One of the many great things about our sport is the incredible level of support that is all around us. If you are anything like us then you marvel at all of the highly supported and ultra-trick factory bikes of the top riders. Brands like Toyota, Red Bull, Alpinestars, Monster, and Microsoft have all had representation in the sport with both top level factory teams and smaller support efforts. As any fan of the sport can attest, it's encouraging to see such well-known brands get behind the relatively small industries of Motocross and Supercross. When it comes to support, it is very obvious to see why the top riders and teams have such big sponsors behind them. They have the attention of the fans at the races, they are always on the podium, and riders everywhere want the same parts and gear as the pros in their very own garages. But have you ever wondered why some riders get sponsored while others don't? Have you been curious about why one rider can be doing very well, but can't seem to lock down the same level of sponsorship as the guys he or she is beating? Well, it turns out there are a number of reasons why this happens. We were curious to find out more about what the whole "sponsorship world" boils down to and how we could help our readers and fans apply some general tips and tricks to get more support.
During our search for answers we reached out to two well known industry insiders to get the inside scoop. First was FXR Racing brand manager and all around moto-insider Andy White. Andy has experience as a rider/racer along with several other roles, including team manager of a full race team some years back. In his 20 plus year run in the industry Andy has amassed quite the knowledge base. His latest role with FXR gives him an expert point of view on what goes into sponsoring a rider. Our second expert source came from current Rockwell Racing's team manager and moto die-hard Chris Elliott. Chris has also held several high profile positions within the sport and has extensive knowledge on the racing sponsorship topic. Thanks to the insight from these industry experts, and others within the sport, we got the low-down on what the pro sponsorship scene consists of...
What is your role within the industry?
(A.W.) Well I actually wear a few hats right now as FXR is new to the off road industry. I am the Brand manager/ rider rep/ inventory control and much more
(C.E.) I have done a little bit of everything in this industry…but right now, I am the Race Team Manager for the ROCKWELL RACING Nuclear Blast Records FXR team.
How did you get into this role?
(A.W.) I just finished up working for KTM Canada and I was talking to Aaron Weibe from FXR about his racing. Next thing you know I was consulting for FXR in 2015, then it turned in to a full time position.
(C.E.) That’s a long story and unlikely story. I am originally from Kaministiquia, Ontario Canada and my first “break” in the industry was as a FMX writer for Direct Motocross in Canada…from there I started my own site called FMXnews.com; shortly after launching FMXnews.com, I was luckily enough to get on with ESPN as a writer. It was a pretty unlikely scenario from me, especially if you asked me ten years ago if I’d ever be a writer, let alone contribute written content to ESPN. After my time at ESPN, I got into digital marketing with a company called Media Axe. In my time at Media Axe, I ran accounts in Indy Car, SST, of course moto and even a Super Bowl campaign. I ended up with a KTM team for what was supposed to be just a Saturdays only contract and that is where I met Clarky (Ryan Clark). After 2016, he and I decide to run our own program, found the perfect partners over at Rockwell Watches and here we are.
What was your introduction to the sport?
(A.W.) I rode a mini bike when I was 8 years old and I was hooked! I then started racing at the age of 16. I worked my way up to the pro class and now I am still riding and race the occasional vet race.
(C.E.) I like most kids just had cool Dad who used to ride and it was kind of our thing. It definitely helped to have rad parents who were willing to spend a ton of money to go racing and have fun at the track as a family. My uncle had used to race at a pretty decent level when he was younger so he was involved a fair bit. I was NOT very fast, but we had fun.
Why do companies sponsor riders?
(A.W.) They sponsor riders to help brand the company. This brings attention to the company and translates in to sales from consumers/customers.
(C.E.) That’s a tricky one, cause I am on the other side of that coin. But I would say traditionally it comes down to marketing, whether you are paying a rider or just giving them product at a discount; you would look at the rider as an investment in your brand. In most cases, your hope would be there is a return on that relationship, which could be something a little as brand recognition at local tracks, to the best case scenario in that a rider you sponsored would help influence consumers to purchase your product giving you that return on the initial investment of sponsoring that rider(s).
What are some of the things that sponsors look for in a rider?
(A.W.) Good question, Results, Social media , well liked . As for the different types of sponsorship levels there are discounted programs all the way up to fully paid athletes in Pro Motocross and Supercross.
(C.E.) If you are talking OEMs and million dollar contracts, usually the decisions start and stop with results. But for me handling a non-factory supported team, my big thing is marketability. And in that I mean how the person handles themselves both on and off the track, and at times the most important one is on their social medias. The easiest way to track numbers/influence is through social media analytics and brands can/have/will use this when negotiating with riders based on what they feel their influence on fans (consumers) may be…
What are some common misconceptions from riders about sponsorship?
(A.W.) Some think they deserve way more than we offer them. They forget we talk to the other companies and we usually know what the support levels are out there.
(C.E.) Again, OEMS want results. But brands dealing with amateurs and smaller teams team may take a different approach. Like I said for me, I don’t get to concerned with how many 16th place finishes a rider had last year and not because that isn’t extremely respectable. It’s because that usually doesn’t move the needle for brands, I challenge someone on the spot to tell me who finished 7th in Dallas last year. You CAN’T, and you probably couldn’t tell me third place either…maybe you could recall who won, but that is it. If you are not winning, brands want activation both at events and digitally. We want kids that are going to help market and push our sponsors (who are our business partners) while giving it their all on the track every night.
How have you seen the sponsor/rider relationship change in recent years?
(A.W.) Its been pretty consistent , however I do see riders jumping from company to company with no real loyalty in recent years.
(C.E.) The digital platform, more specifically social media has allowed riders to take their careers into their own hands. With the ability to have a presence almost instantly online, riders are able to be their own publicist 24/7 and if done properly, their worth can grow.
How have social media outlets influenced the sponsorship process/consideration?
(A.W.) They help, its easy for us to see if the rider is social or not. We are looking for riders that post nice pictures and thank their sponsors. Gratitude and holding up their end of the deal is crucial.
(C.E.) Obviously you should treat your social platform like your own marketing firm and your clients are your sponsors. You constantly want to engage your sponsors in a positive way with your followers as much as you can. I would also recommend keep it clean when posting “non-moto’ content. Everyone is entitled to own beliefs, but engaging in any religious, political, or vulgar content creation may hurt your bid for sponsorship depending on brand.
What can the average racer at any level do to increase their chances of getting sponsored?
(A.W.) Good results, post on social media, keep your set up clean. Network in the industry and be friendly. The industry is small so its easy for reps like me to call another industry person and get feed back on a rider.
(C.E.) Just be the best person you can be. Real recognizes real and as long as you are riding well, have a clean look, and put in the effort to promote your sponsors. Brands will reward you!
Andy and Chris both know sponsorships and how they benefit both the rider and company. In a sport like Motocross and Supercross sponsorship is a must for so many. They enable the industry to thrive and take our racing heroes to the next level. Stay tuned for a step by step guide to how YOU can apply these guidelines and insights to get sponsored and get to your racing goals.