SPONSOR ME! A Parent's Guide to the Inevitable | Part 1 of 2
SPONSOR ME! A Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Inevitable | PART 1 of 2
One of the biggest questions we were asked, in response to our first scooter industry survey, was the issue of “getting sponsored.” How do we get sponsored? Why do my kids want to get sponsored? Who cares?
The short answer is, your kids do. And they care a lot. It’s real to them. The longer answer is so big we had to divide it into two articles. In this first article, we will tackle, how sponsorships came about, what it means to be sponsored, how social media has influenced sponsorships, and finally, why kids are so fixated on being sponsored. In part 2 we will give you some things to think about before looking for a sponsor and offer our advice as to getting your rider with the right sponsor. Let’s start with how this whole sponsorship thing began.
Sponsorships are nothing new. And the scooter industry did not invent them. Big brands have been sponsoring individual athletes and teams going back to the first Olympics, in those days it was political, cities would send representatives to compete against other cities basically for bragging rights. In modern times, almost every sport, even pee wee football, has sponsors involved, but now it’s done as a marketing strategy to give the brands exposure and drive sales. Scootering is not any different. The brands (the manufacturers, the shops, the parks, and other support businesses) invest in the riders, the riders promote the brands, the brands grow, the sport grows, and everyone wins. That’s the simplest explanation. Of course, the reality is much more involved, but that is generally how things work. It’s a symbiotic relationship, whether we agree with it or not. In its truest form, it works. Our industry is booming.
So what does it mean to be a “sponsored rider?” Back in the day, if you put yourself out there, met people, learned to ride well and were a pretty decent human, soon enough a brand would find you and invite you to join their ride team to help them promote their products. In return, you would get mentored by the more advanced riders on the team, and once you proved to be a good team member, you’d get some perks like traveling with the team to competitions or ride days, free parts to try out, and a seemingly endless supply of stickers and t-shirts. Then, once you earned it (won some majors, made a name for yourself), you might even be asked to give some input back to the brand on developing new products. Maybe even with your name on it. These teams became like second families, and were tight. Everyone supported each other, and were loyal to their brand. Some of these “OG” teams are still around today, and we believe this is why. They did it right.
Enter social media. More specifically, Youtube & Instagram. Suddenly everyone with a cell phone could share photos and videos with everyone else, anytime, anywhere. It was a game changer. Posting clips of scooter tricks literally launched the industry into the stratosphere. And within a few years, for better or for worse, Scootering blew up. Today, it is big business. New shops & brands are being launched [it seems] almost every week. And their number one marketing strategy is, you guessed it, “sponsoring” riders to get their name & products out there. Some of these new sponsorships don’t even involve a ride team, they simply offer your child some stickers and maybe a shirt in exchange for their posts, which is not necessarily a bad thing if your child just wants bragging rights. But we feel, with so many companies now offering these types of sponsorships, with little regard to a rider’s skill or even meeting the rider in person, in some ways it tarnishes the image of being a sponsored rider. In fact, there are so many companies out there now offering sponsorships of one type or another it’s to the point that “being sponsored” has become the norm not the exception. Which is a problem, in fact it’s led to a few of them.
One problem is there is little loyalty left, as kids “sponsor hop” based on who gives them better stuff, or who their friends ride for, and in turn, there is little in the way of mentorship or a sense of community given back to the riders. But the saddest is part is, young riders today feel “less than” if they aren’t sponsored. Some really talented young riders even leave the sport thinking if they are not sponsored they are not good, and therefore they have no future in riding. (And to anyone reading this who just dismisses it as silly, get a heart. To some of these young riders, this is very serious. They have a passion for this sport and take it just a seriously as the pro riders. So to start thinking they have no future in it, can be devastating).
Recently we went out to talk to some riders one to one, to get their feedback. We asked riders at four different skateparks, why being sponsored was such a big deal to them. Here are their most common answers:
1. Because you get free stuff.
2. Because when you are sponsored it means you are a good rider.
3. Because all my friends are sponsored.
4. Because if I’m not sponsored other kids tell me I suck at riding.
5. Because I want to be a pro rider and you have to have sponsors or you can’t be pro.
Do you see the pattern here? Somewhere along the way our scooter community has created a belief that to be “sponsored” equates to being better than other riders, getting free stuff and the only way to become a professional rider. And being unsponsored means you are (in their minds) “trash.” So how can we really blame or judge these young riders for wanting so badly to be sponsored when it’s an ideal we, as an industry, created? We can’t.
The better question is, how can we fix this? One way we can at least begin, is through education and communication. For starters, kids need to be told by all of us that being unsponsored in no way means they are a bad rider, and parents need to be especially cognizant about even unintentionally pushing their kids to be sponsored by praising it or openly wishing for it. Heck, we’ve even been told some kids feel they are letting their parents down if they aren’t sponsored! That is just crazy! Secondly, kids should know that being sponsored is a job, it’s not all fun and games. And like any job, you will have good bosses and bad bosses, good perks and bad perks, good mentors and bad (or no) mentors. And it’s important for them to choose carefully not only who they “work for” but who they put their own reputation at risk for. Choosing a bad sponsor can be more frustrating than being one of the “unsponsored.”
Finally, it’s your job as a parent, to help guide your riders to the good sponsors, those that will mentor, guide and help your rider progress in the sport, and help them say no to the ones that are clearly just out to promote themselves without giving anything of substance back. Sponsorships work both ways. And should be beneficial to the rider as well as the sponsor. When that happens the industry takes another W!
We will cover more about what you should consider and discuss as a family before looking for a sponsor, and then address the big question, HOW to get a sponsor in SPONSOR ME! A Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Inevitable | PART 2 of 2