Getting Sponsored

You’re  done with AFF. You now have 205 jumps. You got that first wingsuit jump done. You did a FJC and completed 3 basejumps. Athlete page ready to go. All you need now is a load of sponsors to give you free stuff.

Working for one of the biggest wingsuit manufacturers as a test pilot and representative, I get to see a lot sponsorship questions and requests related to the brand. Though there is no real standard when it comes to finding a sponsor, there are for sure ways in which you can increase how effective your request will be.

Over the last 16 years of skydiving and basejumping combined, I’ve also been lucky to have been supported by several amazing sponsors. Having two perspectives on the subject of getting sponsored, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learnt over the years, that might help you secure that sponsor who assists you in realizing your dreams.

How to find a sponsor
There are of course multiple roads that lead to Rome, but most of those share the same common footsteps.
The best way to talk about this subject, is going to be by comparing sponsoring to a friendship.

The wrong approach
You’re quite new to the playground, and you see this other rich kid playing with cool stuff. You need what the kid has, so you can also be cool on the playground as well! So you go up to him, introduce yourself quite smooth and then immediately , you ask him for his toys. You need those after all, why wouldn’t he give those to you?

But the nice kid reacts the opposite way. Who is this person? Why is he asking for me stuff? I don’t even know him? Whats in it for me?

You tell him that you’re quite cool. Though people don’t know you yet, you have lots of potential on the playground and for sure, if you play with his toys, kids will like him even more for it.

But he is not buying your words, as none of the other kids know you, and he’s also never seen you play with the same toys before. The end result is that now the nice kid sees you as someone just out to get free stuff. You’ve made that first impression, so no matter how many new introductions you make over the next few years, it will be hard for him to give any future request for money or toys any serious consideration.

The right approach
Its your first day on the playground. You see that friend with money and cool toys, and you want that. But first you wonder, what’s actually in it for him. Will me playing with his toys have any positive influence on his status? Or am I really just helping myself?

Even though you want to go straight to the kid with the toys, you actually decide to wait it out for a year. In the meantime, you put in a lot of effort. You become quite awesome at playing games on the playground. So good that at some point other kids ask you to organize various games, and they ask you for advice.
You also ended up buying one of the same toys he has, and you are so happy and proud of this toy, that you show it to everyone. You having a bit of an influential position now on the playground, so the rich kid actually starts to notice you. Due to you talking so nicely about his toy in the school newspaper, he also notices your positive attitude, and likes what you’re doing. At this point you introduce yourself. You tell him you like his toy, you include him in your playing. And as the second year progresses, the friendship grows. The kid sees that what you’re doing improves his status, and he also sees that he could perhaps help you out.

That helping might not even be giving you lots of cool toys for free straight away. He might offer to lend you his jacket to look cool. Or give you one, of his toys at a cheaper price. Then there might come a time when you have that ultimate playground project, or just needing help to be able to continue playing at the high level you’ve been doing, as you’ve invested every second of your time the last two years. That’s the point where you can take that friendship to the next level and ask: Could you perhaps give me one of your toys for free.

At this point, he will already trust you from knowing you, will be aware of your image on the playground, and will also know what you can do skill wise and image wise. Having that established name already on the playground, be it small or big, is your main credential. That’s the only real thing that will convince your potential sponsor of the positive effect you playing with his toys will have for his image.

If you show yourself to be a true trustworthy friend, someone who is in the spotlight, influencing, teaching and motivating others in a positive way, that’s where you have the biggest chance of taking that friendship to the next level, and acquiring full sponsorship.

Rookie mistakes
Choose the toy you really like. Of course you can just be friends with who-ever gives you free stuff, and end up playing with toys that are not fully what you want, but hey, they are free.
But taking whatever comes free also means you end up looking like a person who just gets behind who-ever buys him most. It can affect your image with the kid who’s toys you really want, and as a result it might ruin your chances of coming across as a genuine supporter and friend who really believes in what he does.

Of course it can also happen that you have many years of good mutual friendship, and though you like his toys, you meet a new (in your eyes) cooler friend who can support you much better. Also there, treat a sponsor like a real life friendship, and first tell them about it. Don’t let them find out through other kids.  Perhaps they can actually step it up a bit, and offer you more. Or they can at least understand the appeal your new best friend has, before you publicly dump them, shouting about the new best friend and his toys. Even worst can be having more than one best friend at the time, without telling them about eachother.

Regardless of how you do it, ending a friendship with a normal conversation on good terms also means that in the near or far future, there are still options open to play with that old friend. Be it just the occasional outing, or if new best friend actually doesn’t end up having the coolest of toys, and crawling back. In those cases, its good to not burn bridges.

Final words
Having become best friends, with access to all his toys doesn’t mean you are done. A lasting friendship is one you invest in, and that you maintain with mutual investments of time, energy and promotion. Work on all these things, and you will have friendships that make you fly…

Still keen on getting a sponsor. Start working on those skills. It will cost time. It will cost effort. Nobody gets anything for free, and a lot of people you see ‘living the dream’ invested many days, months and often years into reaching the level of skill, knowledge and fame within the sport, where they’ve become interesting to sponsors.

Also put yourself in the sponsors seat, and try and understand what actual value you bring to the brand.
For many sponsors the actual investment will never be fully recovered in a measurable way, so a large part is also ‘being a likable person’.  Someone who the sponsor wants to help, because you’re a good guy (or girl), even if it means never making the full investment back. Good things happen to good people, but that’s because people like supporting positive attitudes.

Of course there are outside factors not considered here that can come in as a bonus or even completely replace the need to invest time. Being rich yourself, wearing tight-fitting stretchy pants or already having a big media following through fame from other sports. It can all be things you might factor into your sponsorship approach. As mentioned in the beginning, there is no 100% standardized way of doing this. But keep your eyes on the finish line, and for those who work hard, it will always be getting closer and closer.