you believe you can promote.

Most sponsorship proposals fail because they are quite simply unprofessional. So never approach a company via a Facebook message – this is definitely considered extremely unprofessional! Take the time to write, email or ‘phone in the first instance to find out who you need to contact and how.

Don’t write a generic letter and send it out to quite a few companies without mention of specific products. It will not grab the attention of a potential sponsor; you should always demonstrate your knowledge of the product range in your application.

Finally, when you do secure sponsorship, think of it as an integral part of your career and manage it as well as you do every other aspect of your riding and stable management. That way you will earn the respect and confidence of your sponsor and set the scene for long and mutually beneficial relationship.

This article first appeared in the Jan-Feb issue of Equine. Subscribe securely online at www.theequinestore.co.uk