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Imagine participating in as many tournaments as you'd like at no cost to you. Imagine participating in any event regardless of the fees and locations. Imagine getting free clothing, gear and shoes for all your Martial Arts activities.

Many athletes yearn for the utopia of sponsorships, yet have no real idea how to do it. Although many people assume that sponsorships can only be obtained by elite athletes, that is simply not true.

These steps can shed some light on the often-misunderstood process of sponsorships and give you a leg up on others looking for opportunities. This may be your time to become a sponsored athlete and get paid for doing what you love.

1. Understand why companies sponsor athletes.

Ultimately it's about selling products or services. Different companies use different marketing strategies. Those that sponsor athletes use sponsorship as a form of marketing to sell their goods. The athletes they choose to sponsor usually represent their target market.

In some cases, that may be elite athletes. In other cases, it may be someone that is exceptionally attractive. Or perhaps it's an outdoor company looking for the "Grizzly Adams" type or a company marketing to teens looking for an "edgy" athlete. Keep in mind that all companies are looking for someone that represents their desired image who can help them sell products.

When searching for companies to sponsor you, consider your own image. Are you an elite? Look for companies that sponsor elites. Are you a young professional? How about a mother? Look for companies that market to you or can help you get there.

2. Prepare by building an audience.

Simply appearing at a tournament isn't enough, even if you finish well. This fact seems to be lost on most. You're virtually useless if you don't have an audience beyond the dozen people that may see you at a tournament. By developing an audience, you dramatically increase the number of people that may see your company's message. A very select few can develop this audience simply by winning (think Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods) These individuals don't necessarily have to actively build an audience. The media coverage they receive serves that purpose.

For the rest of us, we need something else. A blog can be a great way to build an audience. It's very cheap and easy. It does take significant time to write enough to develop a following, but it is one of the easiest ways to do so. I also recommend social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Having thousands of followers and/or friends is a ready-made audience.

There are other ways to build an audience. If you have your own business, your customers are an audience of sorts. If you have a talent like art, design or music, you can parlay that into an audience. In sum, you need people to pay attention to you.

3. Figure out what kind of sponsorship you want.

They range from getting a discount on products to getting free products, tournament entries, travel expenses, all the way to getting paid. Generally speaking, the more attention you can get, the more you can ask for. There are no set formulas as every company does their own cost/benefit analysis to determine your worth. Still, it's useful to have a goal in mind when you contact potential sponsors.

4. Figure out who to contact.

Think about your audience. What products or services would they use? Knowing the demographics of your audience helps.

When researching potential sponsors, don't dismiss small local companies. They are more likely to know you personally and it's relatively easy to develop a local audience. Once you find a few companies that appear to be good fits, figure out who to contact within the company.

Most large companies handle sponsorship through their marketing departments or PR firms. It's usually futile to contact their general information or sales people; they are likely to ignore you.

To find the correct people, the best place to start is to ask someone who is already sponsored by that company. Be aware—most sponsored athletes do not give out that information since their contacts typically get many such requests. Respect their decision. You may have to do your own digging. For small local companies, it may be appropriate to contact the owners.

5. Make contact.

Once you have an audience, a goal, and a company and their contact, you can begin formulating the actual proposal. Keep it very short and to the point. Tell them who you are, the size and demographics of your audience, and what you are seeking. Shoot for between 50 and 100 words. The people you're contacting don't want a biography; they want to know what you can do for them and how much it is going to cost. Be courteous and humble. Arrogance is almost always a recipe for failure.

If you're contacting a relatively large company, it's likely they receive tens if not hundreds of requests like this per week. In most cases, the companies have identified and already reached out to the people they want to represent them. You're fighting for a tiny fraction of the remaining marketing budget pie.

Fortunately for you, 99 percent of the people that solicit companies for sponsorship really don't understand what sponsorship is entails. Following these steps can give you a huge advantage over your competition and help you begin your journey to becoming a sponsored athlete.

Download the Silverado Cup Athlete Sponsorship Letter for the USA Karate Nationals


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