Race Sponsors

As some of my previous posts have hopefully conveyed, the expenses for putting a race together, especially one for ultramarathon distances, can be an expensive proposition. Unless you’re independently wealthy (and I don’t see Donald Trump as the race director type), you’ll likely need some help in the form of race sponsors.

For the first Rim To Rim Trail Run, my primary focus was on obtaining local sponsors. I certainly wasn’t going to turn down any major companies, but since this was an inaugural event with a cap of 200 runners I knew it wasn’t realistic to expect a large amount of support from the big players. That was okay with me, as I really wanted to work on emphasizing the local appeal of the event. Chico already has a lot of personality, and Bidwell Park is a great place to host a trail race, so highlighting local companies as sponsors was a natural fit.

My background is not in sales, marketing, or any other area that has given me a ton of practice cold calling businesses and negotiating deals. For any of you in the same boat, I have some good news: you’ll get plenty of practice once you decide to put on a race. Fortunately, dealing with smaller, local businesses is easy enough. The owners are just people, and are generally open to at least a conversation about becoming a race sponsor. Putting yourself out there still takes some getting used to for those of us that are a little more introverted, but all I can say is persevere. I had several folks who weren’t interested, but I never had anyone who was even the slightest bit rude about saying no.

When approaching local companies to be a race sponsor, finding the right time can take some work. As a race director, I’m ready for folks to commit as soon as possible. I want to know as far in advance as I can, since it helps me plan and budget. However, some small businesses are not in a position to plan nine to twelve months out, and if you try to get a commitment too early they will default to a “no” when they might really mean “I’m not sure yet”. Try to be flexible; put out feelers and don’t be afraid to ask early, but if you encounter resistance it’s okay to back off and wait a couple months before reaching out again.

Another lesson learned was to be specific, but not rigid, about what you are asking for from your sponsors. When I approached my first few, I did not have anything written up for different levels of sponsorship and what they could expect if they came onboard. I soon realized this was hampering my recruitment efforts, so I drew up a list of sponsor packages and put it on my race website. I don’t treat it as carved in stone, but it serves as a starting point for negotiations and helps set expectations for potential sponsors.

While I keep my focus on local race sponsors, it still doesn’t hurt to explore larger, corporate sponsor opportunities. Most of the familiar brands have a process for requesting sponsorship that involves filling out a web form, sending an email, or mailing a letter. I went ahead with all of those methods, but it didn’t generate any interest the first time around. I will go through the same routine for 2016, and we’ll see how that plays out. As with anything involving larger organizations, the best path is probably to know someone who works there; the inside track always helps.

The good news for year two is that I’ve now got a starting point; a list of sponsors who were at least willing to come on board once. This helps take the pressure off, at least for now. Time to limber up the phone dialing fingers and start again for 2016!

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