With the Australian GP being cancelled this weekend, no Rome ePrix, and even WEC races falling prey to COVID-19 fears, we have to accept that the whole global motorsport calendar will be further affected by this pandemic.

I’m always asked by drivers who can’t race, for whatever reason (usually lack of budget) what they can do to hold onto their sponsors. This is even more relevant today because there’s a chance you might have some race events cancelled, or won’t be able to get to an event put on by a sponsor.

In all of these situations, you need to work out what you can do to bring similar value to that business.

If you’re relying on large crowds to offer some of your benefits then you might need to have a serious discussion with your sponsors about how sponsorship for the season might work if key rounds are cancelled or run behind closed doors.

Before I go into the extras you can offer your sponsors to keep them happy when you’re not racing, I want to give you some options should a business ask for their money back.

Remember you are providing a service

It’s going to sting a little if a business asks for their money back, especially if you’ve already invested some of it in the car you should be racing. If you have a contract in place it’s going to be quite clear the service you’ll be providing and if you can’t provide that service due to race weekends being cancelled, then the sponsor is well within their rights to get their money back.

If you don’t have a contract, this is where things get tricky but if you care about your relationship with this sponsor and the money they might be able to give you in the future, you need to give them their money back when they ask. Or you need to agree on ways you can work with them to provide the same benefits.

Offer a partial refund

If a lot of your pitch was centred around race-weekend activity such as hospitality, your sponsor will absolutely be entitled to a refund if you can’t provide that service. However, you may be able to agree on a partial refund because you’ll be helping them reach their goals in other ways.

Defer the sponsorship

Whether your whole season is out of the window or you need to miss a few races, there’s the option to defer the sponsorship. This means you hang onto the money and just transfer those at-track benefits to the next season (either the full season or a race or two, depending on what’s agreed). If you’re still going to be performing some of the pandemic-safe activities outlined below, you could also offer a discount on next season’s sponsorship fee.

Treat it as payment on account. 50% for the services you can still provide for this season, and 50% towards the 2021 season, for example. This means you can hold onto the money but you won’t need to spend as much of it as your costs will be less due to missed races.

Offer something else that hits the same goals

Hospitality at a cancelled race event might be a no-go but could you offer hospitality at a later event, or maybe even swap out hospitality all together for a small networking event or track day? Consider your sponsor’s goals and where you can’t serve them, think about what would have a similar effect.

(Be responsible when organising other events. There’s a reason things are being cancelled and to put on an event outside of an organised race weekend might be quite irresponsible. Check local advice to get a sense of what you should do.)

So now that you’ve got some options for how to handle sponsors who want to talk money in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some ideas for adding extra value.

Lean into your social media

Even if social media isn’t a big part of your pitch to a sponsor, you may have to add it in if you need to sweeten the deal. If you have a large following then it’s likely you’ll be able to have quite the impact on a sponsor but this is still worth looking at even if your follower numbers aren’t huge just yet.

First, look at your sponsor’s goals. If it’s reach and brand awareness they’re looking for, it’s likely you’ll already be doing a bit on your social channels but there are a few ways you can take it to the next level.

  • Go live – Do a series of live videos for your audience that mimic the way you’d speak about a sponsor to guests at an event.
  • Give a shout out to specific members of staff – If your sponsor is looking to reward their staff or customers, a shout out from you on social media or in a video could put a smile on some faces.
  • Up your activity – If you promised a set amount of social posts per month/race season, offer more.
  • Organise a takeover – Either take over your sponsor’s social media for a day or let them take over yours. If they’re being careful, it’s likely they’ll be struggling to get out and get content too.

Extra press coverage

When you’re not racing, you have a unique opportunity to seek out angles for the press to write about. This takes a lot of practice because you need to understand what journalists are looking for and what’s going on in the news.

It’s likely coronavirus will dominate headlines for the foreseeable future but this presents a lot of opportunities for extra press coverage – especially if you work with a sponsor in the health industry. Here are some ideas:

  • How athletes are staying fit while in self-isolation/working from home/under quarantine – This could be a simple quote to go out to press talking about your home workout routine. Include photos of you with your race car that clearly show your sponsors, and name drop the relevant ones where possible.
  • Racing driver turns to video games to keep sharp after races are cancelled – Use this rubbish situation to your advantage and take part in a little ‘newsjacking’.
  • Local racing driver invites [Norfolk] teens to take part in a virtual race – Do something good for your community and it’s likely to get picked up by the press too.
  • This racing driver’s morning smoothie is your best chance of staying productive while working from home – Think about how your routine or lifestyle could be newsworthy and helpful.

Press coverage is so valuable, especially if you can get into big magazines and newspapers. This has a very clear monetary benefit to sponsors as the equivalent advertising space would be very expensive.

RESOURCE: If you need advice on getting press coverage, take a look at our free guide to PR.

Extra video content

Video content is worth a lot to businesses and could make up for what you can’t provide in hospitality.

It’s often hard for businesses to create their own video content and if everyone is working from home, it suddenly gets even more difficult. To keep a sponsor’s social channels populated, you could offer some video content cut from existing video footage you have. Here are some ideas for out-of-the-box video content:

  • I tried [sponsor’s product] for 30 days, here’s what happened – If your sponsor offers a product, show how it’s used and the positive effect it has on your life.
  • How to use [sponsor’s product] like a pro – If people often wonder how to best use a product properly, create a video for them.
  • 10 engineering advances in motorsport I’m obsessed with – You don’t have to be working with lifestyle brands to create interesting content. A video like this could look at F1’s hybrid powertrain, a service your sponsor offers, the Subaru AWD system, and more.
  • How a racing driver works from home – It’s topical and if you can show how your sponsor’s products are helping you, all the better!

Organise small-scale events

If races are being cancelled due to coronavirus fears, you’ll need to be careful with this. Many countries are banning gatherings of more than 100 people and others (like Spain, where I am as I write this…) are on full lockdown. But if you and your sponsors think it’s safe to do so, you might be able to organise a small networking event, or you can visit your sponsor’s office.

This might work well if you were previously offering meet and greets alongside hospitality at a race weekend. You can create something similar in a less at-risk setting as you’ll still be able to answer questions, meet those who have been supporting you, and maybe even show off your race car.

Note: Please, please, be responsible here. If the advice is to avoid people to stop the spread of the virus, I’m afraid that’s what you’ll have to do.

Bring your racing into the virtual world

If there’s no chance of getting on track any time soon, you could join a sim racing league to keep your competitive skills sharp. There’s nothing like the real thing but you could invite your sponsors to tune in to a virtual race.

By bringing your racing into the virtual world, you can offer a lot of excitement to your partners as they won’t be totally missing out on the action.

Alternatively, you could invite your partners and their customers or employees to join you in a virtual race. Not all sim racing software requires a wheel and pedals to join in, and you can even use an online arcade racer to make things a bit easier on non-gamer guests.

By getting sponsors and their VIPs involved in this way, you’re still offering them something, keeping them involved with your racing activity, and providing similar benefits.

Utilise video calls

If you’re not able to meet with sponsors to discuss next steps, you should use video conferencing to keep in touch. This is a little more personal than just jumping on the phone. 

This is also worth considering if you’re pitching for new sponsors while the pandemic is still preventing in-person meetings.

It’s important that you stay in touch with sponsors throughout all this. Even just an email at this uncertain time to update on the currently situation with the series you’re racing in — even if it’s full steam ahead.

It’s important that you show sponsors that you care about their results. Blithely ignoring this situation and not letting them know what’s going on at your end is a sure-fire way to ruin a relationship.

Stay positive, my friends. If you need any ideas or want some advice on an exchange with a sponsor, please post in the sponsorship group on Facebook.