As a podcaster, and more recently an athlete, I regularly find myself talking about working with brands and “debating” what qualifies as a sponsorship.
So let’s make this simple – if you (or your team) are required to spend money to take advantage of the benefit, it is NOT a sponsorship.
For example, as a member of Team Betty, I received a signifiant discount on a kit that was exclusive to the team, as well as a smaller discount on other items purchased from the sportswear designer. I was also given access to discounts offered by companies sponsoring the team including Coola and Gatorade.
Does that mean I was “sponsored” by Betty Designs, Coola or Gatorade? Absolutely not, because to take advantage of the benefits I needed to spend money.
Do discounts, on their own, lack value? Of course not! But we need to call them something else – partners, supporters, contributors – so we don’t risk de-valuing true sponsorships.
And we need to define what is a sponsorship, including:
Money. Cash remains king because it allows athletes and teams the flexibility to use the money for things they need including food and rent (never has anyone been able to pay for their mortgage with free shoes).
Stuff. Equipment, food, clothing, shoes, and other accessories – athletes & teams have a lot of things they need. And that’s the key – accepting free stuff as a form of sponsorship only works if it’s something you need, and it’s a brand you believe in (no one benefits if you take free sunglasses from a manufacturer if you don’t actually want/need/like the sunglasses).
Keep in mind that you can only accept so much “stuff” in lieu of payment. For example, when the Manic Mommies podcast was first sponsored by Sleep Number, my co-host and I both received beds. When it was time to extend the sponsorship, we asked for, and received, cash –- because we didn’t need more beds.
Services. Free memberships to your local gym, fitness tracking services, or even food/nutritional services could all be considered forms of sponsorship. A 50% discount to your local gym? Not a sponsorship, but certainly helpful so call it a “supporter” or “partner.”
Support. Bicycle component manufacturer SRAM, can be seen at races and events throughout the world providing “neutral” support to racers and riders. Providing a service like this, at no cost, could be considered sponsorship as it removes an expense for the organizer.
Credit A credit that can be used towards the purchase of custom clothing for a bicycle shop, for example, could be considered a sponsorship as the shop can either cover the full cost of their order, or use it to defray the cost on a larger order (ultimately allowing them to make more on what is sold to customers).
Merchandise credit, travel vouchers, hotel rewards which can be use to pay for lodging could all be considered forms of sponsorship, particularly if they cover the full cost of the product or service.
It’s not unusual for sponsorships to be a combination of these things – for example, when Brooks Running sponsored a Manic Mommies Escape they gave us cash to pay for shirts, as well as free clothing to give away to attendees.
Ultimately, how you or your organization chooses to define the support you receive from brands is up to you. And I’m sure someone reading this will come up with some exception to our rule.
Just remember that, whatever path you choose, sponsorships and other partnerships should be clearly identified, so your followers are aware of a business relationship.