So…you want to get sponsored in racing.
It’s not impossible to get sponsored in racing. But there are some obstacles to overcome. Free money doesn’t exist. But there is definitely a way to earn it. If you read this article you’ll understand how it all works.
There are some serious misconceptions about grassroots racing sponsorship, and I’d like to get them sorted out right now. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, both offering and accepting support for various motorsport endeavors.
For someone who needs to get sponsored in racing the process starts with one question: how do I get companies to support my racing endeavor?
Short answer: they aren’t looking. But stick with me. There’s more to this than meets the eye.
Grassroots sponsorships are out there. Are they rare? Yes. But not because companies don’t want to give them. It’s because racers don’t know how to convince companies that spending money on them can get them a solid return.
I have never had good luck finding grassroots motorsport sponsorship. But I have had good success. Luck implies that leaving your funding efforts to fate is an actual strategy, and that by some miracle someone will knock on your door and offer you money. So I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not going to happen that way. So…
…Stop waiting for success to find you.
I can no longer count the number of sponsorship deals I’ve signed on two hands. Zero of those deals came to fruition by chance. Instead, they were purposefully thought out and presented from my end.
In addition, no one else has ever proposed a sponsorship deal that I have accepted. Every sponsorship deal I’ve made started with a proposal written by me.
Let me explain how to get sponsored in racing at the entry level.
There are two major reasons for this.
1. You have to look out for your own well being.
You can probably imagine that I’m often approached by various individuals and companies because of Racers HQ’s reach into the grassroots racing community. And, while I love meeting new people and helping whenever I can, it’s sometimes obvious that people are trying to piggyback on my brand’s success.
Sometimes people just ask for sponsorships. Or ad space. Or a mention of their brand to my followers. Or free stickers. Or a free guest speaker at a gathering. Asking is the same thing as taking. And no matter what you’re trying to accomplish, taking won’t get you very far.
The only exception to this is when people ask for information. I want you to ask me for information, and I will always give you as much as I possibly can.
This translates perfectly to the sponsorship world. You need to look out for yourself and be wary of companies offering “sponsorship” with their own best interests in mind.
For example: I recently saw a wheel company offering “sponsorship.” They wanted to “sponsor” drivers in exchange for lower prices on their products. That’s not sponsorship, it’s a discount sale. They aren’t trying to help you, they’re trying to help themselves.
People often see the magic word “sponsorship” and immediately become glassy eyed as they dream of their career taking off. Many people have been tricked into buying expensive things they don’t even need so they can get their first “sponsorship.”
Creating, writing, and pitching your own proposals will help protect you from being taken advantage of.
2. The vast majority of companies, even motorsport companies, have no idea you need support.
Every company worth their product has an advertising budget. This usually means that companies will eagerly spend their money on internet advertising. Newspapers are antiquated. Car magazines are all the same. Radio is being replaced by Pandora.
The internet makes spending advertising dollars absurdly easy. Throw some cash at Google and your company is at the top of a search result for a certain keyword. Connect Facebook to your credit card and hundreds of thousands of users will see your brand. Record and submit an ad that Spotify will run at peak listening hours.
Introduce your brand in a video ad that precedes a YouTube video getting millions of views. It’s all too easy.
So why would a company consider sponsoring you instead? The internet reaches the entire planet, while your racecar can only be in one place at a time. Millions of web surfers can be exposed to a brand in one season, while you may only reach a few hundred or thousand.
The truth is they won’t consider you as a viable alternative. At least they won’t until you explain to them why you’re so valuable. To explain what I’m talking about we need to define two terms: target market and conversion rate.
Imagine a company that sells chemical handwarmers, those little packets you stick inside your gloves to keep from your fingers from freezing. This company doesn’t need to reach the entire planet to be successful. In fact, reaching the entire planet would be a huge waste of their resources. Especially when you consider that half the planet’s climate is warm enough to make their product entirely unnecessary.
As such, this company’s target market are the residents of cold climates. A person who sees one of their advertisements in Bogota or Doha will never become a customer, so the ad is wasted along with the money that paid for it.. But when seen in climates such as Alaska, Nova Scotia, or Greenland, the advertisement has a much higher chance of turning a viewer into a consumer.
To be successful you have to focus on people or companies who care about what you have to offer.
Conversion rates are simple. They are a ratio of how many people people saw an advertisement and how many of those people took action. The action could be a click to your website, or a purchase through iTunes, or any specific type of action you want a potential customer to make.
So if an ad for your product was seen by 650,000 people, and 4550 people purchased the product, you would have a conversion rate of .007%. And while 4550 sales sounds great, a good conversion rate is about 3%. This company could theoretically be making 19,500 sales with the same advertising budget (almost a 400% increase).
There is clearly something wrong with the ad, or the company isn’t advertising on the proper target market.
Mailers have an extremely low conversion rate because they don’t focus on any specific market. An 80% off sale at a Lexus dealership is of little interest to a single mother who can barely put food on the table. But if a discount grocer sent mailers only to low income mothers in the same area, they would see a much higher conversion rate.
There are fewer mailers being sent, and there is far less money being wasted on people who don’t care about what you’re doing.
So why is this important to an amateur racer? You need this information to make a successful pitch to a potential sponsor. If you can’t convince them that sponsoring your race team is a better investment than radio, YouTube, or Facebook, you’re wasting your time and theirs.
If you want to be a sponsored racing driver, you can’t just sit around and wait for the money to magically show up. You have to be assertive and convince a key person or company representative that you can offer them positive growth.
Sound boring? Well, it is.
But if you want money for racing, then business, marketing, and networking are you new BFFs. It’s a massive component to get sponsored in racing.
But I’m only an autocrosser.
Consider autocross for a moment. It’s a rich, untapped and extremely targeted market of racers. Most people will immediately overlook autocross as a viable advertising vehicle because there are almost zero fans watching. But the lack of fans doesn’t matter. There are about 100,000 autocrossers here in the United States, and those are the people that can be marketed to.
These drivers crave information about racing techniques, career strategies, and are highly motivated to purchase performance parts. They all want the same very specific things.
No other motorsport has this many active participants.
As you learned earlier, asking is the same as taking. But now you have something of value to offer them in return: high conversion rates in a very targeted market. Now the only thing you have left to do is find companies that will benefit from exposure inside the autocross community.
Companies that produce brake pads are an excellent example. Why? Because their products are consumable commodities that need to be replaced at various intervals. And because brake pads are an essential component relevant to any racecar, regardless of its classification.
Other companies that offer similar consumable products such as tires, suspension components, bushings, spark plugs, or performance fuel additives may also benefit from advertising inside the autocross community.
In addition, companies that offer non-consumables which offer driving and career advice, like Racers HQ Magazine, will also see great results. Why? Because the racers participating in autocross are a perfect target market for high-end, valuable, and actionable information products.
Marketing Inside Autocross
I am proudly leading the charge in autocross marketing. Racers HQ has an industry leading sponsorship program that offers money, vinyls, and other perks in exchange for marketing inside the autocross world. Not only do I have the privilege of supporting amatuer grassroots racers, I also enjoy high conversion rates and few wasted advertising dollars.
Just wait a little while and you’ll see other companies following my lead.
This untapped market is ripe for the picking and I highly recommend that you start using it to your advantage. The first people to explore a new market with a new strategy will often reap the benefits of innovation.
Creating A Successful Pitch To Get Sponsored In Racing
Before you can create a successful pitch, you have to understand what makes a lucrative sponsorship proposal. I’ll show you some examples from deals I’ve made in the past. Companies have been quick to support me for the following reasons.
1. I never ask for more than I give back.
When I was just starting my stunt driving career in film, television, and live entertainment, I had a few basic needs. I had a pristine 1988 Mustang Cobra clone with a fresh performance engine with a cam so radical it would barely idle. I knew two things: stunt driving was hard on car parts and this car was going to get a lot of attention anywhere it roared.
I realized I could solve my parts problem if I made a reasonable pitch to a local performance car dealer. I knew that he could get me cheap parts and I could get him a little attention. So I made the owner a pitch. I explained to him that I was a professional stunt driver.
I offered to put his performance dealership brand on the sides of my car if he would get me car parts at his cost. His brand would be seen on my car throughout town, at my practice lot, and in all the subsequent videos made during practice.
The beauty of this pitch was that he had absolutely no reason to decline, since he wouldn’t have to spend any money at all. In return, his brand would be seen around town. Granted, the middle aged housewives of Farmington, Maine never glanced at my obnoxious Mustang as they prattled down the sidewalks between shops.
But the car enthusiasts? They all looked at my car, which likely induced a starry eyed dream of buying the new GT500 or SRT8. And each time they saw my car, they saw the name of the performance car dealership. Target marketing? Absolutely.
I saved roughly 40% on my car parts, and the dealership enjoyed new, free exposure. This worked out for both of us because I didn’t ask for very much. But I got exactly what I needed.
2. I used the authority of other companies to attract more companies.
No one wants to be the guinea pig. No one wants to take the first risk. But the risk doesn’t seem so bad if other people have already taken it.
After I made my deal with the dealership, I approached a custom trailer company on the other side of town. This company was huge. They sold high-end car trailers all across the country at large markups and were very successful.
But I didn’t care about their trailers, I cared about their parking lot. So I made a pitch to the owner and told him that I was a pro stunt driver and wanted a place I could practice on the weekends. I was very purposeful to reveal the fact that I was sponsored by the performance car dealership. In fact, association with that company was all I offered him.
He was quick to say yes. He wanted his brand name on my car next to the dealership brand. The owner obviously knew that associating yourself with other big players creates a more valuable perception for your own brand. Just like that, I had a private practice space.
After that I pitched a local vinyl company. They produced the vinyls I had promised to put on the car for the dealership and the trailer company – and they did it for free. They only wanted to include their brand name on the car as well, which they did.
3. I use my exponentially growing social media to my advantage.
If you aren’t purposefully growing your social media following, you need to start immediately. Why? Because companies love crowds. Crowds are groups of like-minded people that make marketing very easy.
Question: how do you know which is the best restaurant on any given street? The line, of course. The restaurant with the longest line is obviously the best place to eat. Why? Because even though they could eat somewhere else without waiting, they still choose to stay.
While the restaurant across the road is running ads claiming to be the best place to eat, the establishment with the long line has dozens of people proving it. This is called social proof, and it’s more valuable than any type of paid advertising. A third party opinion is a hundred times more valuable than anything a company says about themselves.
When random people are saying great things about you, you’re winning.
When you make a sponsorship pitch to a company, a large or engaged following will give you authority. Authority tends to flow like water. Like the trailer company that wanted to be associated with the dealership, your brand may be able to boost another company’s reputation.
You don’t need a business, you only need yourself. Sebastian Ogier is a brand. Matt Covert is a brand. You are the brand, and bringing your social proof to the table is a powerful asset. (Here’s a great Racers HQ Podcast episode about personal branding.)
The key to creating a successful sponsorship proposal is creativity. Your number one priority is to figure out how you can be most helpful to another company. During this process I highly recommend that you completely ignore what you want from them in return. After you’ve thought of what you can offer them, compare it to what you want.
If you aren’t giving more than you’re taking, you need to start over. A selfish proposal is transparent and will be met with contention or immediate rejection. A smart proposal will be seen as an opportunity with little or no reason to decline your offer.
Now is the time to shift your focus away from driving and into the world of business
Obtaining grassroots racing sponsorship isn’t complicated. But like anything else the return is equal to the amount of effort you invest. So, if you’re intent on making excuses, sitting around waiting for someone to approach you, or unwilling to invest the time to create a lucrative deal you’ll be funding your racing endeavor forever.
Find your angle, figure out how to offer the most value, create a proposal, and you’ll find the support you’ve been looking for.