8 Nov 2013

Article: How Best To Get A BJJ Sponsorship


[This article was first published in Jiu Jitsu Magazine]

By Seymour Yang

Sponsorship by a major brand might seem to be the pinnacle of BJJ lifestyle achievements. Sponsored athletes get a ton of free gear, appear in magazine advertising, videos and all sorts of cool publicity and some even get paid to travel the world and compete. Trying to earn that coveted spot as a sponsored athlete is not easy however but surprisingly, it’s not necessarily all about how many gold medals won and you don’t even have to be a black belt. Seymour Yang uncovers the dos and don’ts of how to get sponsorship in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The relationship between brand owner and athlete seems simple enough; brand owner wants exposure and the athlete who competes a lot can offer that exposure. The quest to become a sponsored athlete may not be an easy one but with the right approach, it is possible at least for a brand owner to take notice. Despite this, companies receive dozens and dozens of inept, badly written and even worse, wrongly addressed sponsorship requests every day. Let’s take a close look at the best approach to getting noticed by gear companies:

Dear John
Pitching for a sponsorship or representation deal is a bit like a job interview letter. You need to sell it in the opening line of your email or it gets binned, simple. My suggestion here is to start off with a little research. Address the email to a named person, not Dear Sir, or To whomever it may concern...or even worse, the WRONG person/company name completely. Yes this really does happen and is not likely to amuse a busy gear company owner. If you must copy and paste your message, at least get the person's name and details correct.

Flattery gets you everywhere
As part of your research into the brand, find out about their history and study their timeline of activities. For example, they may have recently launched something innovative or been part of an event or charity program. Mentioning something topical and brand-relevant in the opening paragraph is bound to impress the person reading it. Better yet, show you much of a fan you are of the brand by showing them the stuff you bought of theirs previously (you did buy their stuff didn't you?).

No, I didn’t mean kiss me, I meant Keep It Short and Simple. One brand owner informed me he once received an email that ran to around 1,200 words (that’s roughly as long as this whole article) and that was before he opened the huge video and photo attachments. Don’t write overly long emails and avoid massive file size attachments! In fact there is only one attachment I recommend you need so send and that is the ...

PDF Resume
I recommend putting a summary of your BJJ achievements as an attached document rather than in the main body of your email. If you don’t have software to create a PDF, find someone who can help. In fact, getting someone to proof read your proposal is always a good idea. the main reason for this is to cut down on the length of the email but it also gives space to focus on the main body of the message on your pitch, rather than a long, long list of achievements which, to be honest, no one will read.

Write  down your list of accomplishments pretty much as you would when writing your school/college education. A bullet point list is probably the easiest to read when it’s a long list of credentials. Do add links to fight videos but even better, if you can make a video highlight compilation then that might be better than having to sit through 6 minutes of double guard pulls for that amazing final advantage point win.

A final icing on the cake would be to obtain a quotation from a recognised and verifiable source such as your instructor or someone in BJJ circles who is kind of known. Ideally a World Champion saying how awesome you are on record would be amazing, but simply a line from your instructor verifying that you are a dedicated student is actually a pretty cool thing to add (long as he means it and you didn’t just make it up!)

If I wear your brand, people are bound to buy it!
Contrary to what you might believe, writing 1,200 words on how awesome you are is not what a potential sponsor actually wants to hear. What they actually want to know, is what YOU can do for THEM. Simply stating that you will wear their products at all events is not remotely enough. So here’s how to pitch it right and pitch it good: company bosses love statistics, they deal day in day out with stats like how many units they sell, how many they buy, how much they pay and how much they earn. So my big tip here is to speak their language. Sell yourself like a commodity. Make it sound irresistible because if they miss out then their rival will be getting those 12,000 fans to hear about how awesome that product is.

State how many Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blog and Instagram followers you have. Give an example of the kind of BJJ-focused interaction you get from your followers and friends. Company bosses love numbers, did I mention that before? So give them numbers, lots of them and ones that they can check [don't make stuff up]. Don't have social media? Then start now and take time to nurture a good amount of followers. Not sure how to do that? I’ll cover that topic for another article.

Oh my gosh I got an answer!
Assuming your potential sponsor has gotten this far and replied to you, then it's time to work out how far you can push for a good sponsor deal. In most cases, it'll be a simple fixed amount of gear in exchange for a condition to wear only that sponsor's brand at public events. More complex deals can involve expenses and a monthly stipend but usually only if you are an elite World Champion level fighter (with a LOT of followers). But at this stage there’s no harm attempting to ask for what you want, be realistic but if you think you can prove to the company that handing over six brand new gis and ten rashguards a year is justifiable, then go for it. It’s all part of their marketing budget and tax deductable. But be careful, asking for something way above what you are worth might close the door completely.

If your attempt at sponsorship gets a flat out no, then there's no harm just ending correspondence with a good luck wish to the brand - but don't keep hassling with repeated attempts to convince the recipient. Companies receive dozens and dozens of sponsor requests daily so if they are curt and brief or even if they never reply, don't take it personally. Just move on.

Be a good sponsored athlete
Most gear companies are pretty proud of their rosta of representatives. The jury is out on whether they actually bring in direct revenue through exposure (compared to say, traditional advertising) but each company owner must beam with pride as they see a bunch of their branded competitors at each event. Most brands support grassroots grappling and most owners train themselves, so they know what it is like to struggle up the ranks and through the tournaments.

As a sponsored athlete, no matter how minor among the list of stars, don't forget to do your bit - plug the brand every now and again through your social media and if you get interviewed always sign off with a thanks to your sponsors. Share links, news, contests etc be part of their team. Try not to spam people though. Play the good sponsored athlete game long enough though and you'll probably find they will talk about you too, which all helps to create a buzz between sponsor and athlete -which makes us followers keen to consider purchasing from the brand. That buzz can, for a very small enviable group of athletes, lead to the ...

Sponsor War
It's a fact of business life that some companies poach from other companies. It's not cool but it happens and is probably due to a little corporate competitive ego. If you are ever in such a position where two or more companies are vying for your services, I suggest that you conduct matters professionally and courteously at all times. Dumping one brand for another is fine, but at least talk to them first. It may be that they agree you have outgrown the company and will support your move, or they may improve the offer you got from the other company. Don't let them learn about you having left through some news release on their rival's Facebook page! BJJ is a fast moving scene, that new brand flush with startup cash might collapse in a year, so it always pays to be nice to your old sponsor!

Unlike BJJ team affiliations, it is perfectly reasonable to be sponsored by multiple brands - just don't rep brands that are direct (and probably much hated) market rivals to each other. If you are creative, then it is very possible to obtain sponsorships from numerous companies. Some athletes are supported by a gi company, a nogi company, a mouthguard company, a t-shirt brand,  food supplement and training device companies. As long as you are honest about who you currently represent, there is nothing to stop you asking other companies.

BJJ is an expensive hobby. Gis cost upwards of $100 and if you train a lot, you'll need several of them. Comp fees and travel can easily add up to several hundred dollars a month if you compete a lot. Plus there are academy fees, seminars etc etc. Asking for sponsorship can help ease the burden a little but be realistic. Just because you won a Mundials, Pans and NAGA tournaments back to back doesn't necessarily make you the star attraction you might think you are. Pitching yourself the right way to make companies take notice is the first hurdle and making yourself sound like an interesting proposition to take on board takes some time and thought. If you are lucky enough to get sponsorship then pat yourself on the back and enjoy your training!

About the author
Seymour Yang is a BJJ brown belt. In his role as a writer, consumer reporter and designer, he has worked with hundreds of fightwear companies around the world. He also owns the brand Meerkatsu and is NOT looking for people to sponsor.

About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


KHD INTl said...

Great article...good information!

Unknown said...

As someone who handles sponsorship requests, and submits potential candidates for approval, I would say this is fairly accurate. And I am always amused by one-liner sponsorship requests from a whitebelt with a handful of bronze medals and a promise of a future big win. Some are phrased as if we should be honoured they asked us. I would also add that as someone very actively involved in the BJJ scene, it's hard to pull the wool over our eyes. You can tell me that win at a small regional was a huge deal, but bear in mind I was probably there watching.

Don't underestimate the support of your team. I would not really consider forwarding a sponsorship request where the athletes coach has not been part of the discussion. At the lower belts, I prefer to be approached by the coaches. I need to know 1. they believe in the athlete 2. they are going to actively encourage sales of the products. As much as we would like to sponsor everyone, sponsorships need to translate to increased sales. The more we sell, the more we can reinvest back into the players.

We will also on occasion approach athletes directly who have impressed us and we would like to support. We keep an active eye on the scene, so we often have potential candidates in mind when packages become available.

ClayHero said...

I like to pretend that you sponsor me with all the gear I run around in that has your name on it... Finally got my hands on the Kenka Tights!


Meerkatsu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meerkatsu said...

[Sent by email]


I am an avid reader of your blog and I really liked what you wrote about sponsorship and how to obtain it. I happen to be the President of Da Firma Kimono Company, and I wanted to add a few things from the smaller company’s perspective. First, we wish we could sponsor everyone and pay for first class tickets around the world and put them up in 5 star hotels, but that is simply not a reality. If we could do that, I would sponsor myself. We do our best to take care of our athletes and we are very proud to have really good people on our team

While things like getting on the podium and how many friends you have on Facebook are a plus, we are more interested in the person behind the medals. We, at DFKC are invested in the person behind the kimono not just wins and losses. Yes, we sponsor World, Pan, and National Champions, but each of them is special; our athletes are mothers, fathers, we have a fire fighter, an emergency worker, small business owners, a psychologist, an educator and honor roll students. For us, there must be more then just the athlete and more than just wins and losses.

From our perspective, it important for a person who is requesting sponsorship own one of our kimonos or at least is a student at one at one of our Academy Custom sites. It is hard for us, to even thinking about sponsoring an athlete if they don’t know anything about our products. We want our athletes to be as excited about our kimono as we are. When they really love our products, they can convey to a person considering our products what is great about what we produce.

We receive about 30 requests for sponsorship every month; some of them are very well thought out and some…well they need a lot of work. A person requesting sponsorship should take some time and carefully plan out a request; things like a biography and a high quality photograph are plus. I am a little bit of an old school guy (they call me old man around here) and nothing drives me up a wall when a request starts with “Hey Man” or “Yo Bro,” when I see that I am just about done reading the request. I personally read and respond to every request we receive, and more often than not I have to deliver bad news. I have had people be very polite and I have also had people become livid that I have turned them down. Keep in mind that just because I say no now does not mean that I will not consider them in the future. As a mater of fact I keep a close eye on competitions, as I attend them all the time and still find time to compete myself.

We started Da Firma Kimono Company with the one goal in mind; produce an ultra premium kimono for a reasonable price. We continue meet that goal every day and we thank everyone who continues to support DFKC. I love the Jiu Jitsu Lifestyle and the community and DFKC is proud to be a little part of it.

Da Firma Kimono Company

Unknown said...

Hey Meerkatsu readers, I just wanted to let you know about my eBook that Seymour helped contribute to.

As a lot of people still struggle getting sponsored, I decided to put together an idiot-proof guide to getting sponsored featuring advice from sponsored athletes and brand owners. It even features an interview with Mr Meerkatsu himself!

You can check it out here: www.getBJJsponsorship.com


Unknown said...

Great article. As one of, if not the largest team in Japan, we have a great and tough time with sponsorship. You know sponsorship is like a job, for both sides, to live up to their end of the contract. In some cases, when I am not passionate about the brand, or we are at a time in our schedule where it is took hectic, I pass on some opportunities, to focus on doing great at the current responsibilities. Then at other times, I make pitches that fall on dead ears. It is like social media posts. Sometimes are best efforts get a couple of likes, but then at other times something we don't think it so great turns out to be a home run. Train Hard, Train Often, No Excuses! ~ Benjamin Sensei, Yudansha MMA and Caveirinha JJ - Japan.

James said...

Interesting read, you mentioned a future article about social media useage but i don't think i ever so it published any where?


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