What are sponsors and how do I get them?

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Written by Sean Kingsbury, Partner in Alpha Camp

Alpha Camp was created to help riders navigate the sport of motorcycle racing. 

This article is written to be helpful in growing our sport.  Please add your experiences in the comments.

Have you seen all of the stickers that some people have on their race bikes? Have you heard people around the paddock talking about their “sponsors”? Do you want to get a piece of the action? Keep reading.

First, it’s important to know the primary sponsorship models which are:

  • Financial. They give you cash.
  • Contingent. They give you cash when you win.
  • Free Stuff. They give you free stuff so you can market and/or test it for them.
  • Discounts. They sell you stuff for less than retail.

To attract sponsors, you need to be clear about the value you can bring. Unless Jake Zemke is your manager and you are on the Graves Team, you’re probably not winning enough to really be relevant based on your talent or results alone. However, this doesn’t mean you don’t have something to offer. To determine what that something is, you need to make a plan for the season.

This starts with deciding what level of commitment you’re going to make. If you’re going to occasionally show up and do some racing (as long as it isn’t raining and you have the cash available for tires), you aren’t going to be able to offer a ton of value to sponsors. If however you were going to enter just the Road America MotoAmerica Round or race a whole club series, this could be a very different story. At the event or through the series, you could provide excellent press for a regional or local company.

Being totally committed means nothing if you end up injured and unable to race. Therefore, a pay for performance plan based on you showing up at the rounds makes the most sense with financial sponsors. This means that you get cash only when you show up and race.

For an example, here are the commitments I made when I was putting together my plan for the season:

  • Enter every round in the CCS Midwest Series
  • If I am injured and can’t race, still show up at the rounds and help other riders be successful 
  • Start Alpha Camp, a platform for racers to apply the professional skills that we learn in the MotoAmerica paddock and apply them to Alpha Camp in CCS

Then I thought about what needed to happen so I could meet these commitments:

  • To be ready to race and reduce mechanical or crash related challenges, switch to the R6 platform and buy a functional B Bike
  • Commit to a fitness plan that will help me remain ready to race and recover quickly from crash injuries
  • Train extensively and ride more than any other amateurs so that we will be as well prepared as possible despite our limited skill and experience

Sponsors appreciate a professional plan and clear expectations.

Now that you have a plan, it’s time to make a budget. If you can be thrifty (no MR12, no superbike motors, nothing fancy on the bike), it costs about 10K in expenses to do everything needed to try to win as the number 1 overall amateur in regional club racing. When creating our budget, we considered the cost of bikes, parts, spares, travel, crashes, tires, trackdays, race entries, and food. About half of the budget goes to tires alone, with the other half left for seat time, race entries, and everything else.

Don’t be cheap on tires. I saved about $100 on tires at Daytona this year but crashed a 9.5k race bike. I don’t think I came out ahead. Budget for a ton of tires. The faster you become, the more you will use.

The first kind of sponsorship you should seek out is discounts on parts and accessories. You need to find brands that you are willing to represent in all that you do. It’s more than just putting a sticker on your bike; you need to be an ambassador. This is how you will add value.  Comment in the forums and groups online.  Tell people about the product.

I’ve been fortunate to create partnerships and represent several brands. Rob at MTRCycle.com sells me parts at a discount and in return I buy only from him. This has resulted in significant savings for me and positive brand representation for Rob. Vortex and a limited number of other parts companies offer a higher discount to racers than I can get through MTR.  For me, I still use MTR because the difference isn’t that big and Rob does a great job for me so I want him to get paid.

Jason and Marr from Farrell Performance in Wisconsin have been extremely kind with me this year and their kindness has included competitive tire pricing, a ton of coaching and monitorship, and a bunch of mechanical and set up advice on my bike.  Jason is the racing guru in the Midwest.  Find the guru in your area, and seek his or her advice.

If you want to get racer discounts from companies, start applying now.  Most close out their applications by the end of the year.

It’s hard to get sponsorship by way of free stuff if you don’t get a bunch of publicity. Mark Rhoades (Rhoades Racing) and I started up Road Racing TV as a way to generate publicity. We have about 50k followers on Facebook and the page is doing some amazing things for motorcycle racing in my opinion. Companies have wanted to be a part of the fun and send us products. We offer to them a huge amount of exposure if the product happens to be awesome. If the products sucks, we tell the company about it and don’t represent it.  We definitely don’t speak negatively about companies or products. 

Start thinking about how you can create publicity and grow a fanbase that you can present that as a value statement when you ask companies for products. You will know that you are doing it right when companies reach out to you with offers.

Free stuff can be cool, but ultimately it’s best to get cash from sponsors that can be spent buying great products and creating revenue for motorcycle-related businesses. One way to get cash is through contingency sponsorship. If you race and end up on the podium sometimes, you need to figure this out right now! Even if you don’t usually win, figure it out anyway - you might accidentally get a first. Last year, I battled for second to last in my races.  This year I am very upset with myself if I don’t finish on the podium. Things can change quickly if you stick your plan.

Finally, you can get some financial sponsorships. There are several options for landing financial sponsorships. Start with the company you work for. See if they have a specific marketing budget. If they happen to spend on billboards, online ads, Yelp, Yellow Page Ads, or anything that offers marketing impressions but no specific or measurable ROI, you have an opportunity to offer them value by using some of those dollars to support your season instead of on a yellow pages ad. Here are some ideas:

  • You could offer them Title Sponsorship for 10k which would give you the cash try to win an amateur championship. In exchange for the cash, you would put their logo all over your bike (you have to spend some of that 10k). You can then submit a press release to your hometown paper after every race weekend and contact your local news channel and ask them to do a piece on your racing career.
  • You could also display the bike at work for a month in the winter.
  • You could agree to attend or host a number of community events to promote the bike and advertise for the company. 

Whatever the agreement, you need to meet all your commitments and reach the expectations of your sponsor. You also have to run your race team in a business-like fashion so that you could provide a financial report of how you spent the money if it were ever requested by anyone (including the IRS). There are several tax implications with this that would need to be discussed with a professional. I can recommend my accountant Al Villasenor. His email is AlVillas@SBCglobal.net.

If your company doesn’t have a marketing budget, try to get $1000 from 10 small businesses. You would have to offer them a similar value.  Did you know that if they spend the $1000 as a marketing dollar rather than a donation they can write off 100%? So I hear from Al.  Think about all the softball teams that get 500-1000 from small businesses just so that the business is shown on a small banner.

Another option is turn the sponsorship into a more formal job. For example, we run the social media pages for businesses in exchange for sponsorship. They don’t care that we use the money for racing. Think about what your side-hustle can be. Income from towing other people’s bikes and rigs out to the track can help defray your costs. Or even see if your spouse and kids want to make some cash working in a corner station.

Whatever mode of sponsorship you pursue, it’s essential that you act like a professional. This means being nice to the other riders. Don’t ever ride like a jerk (though some people may think you do no matter what). Look up to and respect the people that beat you instead of hating them. Seek the advice and mentorship of professionals (Mark Rhoades, Jason Farrell, Jody Barry, Bruce Barry, Lenny Albin, All of the TOBC team, Alpha Camp, and many more in my case). Show up on time, practice, and stay in good physical shape. Have integrity - do what you say you are going to do. 

Finally, ask for help. We have been extremely lucky to have had access to some of the best riders, coaches, team owners, talent managers, and almost everyone in the motorcycle industry this year. We are doing everything we can to share good information and kill all the bad so that we can all race more and grow the sport together.

Our results, redacted for the privacy of our partners and sponsors:

  • Moto-D (Rhoades Racing MotoA) Thank you Scott D!
  • MTR Deal (Rhoades Racing MotoAmerica and Alpha Camp CCS) Thank you Rob! (I have no ownership or any stake in this company)
  • Cronauer Law (Alpha Camp CCS Season) Thank you Nick!
  • Rhoades Racing (This was our key to everything) Thank you Mark!
  • Farrell Performance (MotoA and CCS) Thank you Jason and Marr
  • Road Racing TV (MotoA and CCS) Owned by Mark Rhoades and myself
  • Push Smart Gauge (MotoA and CCS) Thank you Craig and Todd!
  • MotoVid (MotoA and CCS) Thank you Michael and Kathleen
  • Kingsbury State Farm (MotoA and CCS) This is my company
  • Precision Wheel Repair (MotoA)
  • Paul Ries and Sons (CCS) Amazing Painter in Chicago, Thank you Joe!
  • Chicago Police Department (CCS)
  • Chicago Fire Department (CCS)
  • Plus Racing Gear (MotoA and CCS) Thank you Eric Sykes!
  • K-Tech (MotoA) Thank you Lenny and Skip
  • Heroic Leathers (MotoA) Thank you Todd
  • Dainese (MotoA)
  • Sportbike Track Time (MotoA and CCS)
  • Michelin (Support at CCS) Thank you Tom Austin!
  • DTR Cycles (MotoA and CCS) Thank you Ghilliman Dustin Apgar!
  • EBC Brakes (CCS Contingency Money)
  • Vanson Leathers (CCS Contingency)
  • TOBC

And Lastly MotoAmerica.  Had it not been for your tolerance of my antics, we would not have the Facebook following that we have. Thank you especially to Richard Varner.

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