So, if you’re reading this article, I’m betting that you are interested in getting a sponsorship. I decided, in my role of Snow Show Chairman, that this was something I wanted to investigate, so I asked a variety of people from around the industry to participate in a panel discussion at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Expo in Denver, Colorado. Below is the video from that conference, as well as key talking points, and a transcription. I hope you enjoy! And, again, thank you to the folks and companies that participated!
To book a trip with Matt Entz, Click Here
To check out Klim, Click Here
To check out TKI, Click Here
To follow Cole Willford, Click Here
A Brief Summary
While I’ve transcribed the conversation in whole, below, I thought it would be a good idea to highlight some points that were made:
- What is a Sponsorship?
- A sponsorship is a contractual partnership between a company and a person, where the person receives merchandise, discounts, cash and/or other incentive in exchange for representation of products and/or a brand.
- It needs to be mutually beneficial to both parties.
- It’s about the relationship, not necessarily the free stuff
- What are your expectations of a Sponsorship?
- Athletes expect quality product to represent and the backing of the company for education and direction on how they want their products and brand marketed.
- Athletes do not expect anyone to give them anything, they want to work for it
- The company expects their sponsored athletes to have confidence in the product, to know everything about each of the products, to know the brand history, and to maintain a relationship with their contacts within the company
- Don’t expect to get free items. In the end, it’s probably easier to get a $15/hr job and pay for your own stuff, if you’re just looking for a good deal. The companies want people who are passionate about their brand and product
- How do you start the Sponsorship process?
- You NEED a resume. Contents of the resume must include a bio, pictures and video, social media statistics, and be able to build an idea of how you can influence and how you will represent the brand.
- BUILD RELATIONSHIPS, before you ever ask for anything.
- Communicate to the company, how you will accomplish something that is going to be valuable to the company.
- Understand that the company works off of budgets, and sponsorship agreements take a year, at best, because of fiscal constraints.
- Know every product, and believe in the products and the brand
- Winning is NOT everything
- Most companies would rather sponsor a less-talented but charismatic, outgoing, good-natured person, as opposed to an arrogant or ill-natured person that has more talent
- How do you NOT get sponsored? What is an immediate turnoff?
- Asking “How do you get free stuff”
- Expecting free stuff
- Expecting that putting a logo on your wrap and trailer is going to be enough
- By asking competing manufactures for a sponsorship – you need to be committed to the brands you believe in
- How can a team be valuable?
- For a manufacturer, a team provides unique views on testing and marketing their products
- A team can create better media, because it’s easier to film and take pictures
- A team can leverage their collective resources to provide additional value to a manufacturer
- A team can provide the support to keep everyone on the snow, for more days per year
- Social Media
- Everyone sees everything, what you are posting, what posts your friends may be tagging you in, where you are checking in, who you are hanging out with.
- Decision makers are evaluating your Social Media before offering any type of sponsorship
- Sponsored athletes have a responsibility to live by better standards, especially on social media
- You are a ROLE MODEL, so you are judged more critically
- Social Media and Performance Metrics
- Expect to maintain weekly communication with your contacts, once sponsored. Provide race results, upcoming events, and a summary of what is working well, and what is not.
- Some companies require their athletes to submit Social Media metrics, on a monthly basis.
- Communicate the understanding of the product line and asking questions to further that understanding
- Final thoughts
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Work hard
- Be persistent, don’t give up
- Work on getting, maintaining and growing your relationships
- Be forward thinking about your career.
Transcription of the Panel Discussion in Whole
Welcome to the Getting Sponsorships and Joining a Team Panel Discussion. My name is Steven Marlenee and I’m with the Colorado Snowmobile Association and Marlenee Photography. Sitting next to me is Cole Willford, factory Polaris racer and Team Thunderstruck rider. Sitting next to him is Sid Huntsman, the marketing director for Klim. Next, Tom Kobza with TKI belt drives and Matt Entz with Boondockers, Mountain Skillz, and a factory Polaris rider. So, you see we have a pretty good mix of folks from the ‘sponsored rider’ side of things, to the decision makers in the snowmobile industry, and one of the things that everyone wanted to accomplish is to outline the correct way to take on the sponsorship process.
With those introductions, we’ll start this panel discussion:
What is a Sponsorship?
SID: For me, when I look at sponsorships, I look at someone that I want to form a partnership with. I had a grandfather that told me that no business relationship was a good relationship, unless it is beneficial to both parties. And, that’s the way that I look at sponsorships; what can you do for me and what is it that you can do for me, and if I can’t balance both of those things out and put some type of a value on the relationship that will push my brand forward, and if I don’t feel like I can push your brand or career forward, then it’s probably not a partnership that I’m going to get involved with.
TOM: I feel the same way, it’s all about the relationship and gaining the trust. In gaining the trust, if the relationship doesn’t benefit both of us, it’s not worth pursuing. A sponsorship is an investment that I’m making in you, and if there isn’t a return, it’s just not worth it.
COLE: I’d like to add to that. For me, a lot of riders focus is that a sponsorship is a lot more than just about the product and what you’re receiving, whether it’s parts for your sled or gear, a lot of people don’t understand that it’s so much more about building the relationship, like Sid said, and understanding the people that run a business, and what drives them. You need to build a good foundation so that both parties can understand each other and move forward with being honorable in representing a brand and/or product in a fashion that meets a sponsor’s needs. If you don’t know the person directly and their product, then you can’t be truthful in representing that product.
SID: You know, that brings up a good point. I really don’t want to be partners with someone that I don’t know believes in the product I have to offer. If you’re not 100% on board with the product I have to offer, it’s really not going to do me any good in the end. So, I look for people and watch for signs that tells me you are a believer in the product. I’ll be honest with you, there are a TON of people out there that want to be sponsored, and don’t care by whom. There’s nothing that will turn me off faster or make me close the door on someone faster than when a potential sponsored athlete sends the same exact letter to myself and other people in similar positions at competing manufacturers requesting a sponsorship. That just doesn’t work for me because I want you to be committed to a product and I want you to believe in a product, because that’s what it takes for you to be passionate and for me to build my brand.
TOM: I agree with Sid. As far as sponsorship goes, you’re representing my company and Sid’s company as a whole. It’s how you present yourself to a customer and how you sell it. It’s how you represent yourself to everybody else. If you’re up on the mountain leaving trash or causing trouble, you’re representing me and my company. So, when that gets back to someone in my position, for instance, that it’s one of Klim’s riders or one of TKI’s riders that’s causing a lot of problems, on or off the mountain, that’s really not good, and it’s something we have to take into consideration (more on this later).
SID: Sponsorships are a 24 hours per day, seven days per week responsibility, and that’s the reality of it. So, one of the things that I have to look at, when I’m looking at an individual to sponsor, is “how will you represent me” when you’re out living your life, and that’s very important to me.
What is the number one thing that you see or get asked for that is an immediate turnoff?
COLE: How do you get free stuff. A lot of upcoming riders via Social Media, or even out in the public, ask me often, “how do you get the free gear”. What most people don’t realize is that we ALL start from ground zero, and we all have to earn those sponsorships. It’s a 24/7 thing. Once you have proven yourself or made the connections with a brand that you’re seeking a sponsorhip, it doesn’t end on that day; it’s an ongoing journey with that brand that you have to work at to make sure you’re representing them and producing value. It’s really important that you get out there and earn it!
SID: Before I came to this show, I looked at my sponsorship list. If I asked you all right now, how many people does Klim sponsor, you’d think that it’s a LOT bigger list is a lot bigger than it is. My sponsorship list, of athletes I truly sponsor, is about 20 people. However, if you were to look at social media, you would think that we had hundreds of sponsored athletes. You have to realize that there is a big difference between a sponsorship and being a brand ambassador, because they’re not the same thing. For me, being sponsored means that we’ve entered into a contractual relationship, a partnership like we talked about, where I’m giving you something at no cost, and you’re giving me something back. If I’m just going to, because I think you’re an influential person in the industry, give you a discount on product, that is not a sponsorship. I think that I need to have that defined, and I think the athletes that truly are sponsored need to have that defined. Like we touched on earlier, there are a lot of Klim ambassadors out there, but very few sponsored athletes.
TOM: To me the biggest and fasted turn-off is to ask for something for free, or get upset when I suggest we work on something. I want to gain your trust and I want you to gain mine. It’s a partnership, and the fastest way to ruin that partnership is to ask for free stuff. Go out and prove yourself to these sponsors that we want to work with you. You don’t just get it because it’s free.
COLE: When I was coming up through racing, there are a lot of good products out there, and I didn’t ask for anything for free. I realized that wasn’t the way to approach it. If you see a product that is going to be industry-leading, that might make you a better rider or faster, you take it upon yourself to buy that product and use it. Make the effort to call the company and get in touch with your contacts to let them know that you’re going to be getting product and testing it out. You communicate feedback on your experience, so they can see you’re putting in the time and effort to run a product that you’re interested in. That’s how you develop the relationship and the trust that sponsors can see. If you’re promoting the product to the public and fellow riders, it’s where the building blocks begin.
What are the expectations of a sponsorship?
MATT: I think one of the biggest things to start with is that I never expect anyone to give me anything. That is something you have to build towards. As you build that relationship, you can understand what you can get and want from each other. For me, I’m involved in a couple of different ways. I’ve been involved with Boondockers for seven years now, I think, and it’s opened the door to a lot of sponsorship opportunities for me and relationships. I also have my own instructional riding business, which also brings opportunities. On the video side, that is my background to be able to provide value for these companies. It’s where I can get product highlighted and it gives me the opportunity to travel to the shows and communicate with riders and answer questions. On the business side, it’s really neat to get people out on the snow and for them to see what I’m actually using, and to get the chance to demo product. That’s what I’m able to offer, but in turn, what I expect from my sponsors is the newest [technology] and most high quality products, so that I have something to offer that is something I stand behind. One of the things that I want to be able to provide a company is to get their products seen and talked about. Tom [TKI] and I went through this a couple of years ago with his belt drives, when they first came out. A mutual friend got us in touch, and I told him that I couldn’t promote it until I could ride it really hard and test it. I don’t want to just say this product is the best because I have it and you should have it too. We work with the people we do because we believe in their product and feel it is the best for us, and if it’s not, we’re not going to say that it is. Having that foundation of validity is very important.
TOM: For somebody like me, the sponsored athlete has to have confidence in the product and confidence that it’s going to work. I don’t want someone to speak for my product until they know that it works. I commend Matt [Mountain Skillz] on how he handled things with me. He didn’t say anything to anyone, until he had put solid miles, and understood that it works and works well.
SID: I did a lot of riding with Matt [Mountain Skillz] when he was testing the TKI drive, and I remember the process that he went through. By the time the year was over, and Matt had gone through that process, I wasn’t about to build my next sled without a TKI system on there. I want to back up and focus on sponsorships and share some experiences that I have. I counted, before I left Klim, and I had received 43 emails in about a half of a week regarding people that were requesting sponsorship. That’s in less than one week, a phenomenal number. The interesting thing, is that all 43 emails, basically said the same thing: Here’s who I am (and I had never heard of any of these people, and I keep my ear to the ground through my networks), I’m trying to make a name for myself and would like a sponsorship, if you can get me some gear, I’ll put a Klim sticker on my trailer and wrap, and promote you on social media. I’m not as concerned with how many followers you have on social media, in comparison to WHO are your followers. It’s about how effective your social media can be for me and my brand. You have to understand that these two guys [Matt Entz and Cole Willford] are two of the best athletes in the industry, and the work they put in for my brand is over-the-top. They don’t ask for anything for free. They relay their needs, and I try to help them where I can, but there is a lot of effort in getting there. There’s a lot of effort into getting your name out there, but chances are, that I can’t help you do that. And, unfortunately, that’s what people want to know from me on a regular basis. My answer to that is, the most obvious way, is to become a great rider. To become a great rider, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time on the snow and a lot of your own money in gas and fuel and parts and gear and snowmobile. You have to earn it. The industry has a way of bringing the talent to the surface. I hear from a lot of our riders, regarding upcoming talent. One of the smart things you can do is to start taking clinics from people like Chris Burandt, Matt Entz, or Dan Adams. These people call me up all the time to tell me about undiscovered riders and who has the skills and talent to make things work. Just realize that it takes a lot of effort, and a lot more than just putting the Klim logo on your wrap and trailer. If that was what this was about, I’m pretty sure I could go to just about any parking lot in the country with a box of stickers, and get them handed out. Occasionally, I’ll get approached by someone that has a TRUE business plan put together of what they want to do and accomplish, and I’ll read through it, and it will click with me. I’ll think, this isn’t just one of the 43 emails I get a week. Now, I may not sponsor you, but that’s the first thing that breaks the ice, and I’ll start asking around. It’s because you took the time to put together a nice resume with good content and pictures, and you’ve made it real for me.
TOM: You have to give credit to Matt [Entz] and Cole [Willford] because they were promoting before Social Media. You don’t realize how much work it was before Facebook. These guys were at dealerships and at the shows and out racing. Now, with Facebook, it’s easier. These guys have earned everything that they’ve got.
STEVEN: I may be in a lot different boat than the rest of the folks up here, because I’m doing a direct trade of my content for a discount or promotion, I don’t sell anything. But, what I would echo, is that I’d be a lot further ahead, financially, to get a $15/hr job and pay for my own stuff as opposed to the amount of time I have to put in to have content that is high quality enough and will represent a brand well enough. The reason behind a sponsorship is because you believe in a company and a product.
COLE: I agree. I think regarding Social Media, is that the current market and generation is focused on instant gratification. We’ve gotten away from the principle that with patience comes good things. With hard work and determination and work ethic, it will come. If you’re a good rider and position yourself in the right areas within the industry, you’ll eventually come to the surface and someone will notice you. Whether it’s Matt or myself, Dan, Chris, it will happen. If we recognize someone out there that has the right attitude and a good head on their shoulders, then yeah, we’re going to voice our opinion to our sponsors that there’s this kid out there and we’re going to watch him, and you should too. So, be patient and willing to put in the time and effort.
How do we start the sponsorship process?
COLE: For me, I grew up riding sleds all of the time. Sponsorships were never even a consideration; I rode because I loved it. For many years, I would go to Jackson and watch my cousin race and compete, and when I started out, I was on my own dime, going broke trying to prove myself. As I went through the years of racing, trying to make a name for myself, there were products and people that I was able to touch base with and build a relationship. By getting to know those individuals, it opened a line of communication where I could earn their trust and begin to talk about how I was going to build my program. That mechanism just works, even if you’re a racer, backcountry rider, or free rider, snowcross, whatever. And they’ll see that you’re consistently out there and willing to put in the effort.
SID: What it really boils down to, is figuring out how to accomplish something that is going to be valuable to my company. Riding is one of the big things that you’re going to do that will make you a very effective athlete or sponsored person. You can have a big impact on Social Media if it’s done right, for example. There are things that you can do in other parts of the industry that have great value to me. And, it’s after you make those things happen, that you can knock on my door and start approaching me about sponsorship. I want you all to remember, from a business standpoint, is the instant gratification and how my business works. My department works off a profit and loss, and I have to submit a budget, each year, for sponsorships. That budget, for 2016, is already submitted and approved. So, there’s a pretty good chance, if you’re new, that I won’t be able to move until 2017, because I’m going to have to find a way to get that sponsorship into my budget timeline. A lot of people don’t understand that I don’t have a huge pool of money sitting around. It takes time. And, in the mean time, there’s a lot of things that you can do to start to get my attention: riding videos, promotional videos, product review, etc. I want to share an experience with you. Cole had been a sponsored athlete with Klim for years. But, something happened about four or five years ago that made me say “that is the guy I want on my sponsorship program”. I was in Jackson when he won his first World Title in the 600-mod class at Jackson. He took his sled over the top, right past me, and he knew he had a good time, but didn’t know if it was the best time. The minute that his official time came across, the joy that I saw in him was phenomenal. I watch him yell “THAT’S WHAT A BOONDOCKER TURBO WILL DO FOR YOU!” When I saw that, that’s the kind of passion that I want as a foundation of our sponsorship program, and I was on a mission to form a relationship with him and take our sponsorship to another level. That kind of passion is what breaks you through.
MATT: Cole mentioned it before, but hard work is the key. I rode old sleds, whatever our family had. I rode a 1979 el tigre until I was 18 years old, until I could get a job to buy my own sled. I did it because I loved snowmobiles. With anything, there’s a little bit of luck that comes with anything. I had a really good relationship with our local dealer. They got a call from this guy that was looking to do some filming and needed someone to take them around and show them the area. My dealership asked if I would be willing to do that, and of course I was. I soon found out that it was Dan Gardiner and some of his friends and I knew who he was, because like everyone else, I watched Slednecks. I thought it would be really cool to ride with him and show him around. I got a chance to show him that I had something to offer, and I was invited to ride with him again, and tell him that I really wanted to be a part of Boondockers and their team. I’m really focused on working with good people and good companies, and Boondockers is a good group of guys. From there, he asked if I had a video camera and could get him some content. I didn’t, but I ran out and bought one. I was able to ride with friends where we would take turns videotaping each other, and I could send that content to Dan. And, that’s really getting sponsored started for me. I didn’t go out asking for anything, or expecting anything. It led to even more content, which led into a cover shot on a video, and interviews, and magazine articles. That’s something that has changed a little bit. You used to have to wait so long for content to be published, maybe as long as a year. Now, with Social Media, a lot of things are very instant, and that changes our expectations a little bit. You’ve got to want it and go for it. Earn it.
SID: I want you to take this away from this clinic: with these two guys [Matt Entz and Cole Willford], it’s never been about asking for things. These guys went out and made things happen, and in return, the sponsors came to them. That’s the right path to take. The wrong approach is to go asking.
TOM: I agree
MATT: I think introductions are important, but hard work comes first. It’s good to meet people and let them know who you are, well before you can ask for anything.
TOM: I would absolutely agree with that. Introductions are very important. Even if it’s just walking up and saying hello and shaking my hand. Ask me how the show is going. Sometimes you have to stay in front of us, so we know who you are and begin to recognize you. But, you have to have a name for yourself, and that’s hard work. Don’t give up.
Discuss with us the different values of joining a team, what are you expecting
COLE: Becoming part of a Factory Team was very important. I had a lot of years and events of not qualifying and it wasn’t overnight success. But, I showed that I consistently showed up at every race and put in my best effort. All of my training was self-motivated, and I didn’t have any backing other than my wife and kids. Through my hard work, effort, determination, and love for the sport, I was able to be recognized and introduced to the racing folks at Polaris. They noticed, regardless if I was winning or not, that I had the passion and carried myself professionally, and that I put in the effort to compete at a very high level. They approached me to become part of the Factory Team, but my no way did that mean I was going to get a free sled. It meant that I got to be a part of the Polaris Factory Race Team. It was a B-level, which meant that I still had to purchase my sleds, albeit at a discount. But, I was recognized as a Polaris rider, and got the support of the Polaris Factory Team, from setup to technical assistance. I knew from that moment, that it was all up to me. It was up to me to build the relationship with the brand and the people at Polaris, and to make them believe in me, whether I was winning or losing, that I had value. So, I took that home and spent the seat time, on days I didn’t want to ride, and hours every day in the gym, I made the commitment. And, it’s the same on the mountain, the competition is fierce, so you have to put in the time and effort. Over the years, I got better and better and even won, but it wasn’t the winning that got me more sponsorships and better relationships. It was who I was outside of racing and started to recognize that. You have to continue to build your brand and name, and believe in the products you support and can speak about those products. You have to put in the time to know your sponsors and their products. And, it’s not just in the winter, it’s all year long. Sponsors want to know how you’re going to represent them for the entire year, and the year after that. You can’t expect anything from a sponsor if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to know their products and give them the feedback and show that you’re a good citizen, inside of out.
SID: I would add to Cole’s comment, that it’s not about winning. Winning is great, but it has a lot more to do about passion and charisma, to be likable. I’d rather have a guy that can draw people to him or her, and can draw people to talk about my brand. I’m not saying winning is not important, because it is, but winning is not everything. We sponsor athletes who don’t win, but they do a lot of other things for us.
TOM: I don’t really work with any teams as a whole, I work mostly with individuals, who may be on a team, like Matt. So I don’t have too much experience, but we should talk about how I team up with my athletes.
MATT: With a team, we’re able to bounce things off of each other. If someone has a configuration that works, we all want to know about it, so it really helps to be able to have a team of people to solve problems. The good experience that I had with Tom’s service, I was able to relay that to other vendors and users, and the benefit of that experience to their riding experience.
TOM: I not nearly as good of a rider as these three guys, so I need people to get out and test my equipment. It means a lot to me that these guys wanted to test my equipment and that they came to me and wanted to test before they pushed my product.
MATT: With a team, there’s variety, which is better for sponsors. We all don’t ride the same way or the same machine. Everyone uses their equipment differently, and a sponsor gets a good spectrum of testing by sponsoring a team.
SID: So, I had a young man, several years ago, who I didn’t know, nor had I ever heard of him. He somehow got my email address, and sent me a product review of a Klim product that he had bought and had been riding in for the season. It was a very well written review. I thought to myself that it was one of the better reviews that I’d seen. I shared it with our R&D folks. A while later, I got another review from him. This went on for almost two more seasons. I had never heard of him before, but after about the first year and a half of reviews, I started feeling like I had a responsibility to reach out to him. Through that effort, he became a part of the Klim sponsorship program. I’ve still never met him. So what I want to convey, is that if you make the effort, you will get a response.
Let’s talk about responsibility. Responsibility in Social Media, training, and your personal life.
MATT: Regarding Social Media, everyone knows everything that everyone else is doing. From a sponsor’s side of things, you need to take that into account. If you’re out causing trouble with your friends, sponsors are going to notice. If you want to be involved on the sponsored athlete side of things, you have a responsibility to promote yourself in a positive light in all times.
TOM: I’m sure Sid will say the same, but the last person that I want to promote MY company is the person that’s on Facebook with racist or derogatory comments. There are so many kids that look up to sponsored athletes, and you have to be a positive role model. I don’t want to work with people who aren’t role model. It’s first and foremost. You can be the best rider in the world, but if your Facebook or the way you conduct yourself is substandard or negative, you won’t work with me. I’d rather have decent riders that are decent people that help in communities and with organized snowmobiling.
SID: I had a guy that reached out to me for sponsorship a few years ago. I tried to help him in a small way. He replied that the offer I had made did not meet his requirements for sponsorship, and that he was not going to accept my offer. I was blown away. Within about a month, there’s a post on Facebook stating how this individual was amazed at how ungrateful the industry was for his work, and that people were only willing to help him by giving him a discount, and not by giving him free gear. So, be careful how you handle people, and be grateful for anything you get. Back on Social Media, I don’t give anything to anybody without first reviewing their Social Media and their influence. I am concerned about who your friends are, and I can see a lot about you and what kind of person you are. I can evaluate your personality and charisma, before I even meet you. The other thing I want to convey is for you to try and be creative on Social Media.
COLE: I’ll just sum up what everyone else has said. Everyone sees everything. When you’re on Social Media, you’re representing not only yourself, but your partners and sponsors. As much as you may want to voice your opinion on certain things, whether it’s politics or other brands, there are people out there that are watching your news feed. Even when your friends are tagging you in articles or posts, you need to make sure purveying a clean moral character and personal life. Let’s face it, when you enter into an agreement with a sponsorship, you are making a choice for yourself to do better and setting yourself at a higher standard. You’re no longer able to do the silly and dumb things that you might have been doing before. You need to make those choices when it comes to Social Media.
When you were getting into this, were you actively looking for sponsorships?
COLE: I wasn’t actively looking for sponsors. My passion was that I wanted to be a racer and snowmobiler in general. To me, it was more of a perk. I knew there was sponsorships out there, but I honestly felt that if I put in the time and effort, if sponsorships were meant to happen, they would. I think that kind of mentality will separate the passionate riders from the people that just want free stuff.
MATT: My experience is similar to Cole’s. As my riding progressed, I saw more and more opportunities. Many of those opportunities came from the chance to form relationships that came with my progression in riding. I did have specific goals with different companies. For example, I’d seen Chris Burandt and Chris Brown’s snowmobiles and how they ran, and I recognized the VOHK logo on both of them. I remember seeing Burandt’s sled on the cover of Cat’s Pride and knew I wanted to ride a VOHK sled someday. I introduced myself to Erik from VOHK at a snowshow and kept the relationship going. We got to ride together and eventually got to work on some things with sleds together. It continued to progress, to where we talk often and now, I’m part of the VOHK team, so that’s a good example of how you can set a goal and over the course of several years, put in the work to make it happen.
SID: After listening to these two guys, I want to reiterate that they are involved enough in the industry that they are looking around and watching the products that they need to be a better rider. They make the call to inquire about the products and develop a relationship, and they’re probably not getting it for free, to start. The next thing you know, this relationship starts forming and eventually a sponsorship comes about. I think, at some point, there is going to have to be a redefining of what sponsorship means. This industry has grown into a big enough industry where it’s become an issue. This isn’t the NBA or NFL or even the ski industry. And I think we’ve hit a plateau, and I don’t know if the manufacturers can maintain the level of sponsorships that are out there, and you might see it fall off over time. It will be interesting to see how the next five years goes. My guess is that you’ll see the numbers of sponsored athletes go down. I think we’ll be forced, because of budgets, to focus our marketing dollars in to fewer people that give us more value.
STEVEN: From the organized snowmobiling side of things, the Mountain segment is tiny. If you look at the number of registered sleds in Colorado vs. Wisconsin, it’s a ten-fold reduction. Colorado has about 26,000 registered snowmobiles, and Wisconsin is, I believe, over 250,000 registered sleds. The products that what Klim or TKI is selling in the West is getting more and more competitive for less and less dollars. The sport is getting more and more expensive, and fewer and fewer people are doing it.
Let’s talk about how your sponsors are measuring your performance. Are they looking at Social Media metrics? Race Wins? Something else?
COLE: I measure my products very carefully. After every race, I send a personalized email to each of my sponsors, from terrain types, challenges and performance. I let them know which products performed well, and those that did not. And for the one’s that don’t perform well, I provide feedback about the type of failure. I like to provide individual phone calls to my dealers or supporters when there’s a problem, and give them feedback on how to make the products better.
SID: I get race reports from Cole after every race. It’s expected from all of my racers. What I don’t expect, but that Cole does almost every month, he sends me a report on what’s going on in his world. Matt does the same, and it lets me be able to leverage other resources, when I can, to help him out. It might be with some promotional advertising for an upcoming women’s clinic, or maybe Cole needs some hands at a race. And I can tell you, that I could take either Cole or Matt, to any Klim dealer in North America, and I’d be confident in their ability to professionally represent my products. And it happens on Klim’s behalf, too, because we take them to events and learning workshops. For example last week we all went to the Gore-Tex facility in Maryland, where our athletes were able to learn about what makes Gore-Tex work the way it does. That’s something that makes good partnerships. We become a stronger company, and we hope that our athletes can be more successful in their endeavors.
TOM: It’s great getting the feedback from these guys. You don’t HAVE to buy a TKI to be able to ride a snowmobile. It’s a luxury item, for a lot of people. So I need the good feedback from the riders we sponsors, good or bad, as part of my marketing campaign. And, on the improvement side of things, I’m looking at my product every day. Sometimes, I have an idea that I think is great, but until I can get it tested with some of my athletes, I can’t sell it. It’s really more about having the good working relationships.
MATT: Polaris has really taken an aggressive approach with the media and understanding what everyone is doing. Each month, all year long, I’m required to send a report on the metrics of my Social Media. My athlete page provides a lot of data, and I don’t understand a lot of it, but Polaris is very interested in it.
SID: I want you guys to know, that you have to force yourself to get out of your comfort zone. You’re going to have to approach the right people and ask some questions that you might not be comfortable asking. That’s what it’s going to take to find someone that will be a good sponsorship partner for you. Klim needs people that are willing to step out of their comfort zone.
TOM: Don’t give up. There isn’t an easy way around it. There’s a lot of work, and you have to be constant.
SID: Be really forward thinking about your career. One of the things we’re seeing right now, is athletes are getting in positions where sponsorships are crossing over, and that doesn’t really work. You can’t have deals with companies that have competing products and do an effective job of brand representation. So, be thinking ahead, about what you’re going to do. Sometimes, you may have to make changes, and some relationships may have to end, so you can keep your career on course. There are times when companies you may represent may change paths or ideas, and this is where you might have to step out of your comfort zone and have the discussion.