Teaming Up: Part Two - Sponsorship
Compared to many other sports that operate a similar system of patronage between manufacturers and athletes, skydiving is relatively small. Even if you sell yourself brilliantly right from the start, the big goal of free stuff is not something that happens straight away. You are going to have to work for it.
Wait! Work for free things? I have been duped!
Skydiving gear ranges from not cheap to downright extravagant and team training is a substantial investment - therefore any help you can receive along the way is very valuable. Manufacturers know this and also understand the powerful desire for any new skydiving team to be able to declare loudly in their most off-hand yet portentous manner that they are indeed sponsored.
Approaching Potential Sponsors
Medals help. Getting on a podium of any kind is tangible evidence that companies like to see, but shiny discs are not the be-all and end-all. Manufacturers are most interested in selling their products and if people head their way via your influence it counts for much. You might not be bringing home the gold just yet and your Instagram (or whatever) may not be filed with super-cool cutting-edge skydiving - but if you are respected on the dropzone as a purveyor of solid advice through which a steady steam of equipment choices are settled upon it registers directly. An important thing to remember when drafting those letters about taking over the world is that whomever you are trying to impress is likely to have heard it all before. What is interesting and unique about your team?
Getting A Deal
The first thing you are likely to be offered is a small discount on a limited number of items. Granting something like 30% off to a team means that a sponsor is not going to lose anything if they simply never hear from or about you ever again. It might not add up to big savings but the crucial part is that your new support has recognised and acknowledged your potential - they like the cut of your jib and might just believe in all those big promises you made. From here it is down to you to make good on the trust they have shown. The larger, seasoned skydiving manufacturers will likely have a tiered system in place to manage their stable of athletes and teams whereas smaller companies may not. The exact nature of progression through to a better deal and then better-er deal is based on building a strong relationship that works both ways.
An vital consideration once you start receiving offers is which brands and companies do you truly believe in? Sponsorship is not free - it is a symbiotic relationship between athletes and the companies for which they fly the flag. Entering into an arrangement with someone simply because you received an offer is perhaps not the wisest course of action. Would this be your first choice if you were paying full price for it? It is much more satisfying and easier to do a good job of representation if you truly believe in something and value it higher than its competitors.
There are quite a few ways that you can do for your sponsors. Try to cover all the bases.
Wear the T-Shirt and Be Nice: Few things have as positive an effect as a direct conversation in which you can be passionate about your support. Equally important: Don’t be a dick.
Everyone Sees Everything: Even if they pretend they do not. Social media activity has become an important part of how manufacturers market themselves, so learn the hashtags and whatnot and use them.
Writing: If you are handy with language there are many outlets for quality work. Producing informative and entertaining articles will earn you some scope to promote yourself. You can be both subtle and not-subtle.
Events: Organising or attending events as a team can provide many opportunities. Again: Few things are as good as actually being there and talking to people.
Always Thank Your Sponsors: Try to individualise it bit as well. It is well known that a Cypres unit will save your unconscious ass or that Larsen and Brusgaard have the best customer service on earth. What else have you got?
Sponsorship is an important part of the skydiving world. Acting as a member of a professional team is long on spending and short on financial reward - so any help you can attract might keep things going. Strong relationships between sponsors and athletes also helps to raise the profile of skydiving around the world - pushing skills forward via events and competitions that ultimately attract more people to the sport.
Joel would like to thank:
Both Sandra and Vlady at Vertical Suits for their endless patience with an overly fussy freefly team and their obsession with every tiny little detail.
Miska at the Hurricane Factory for her unerring accuracy and ability to decipher ramshackle emails about tunnel sessions (in her second language).
Everyone who has a part in designing and constructing Icarus Canopies - providing me with the confidence to pack in the landing area under a standard that ranges from poor to awful directly relating to the indeterminate amount of time it takes the tandems to get on the bus.