Traditional Sponsorships Are Dead: Welcome to the World of Influencer Marketing!
When I was first introduced to the motorcycle community, I had some preconceived notions. I assumed motorcycle racing was like any other sport: the top athletes were paid or at least heavily supported by businesses in exchange for the brand exposure and their performance on the track. It didn’t take long for me to realize how wrong this assumption was. Being at the track weekend after weekend and getting to know the racers and their families, I quickly saw how undervalued motorcycle racers and the sport at large was from a marketing perspective. I was baffled by the lack of funding offered to these racers and teams, even at the elite level.
MotoAmerica is the highest level of motorcycle road racing in the United States, the equivalent of the National Basketball Association (NBA) for basketball or the National Football League (NFL) for football. The NBA and NFL are both full of incredibly talented athletes, all of which get paid to compete in a sport they love based on their talents and marketability. According to Statista.com, the average NBA player makes $8.32 million dollars per year. The average NFL player makes about half of that (still between $2 million and $4 million per year). Meanwhile, most MotoAmerica racers not only don’t get paid but they also pay out of their own pockets to compete in a sport they love (and let’s not forget they risk their lives doing it).
I could probably write an entire blog on my theory of why there is such a vast disparity between motorcycle road racing and basketball, football and other, more mainstream sports in America but let me simply boil it down to one thing for the purposes of this blog: audience reach. At the end of the day, for a multitude of reasons, motorcycle road racing does not reach near the amount of people as the other sports mentioned. As racers, team owners, and trackside partners of the sport, we can all sit around and complain about it or we can do something about it. But what can we do? While we are unable to make decisions at the top level, we can do our part to attract more people to the sport; thereby increasing the overall exposure for the organizations and sponsors involved. More exposure = more money. This is something I’ve become very passionate about over the past couple of years. I believe we can elevate the sport one racer at a time.
Whether you are a racer, race team owner/manager, or trackside partner, you have a responsibility to the sport. Build a brand and utilize it to attract (and retain) more fans for the sport; thereby elevating the entire sport. A couple of weeks ago we posted a blog titled How to Be Your Sponsors' Favorite Racer by Sara Lobkovich, founder and principal consultant at Red Currant Collective. In this blog, Sara outlines your four responsibilities as a sponsored racer: (1) ride the motorcycle around the racetrack as fast as you can; (2) share your story/stories, so that fans get excited about your on-track performance and the person behind that performance and pay attention to what you’re doing; (3) represent yourself, your sport and the brands you love authentically AND with professionalism; and (4) share how the brands you love (and ultimately work with) help you do #1 better / faster / safer (whether that’s on or off the track). I echo all of these responsibilities and want to elaborate on a few in detail.
Ultimately your job is to create a brand for yourself as an athlete as a means of giving your sponsors and the sport more exposure. Creating a brand adds value to your pitch when soliciting sponsorship dollars and products to support your endeavors. But I just want to race motorcycles, you may say! And that’s fine but you better have pockets deep enough to pay for it all or be able to win enough races to subsidize the cost. If you are like most racers, you probably need a little financial or product support along the way. I spent nearly eight years as the Vice President of Finance for a marketing communications firm and currently advise several clients on their branding through my solo business venture, Caffeinated Consulting (in addition to my work as Co-Founder of Bison Track). Let me share a few things that may be helpful.
First and foremost, put a little work into your social media presence. At a minimum, you should create and regularly post on these social media platforms: Facebook and Instagram (bonus points for LinkedIn, TikTok, and YouTube).
Facebook should be set up as a Business Page versus simply using your personal profile. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, while you are able to tag your sponsors from your personal profile, your sponsors are unable to tag you as an individual. One of the limitations of Facebook Business Pages is that a Business Page can not tag an individual, only another Business Page. This can be very frustrating for your sponsors as they want to interact (and promote) you as much as they want you to promote them. Because of this platform limitation, I recommend creating a Business Page, making all posts from your Business Page, and sharing it to your individual page as you deem appropriate. One of the other major advantages of creating a Business Page is that you can invite people to like your page. In fact, the very first thing you should do once your Business Page is set up is to invite all of your friends. Then, anyone that interacts with your page in the future can also be invited.
People always ask me if they should post the same content to Facebook and Instagram. I say, YES! Even though a lot of people have accounts on both Facebook and Instagram, people generally favor one over the other and may miss your posts if they are only posted on one platform. I, for instance, rarely engage with content on Facebook but I engage with pretty much everything on Instagram. Instagram is my personal favorite because I prefer visually stimulating images versus words. Since the two platforms allow for easy crossposting, by all means please use it! Format and post everything from Instagram but make sure each post is specific to each platform. For instance, there is no need to include hashtags on Facebook but you definitely need them for Instagram. You can include a link in your post on Facebook but Instagram needs a reference to the link in your bio (and, for the love, be sure to include the link in your bio before you make your post). Another critical mistake I see is that racers will tag their sponsors in the post on Instagram. DO NOT DO THIS. Always tag your sponsors in the photo! The reason for this is because photo tags will show up on the sponsor’s Instagram page under the icon on the far right. It’s an easy way to reach new fans! It’s also a huge value add for sponsors because it helps them populate more content on their page. If you want to simply crosspost from Instagram to Facebook without removing the list of sponsors at the bottom of your post, that’s fine, but please also tag them in the photo. It’s more work but it does add value to both your brand and your sponsor’s brand. I highly recommend downloading the Facebook Business Suite app. It is super useful for crossposting on both platforms. You are now even able to edit each description per platform prior to posting (whereas you used to have to post as is and then go back and edit each as needed).
I don’t have as many insights for LinkedIn, TikTok, or YouTube but each platform definitely has unique purposes and advantages. LinkedIn is where most business professionals live - these are often the people you will need to interact with to secure sponsorships! The most important thing to do on LinkedIn is to actively post and interact with sponsors you are supported by or would like to be supported by in the future. They see you - and the extra effort you’re putting in to promote their brand. (But please don’t overdo it! Posting too much can become annoying to sponsors - two to three posts per week is probably sufficient.) TikTok and YouTube are both great platforms for reaching new audiences. Both also have influencer programs with monetary kickbacks that you may be able to participate in as you grow your following. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few extra dollars coming in to support your racing, would it?
Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer for all social media platforms is this: interact with your audience as much as possible. This extends beyond simply liking a post or commenting. Take the time to engage - ask questions or provide feedback. Your followers follow you because they are intrigued by you for one reason or another. If you interact with them, they are more likely to continue to follow you and recommend others to follow you as well. They may even eventually kick you a few bucks to support you by purchasing some awesome, branded gear (more on that later). If you really want to grow your fanbase, join groups and interact with people there as well. Groups are a good way to put you in front of new people that may not know anything about you - and your interactions in the group may encourage them to follow you! The most important thing to remember when interacting with fans and potential fans online is to do so authentically. Be yourself. Tell your story. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. People will see through the bullshit if you aren’t engaging authentically.
In addition to the social media platforms I mentioned previously, it’s also a good idea to have a website. It doesn’t have to be anything super robust but it should exist. At a minimum, include information about yourself and your sponsors with a link to all of your social media platforms. I would include the following information about you: your story, your accomplishments, critical members of your team, and your goals for the future. You should also include all of your sponsors (cash and product sponsors), including their logos and a link to their website or social media page. A section (or sections) with the fans in mind would also be great! Include some of your favorite images, your upcoming schedule of events where people can see you race, and gear fans can buy!
Gear? I’m not a professional - I just race club events! Do you have supporters? Family and friends that support you (or would want to support you)? Remember, your job is to get yourself and your sponsors in front of as many people as possible. You’ve already done your part by setting up all of the social media platforms and a website but that’s all online. What happens when you get to the track? Wouldn’t it be cool to see fans (even if they are family and friends) walking around in gear with your name and/or logo on it? (Throw your sponsor’s logos on there for additional exposure for them as well!) Get pictures of fans in your gear and post those on your social media platforms and your website. Sponsors will love seeing their logos not only online but also at the track! It will make them feel all warm and fuzzy to see their brand included in all of your marketing efforts. (I should mention that all of our Bison Track sponsored riders are eligible to design and sell gear through The Herd Collection on our website at www.bisontrack.com. Need more information? Email me at email@example.com and I’ll email over the details!)
I know this probably all seems like a lot. After all, all you want to do is race motorcycles. But trust me when I say that gone are the days of businesses just writing you checks to cover your racing costs without wanting anything in return. Traditional sponsorships are dead. Businesses have gotten more savvy in deciding how to spend their marketing dollars thanks to the availability of data (thanks Google and Facebook). If you want to compete for a business’s limited marketing dollars, you’re going to have to make a compelling argument of what you bring to the table. Potential sponsors will want to know, at the very least, your brand reach (how many people you expect to expose to their brand). MotoAmerica publishes viewership so you can definitely include those numbers in your pitch if you plan to race at that level but you cannot guarantee your exposure on that stage. Unfortunately you can’t control how often you’re on TV (or even if you’re on TV at all). Focus on promoting what you can control - the reach of your social media platforms and website. Oh, you just wanted to race and didn’t want to deal with any of this? Sorry. You’re now an influencer whether you like it or not (unless of course you have a rich family member that is going to flip the bill for your very expensive sport).
Have any questions on anything in this blog or need help building your brand, social media platforms or website? Email me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to help!
Tosha Lackey, CPA, is Co-Founder of Bison Track LLC and Owner/Operator of Caffeinated Consulting LLC. In addition to her Master’s degree in Accounting, Tosha also studied Sports Administration at Wichita State University because she wanted to be a female Jerry Maguire. In her former life Tosha was the VP of Finance for a marketing firm, where she spent her free time escaping the finance department via the fresh-air ducting system, spying on the Creative Department through the ventilation system and learning their marketing secrets. She very much enjoys networking within the race community and using her skills to help riders build their brands.
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