PART 1 - The Sponsorship Game: It's Serious Business


By John Copeland

So you have the talent, some equipment and enough support from friends and family to guarantee you at least one wrench and somebody's truck for the season. But you'd like to do more traveling. And your tires are rocks. And you pray that you never have to use that backup engine because it hasn't been rebuilt since last year. What your racing effort lacks, obviously, is money. Oh sure, most of the guys in your club are in the same boat; just not the ones running up front nine out of ten weekends. And what happens when you compete nationally? Well, you could wait till you win the lottery or you can marry rich. But your best bet is to go after sponsorship. It takes some work and nothing is guaranteed, yet you can find financial support if you can sell yourself and your sport. Being a consistent winner helps, but that mostly impresses karting business. Most other potential sponsors really only care that their name gets seen and remembered. In this issue and next, we'll give you enough ideas to put together a professional looking presentation that will help you land those valuable sponsors. Part 2 will go through the actual nuts and bolts of putting your work together. Both parts will also include examples of karters who have already made the effort and made it pay off. We hope we can inspire you to do the same.

The question of sponsorship in karting is becoming more and more important. With the cost of fielding a competitive effort escalating week after week the thought of finding someone else to foot the bills becomes more attractive. But understand this before you start: If you expect to find a Sugar Daddy to pay all your bills in exchange for his sticker on your kart, forget it. You'll have much more luck conning the kids out of their lunch money to buy that new set of tires.

Sponsorship is business, serious business. what you're asking a sponsor to do is invest his or her hard-earned dollars into an advertising program that includes, and possibly features, your karting effort. Find and keeping a sponsor is hard work. If you're not committed to doing all the preparation required to successfully approach a potential sponsor, don't waste your time or his. You must sincerely want to undertake a racing program that requires more funding than you can manage alone and, in effect, work a second job as a promotion and advertising agent for your sponsor. There are basically three types of potential sponsors you are likely to approach:

1. Local businesses near where you live or race. These can be auto parts stores, pizzerias or almost any locally owned and operated business. Their interest is direct local advertising and, hopefully, increased sales and profits.

2. A local operation or branch that is part of a large national or multinational corporation. Their interest is, of course, increased sales and profits, too. But often their advertising programs are intertwined with those of the parent corporation. This can have both positive and negative effects on your efforts to secure sponsorship, as we'll discuss later. In these larger organizations, name recognition by the buying public becomes more of an advertising goal.

3. The large corporation. Again, the motive here is profit, but the name of the game is name recognition. Take a look at network television commercials. Large corporate advertisers want the public to see who they are and what they do and to remember them when the time comes to buy.

Where do you fit into the picture? That depends on you and the type of racing program you have or would like to have. If you drag your old Sprinter out of the garage two or three times a year, stuff it in the trunk of the car and drive three miles out of town to the local Sprint track, don't expect to create a whole lot of excitement at IBM. On the other hand, if you race only Enduros and the closest track is 100 miles away, the guy with the grocery store down the block won't be very interested.

What you have to come to grips with is this: a potential sponsor will, more than likely, not be the least bit interested in karting for karting's sake. What he's interested in is business, his business. Your job, if you land the sponsorship, is to help him sell more of whatever goods or services he sells. Understand that there are literally thousands of ways for him to spend his advertising dollars, almost all of them more familiar to him than karting and with proven records of promotional success that karting just doesn't have.
Your job at the outset is to convince him the karting really can give him a worthwhile return for his advertising dollar. That's a tall order, but you can do it. While we're at it, let's set a couple of ground rules.

First, never promise what you can't guarantee to deliver. If you run up front consistently, mention it as a way of verifying the quality of your operation, but don't promise that you'll win races. The fact is you can't guarantee that you will and unless the sponsor's products or services are directly related to your winning, he won't care! Promise only what you can deliver and deliver what you promise.

Second, when we talk about sponsorship, what we really mean is promotion and advertising for a fee. Never, never tell a potential sponsor that you want to talk to him about sponsoring you or your team or whatever. Tell him that you have an exciting promotional opportunity to discuss with him; one that will return more profit dollars than his current program. It's like a job interview: sell him on what you can do for him, not what you hope to get out of him.

Ideas-the key to success

Remember that there's a lot more to a promotional program than just painting the sponsor's name on the fairing or maybe getting some T-shirts made up. Start by thinking of all the things that could be done. Think about painting up your trailer, if you have one, to promote the sponsor's business. Try to envision how radio, newspaper or television advertising could tie in with your Karting effort. How about personal appearances at the sponsor's place of business or giveaways at the track or gimmick contests? Look around you to get a feel for what other advertising programs are doing, but don't be afraid to be creative. What you're proposing to the potential sponsor is probably already radically different than anything he's ever done before.

And don't just sit around and brainstorm with your buddies, write your ideas down. Start collecting notes to make an Idea List. Keep note pads and pencils handy at home, in your tool box and even in the car so you can jot down an idea that comes to you there. (I can't stress enough the importance of writing ideas down. There's nothing more frustrating than not being able to remember that great idea you had while you were waiting for the light to change) After you've collected your notes, sort and organize them. Identify those that are keyed to a specific business or type of business.

Now make a Prospect List. Grab the Yellow Pages and settle into a chair. Look at every listing. If the business looks like they could benefit from the kind of promotion you can provide, write them down. There will be some that you can rule out right away, like the place that your biggest race track rival owns. There will naturally be categories you can skip; it's unlikely that you'll get much interest from a medical evacuation service or environmental groups. But you might be amazed at how many businesses might consider using you in their advertising plans. List them, then organize the list into three categories: Good Prospects, Possibilities and Long Shots.

You can also approach business people you know and businesses in your area that you visit regularly and where people know you. Any business where you have any connection at all, anywhere that you know people at decision making levels, should go into the "good prospect" column. OK, you've got two lists now. Take a look at how the items on the Idea List fit in with companies on the Prospect List.

Here comes the trickiest part of this initial phase: putting yourself in the potential sponsor's place. Forget for a minute all the positive things you know about Karting and think about how a potential sponsor will see it. Are you ready to show him the kind of promotional effort that he'll want to have connected with his business? What kind of data can you show him that will make him want to go out on a limb to try advertising with you? The materials that you assemble to answer these questions will become the core of your sponsorship/promotional proposal.

You'll need to anticipate what sort of questions your potential sponsor will ask and have the answers ready. (A word of caution: stick to the facts and don't misrepresent opinions as fact. If a prospect senses that you're not being honest with him, he'll run for cover and your efforts will be wasted). He'll ask how much the program will cost-both the racing budget and the promotional effort. How many potential customers are you likely to reach? Be sure that you zero in on the sponsor's target market here. A rock and roll record store won't really care how many senior citizens you reach. What is it about your program that's likely to encourage those potential customers to choose his product or service over his competition's? Finally, is there some way that he can measure the success of the program? Remember, you'll want to have his support again next season.

Your next step is to put together your proposal presentation. We'll go into the nuts and bolts of that in Part 2 but there is some preparation you can do beforehand.

One of the items to include in the presentation is a breakdown on your (and, therefore, the sponsor's) audience. This can take some time to prepare so you can start early. This kind of information is called "demographics" and it's what sells advertising. Your potential sponsor will want to know who you will reach and you'll do well to be armed with some facts.

Typical questions you'll want to have answers to are: Who attends Karting events? How old are they? What is their income level? Educational level? How many events will they attend in a season? And so on.

Gathering the facts

Unfortunately, there is precious little information available on Karting demographics. The IKF and WKA offices may be willing to supply you with what limited information they have compiled and it's worth a call. More likely sources are the city and county Chambers of Commerce at the event locations you plan to attend. They can give you market information you might find useful

In the end, you may have to generate your own demographic study. Invest some time surveying people at random at events you attend. Try to develop a standard set of questions including whether or not they are influenced in buying decisions toward companies that support Karting. You might also write to various national sanctioning bodies and solicit sponsorship and demographic data from them (see box). Often this information will include testimonials from satisfied and successful sponsors connected with their racing series. All this information can be distilled into your proposal.

Another way to prepare is to see what other people are doing. The racing world is filled with people trying to land that elusive sponsor, so don't be above taking advantage of their experience. If you know someone with a successful sponsor/promotion program, whether it be from the racer's or the advertiser's side, talk to them. Ask them how it came to be and ask for their advice.

Look in the national racing papers and magazines for ads seeking sponsorship to see what approaches others take. While you're at it, judge how you respond to those ads for ideas on how to present yourself in your proposal. If you're sneaky, you can send off a quick letter to some of these people on the letterhead of a company you are involved with or one you can make arrangements with. Pretend you're the head honcho there and request a proposal package. Then you can see what others are doing and, again, judge how you are affected by them. Just be sure to send a follow-up letter so you don't lead them on. Explain that you're sorry, but this year's advertising budget just dried up, thank you anyway.

Remember to read and listen to others as if you were a potential sponsor so you can understand their point of view. Whatever sells you, excites you and makes you think that auto racing and this driver in particular is the greatest advertising medium in the world is the kind of thing that you want to use for yourself. Do your homework and you'll learn what works.

John Copeland is the owner of Fox Valley Kart Shop in Lafayette, Indiana and counts more than 50 fully or partially sponsored karters among his current customers.