Before I get into how you can get sponsorship when your championship doesn’t have media or TV coverage, I want to set this out very clearly: It is absolutely possible to provide value to businesses at any level of motorsport.
This applies even if you’re in a local karting series, autograss, or entry-level car and bike races. Even if you’re starting small, it’s possible to provide value before you get to a stage where you can offer TV coverage or hospitality.
Drivers who can offer big TV numbers and hospitality at races are going to have a slight edge. But a championship with TV coverage is often a lot more expensive than one that’s not on TV so those drivers are still going to have to work harder to get sponsored.
People assume that sponsorship is only about TV viewing figures, lots of spectators, advertising real estate on the car, and then some swish hospitality to keep your sponsors and guests happy during the weekend.
Yes these things might be a large part of some sponsorship deals, but they’re actually not the only things that provide true value. Yes, millions of people seeing your brand on a car on ITV might be great, but realistically, how many people are actually paying attention to a small sticker on a car when it’s on TV, even at the elite levels like BTCC or F1?
For you as a driver seeking sponsorship, I want to help you understand where businesses get value from. There’s no need to feel disheartened if you don’t have anywhere near this kind of coverage for your championship because value comes in all shapes and sizes.
Here are the things sponsors are looking for.
Access to Potential Customers
Your sponsor will likely want access to your network of contacts once they sign on the dotted line, and making these introductions is very powerful. There are also plenty of networking opportunities for that new sponsor, all you need to do is get them into a situation where they can speak to lots of people that they might be able to sell to. This doesn’t have to be in swish hospitality.
Now, the people they are able to sell to will obviously vary depending on who the sponsor is. So if your audience is family and friends and your target sponsor has a really broad range of appeal, then that sponsor (or their literature and branded banners) can join you at a race. Your family and friends represent a pool of engaged potential customers. It doesn’t matter that there’s not hundreds of them. If they’re going to buy or enquire, there’s value there.
If, alongside racing, you are a business person and have access to B2B companies or service providers they can also be classed as your audience, trackside or not. Your audience (and therefore value) goes beyond the people that come along to races. Think about how you can provide networking and value outside of a race weekend.
Coffee and a BBQ
Of course, there’s a lot of great networking that happens at race events when you have that hospitality option laid on. But the hospitality doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-singing, all-dancing affair. It can be something really simple because there’s value in simply getting people together and providing them with insider access.
Depending on the level you’re at and the kind of money you’re asking for, there are some sponsors that would be more than happy with some free teas and coffees and a barbecue at the end of the day.
It’s not about wining and dining them and laying on a massive spread. It’s about making them feel part of the racing and getting a behind the scenes look at how you prepare on race day. Get them involved in the excitement of what’s happening on track, working on the car or the bike, and the highs and lows. Make them part of your race weekend story.
Just being behind the scenes and part of the team is a terrific feeling. Use it.
Stickers are overrated
Think smarter about the advertising real estate on your car or bike. If you’re racing a tin top, it’s going to be easier to accommodate a lot of sponsors. But if you’re racing a rental car, kart or bike that you can’t put stickers on, you’re kind of stuck.
Karts and bikes also have limited space for sponsor logos. So what do you do?
You’ll be pleased to know that even if you’re working with limited or no space, you’ve still got value.
A sticker on a car, kart or bike is not the easy-win power play it once was. This is because advertising on a race car doesn’t quite work like it used to. We are so exposed to advertising on a daily basis now that we’ve almost become blind to it. So seeing a sticker on a car regardless of which championship or vehicle it is, we don’t pay as much attention as we once did.
Value beyond stickers
For some reason, both drivers and sponsors believe on-vehicle real estate to be super valuable. As a marketing-savvy racing driver, it’s your job to show that the value lies beyond sticker exposure on live TV.
There’s so much more that you can do to make people stand up and pay attention to your sponsor’s branding. Advertising in new and interesting places works well but think about the human element and the connections you can make because this is so much more valuable.
Work with what you’ve got
Your sponsor might feel that logo placement is really important. If a sponsor just puts a logo there and expects to get sales, it’s probably not going to happen unless they have a relatively recognisable brand with some level of consumer buy-in already.
To win the advertising and branding challenge, engage your sponsor in what works. If you don’t have that space, then you just need to do the promotion without it. Don’t dwell on the fact you can’t offer big stickers.
Instead of having a sticker on your car, you might have a little billboard stand or sign you put up in front of the vehicle. This can contain sponsor logos and information – more than you’d ever be able to fit on your car or bike, in fact.
Maybe you can invest in a popup stand for use within your paddock area, or get a sponsor to supply one of theirs. This highlights the sponsor as a mainstay of your outfit on the day as well as in the content that you produce for social media.
At the end of the day, the sponsor wants to know if you can help them make sales or raise awareness of their brand. They don’t really care how you do it as long as you show you can.
If your championship isn’t in a position to promote itself on TV or through its own TV coverage, or it’s too small to get coverage from the big motorsport press then you need to create your own media coverage.
Not only do you get the reach but you also control the narrative. To achieve this kind of presence within the media, you need to be creating an engaging story about your racing.
A simple press release about a win is unlikely to make it into the motorsport press. It might make your local paper as a local interest piece, but for the most part, you need to have something beyond your racing to talk about. It might be a charity linkup, it might be some STEM work that you’re doing, or it could be another event that you’re running alongside your race calendar.
Resource: Free guide to local press coverage
It’s important to understand your story and how it’ll resonate with the general public. Understanding this will help you pick up high-level coverage beyond your local press.
You need to stand out
Think about what makes you stand out as a racing driver. I talk about this a lot in the book, Get Paid To Race. Think about what makes you different over every other racing driver, rider or rally star out there. Designed to help you find your niche, the brainstorm challenges in Get Paid To Race will help you find what makes you stand out.
So if you’ve got the book or are thinking about it, please take time to sit down and think about why you’re different.
It might be that you can’t offer hospitality, you can’t offer stickers on the car, and you can’t financially or logistically take your vehicle to every event you’d like to.
Stop thinking about what you can’t offer and think about what you can. Focus on that and work out what the benefits those different things offer to your current and potential sponsors. Start there. But please don’t just sit back and think you can’t, and never try.
It might be that because of the championship you’re in, you can’t ask for thousands and thousands of pounds. You might have to start small, a few hundred, maybe £1000 and work up from there. If you can get a sponsor to come on board and grow with you, that’s great.
Stop making excuses. The key here is to start.