Scooter kids are frequently asking me about sponsorship: "will you sponsor me?1", "how can I get sponsored?", "do you know if [some brand] is sponsoring?", "can you get me on a team?", and so on. I wish I had good news for everyone, but the sad fact is that it's really difficult to get sponsored and it's becoming more challenging for a number of reasons. Many kids end up frustrated because they make the act of trying to get sponsored the primary focus of their riding. Think back to why you started riding scooters in the first place. Was it because you wanted get sponsored? Or was it because you loved riding and how it made you feel? Sponsorship as an end-goal is not a healthy mentality to have in this sport or any other and here's why:
First, do you know what a chicken and egg problem2 is? For the kids reading this, a chicken and egg problem refers to a philosophical question "Which came first: the chicken or the egg?". The reason why this is a tricky question is because baby chickens hatch from eggs...but eggs come from adult chickens. So how do you get a chicken or an egg without the other one already in existence? You end up with an infinite recursion (looping) of chickens laying eggs that hatch chickens that grow up to lay eggs that hatch more chickens and you never get a solution to the problem.
Our sport suffers from a bit of a paradox similar to the chicken and egg problem: riders think they need a sponsor to be successful but they also need to be successful to get a sponsor. I can't tell you how many times I've heard kids tell me that they could get to competitions if someone would just sponsor them. Or, similarly, I hear kids say that they would win comps if someone would sponsor them. It definitely helps to have resources to support you, but the reality is that it takes more than sponsor support to win. I've seen plenty of un-sponsored kids have very successful experiences at competitions.
The first thing you can do to solve this paradox is to stop thinking that all you need is a sponsor. Instead, think about it as the last thing you need is a sponsor. Now, I don't mean that in the sense of the old phrase "the last thing you need is..." meaning that you absolutely don't need that thing. Instead, I really mean that you need your sponsor last after you've put everything else in place. Here, let me illustrate some of the things you need to do:
You probably need to learn another 50 things that I'm not mentioning here...and then, if you've worked really hard and you're lucky, you need a sponsor because that's how sponsorship works. The sponsor is trading their support of you in exchange for your promotion of their products and representation of their brand. All of your hard work and dedication is what you bring to the deal in exchange for the sponsor's products, professionalism, and investment in you.
So the first thing you need to do is stop thinking, "If I only had a sponsor, then I could....". Instead, try to understand that you have a challenge laid out in front of you on the road to sponsorship. You should understand all the work you have to do to earn that opportunity and take pride in riding for yourself and the love of the sport.
So why is it so difficult to get sponsored?
Sponsorship is a business. If you are a sponsored rider, you are a paid advertisement like a magazine spread, a commercial, or a billboard. The sponsoring company has determined that you are a good investment for their advertising dollars and they are going to spend money on you in exchange for your representation of their company and products. As soon as you fail to fulfill your end of that advertising agreement, they will terminate the contract because it doesn't make business sense.
There's another side to the sponsorship business as well. If the business isn't doing well or if they have to cut costs in advertising, you might be cut from the team. This is just the same as discontinuing a billboard or magazine advertisement. As a sponsored rider, you are an expense that the company might need to trim.
Now, the reality is not that cold. Sponsors care about their riders and they don't just treat them like advertising expenses. But, you have to understand the function that sponsored riders perform for a company so that when you're faced with difficult situations, like sponsors scaling back teams, you'll know there are a lot of other factors happening behind the scenes.
There are a lot of hard truths in this article, but this is probably the most difficult one that every rider has to face: sponsorship is not a reward that a scooter company (or the Universe) grants you for being a good rider, a good person, for trying hard, or for loving the sport. That's a tough lesson to learn, but it's probably the most valuable one you can take away from this article. The reward is what you earn through your hard work. And someday, sponsorship might be part of that reward, but it's not an automatic gift you are given for being good and loving the sport. You have to be really good and you need to have a lot of other intangibles (like those I mentioned above) before a sponsor might consider you. And even then, you might not be in the right place at the right time and you might not be lucky enough. It's unfortunate and hard to swallow, but it's true.
Some of you may not know this, while others might: scooter teams are not getting bigger, but rather they are getting smaller. This may not be true across the board, but it is true for several brands. It used to be that teams had a dozen or more pro riders, a flow team, and local support teams. Now, many teams are scaling back their pro teams to a handful of riders and reducing or slashing their flow teams.
The reason for scaling back is simple: you can do a lot more with focused money than you can with money spread thin. That is, rather than having 20 riders that a team can spend $1000 on per year, they have 5 riders and can spend $4000 on them. (These numbers are example only. I have no idea what teams spend on their pro riders.) Instead of sending each pro rider to a couple comps and then running out of money, they can send their entire pro team to more competitions with smaller teams.
Another reason for scaling back is to eliminate riders that present a logistical problem for the sponsor. For example, 14 and 15 year old kids can't travel without an escort, which means that the team has to pay for an extra person to travel. They also can't drive, so they need rides everywhere. Securing hotel rooms, managing transportation, looking after equipment...it's a lot for some teenagers. In fact, most car rental companies won't even rent cars to you if you are under 25, so that pretty much eliminates nearly all scooter team riders from being able to rent a car. You can see how age can be a complicating factor in travel, especially when leaving the country.
For these reasons and more, many teams are reducing the size of teams and eliminating riders that are under 16 or under 18. That means you might be the best 14 year old rider in the world and you won't get sponsored by a particular team because it's too challenging for them to support you. Hang in there. You'll be 16 (or 18) soon enough.
"How about you just give me some free parts that I can use to rep your brand?!"
There's a lot more business in this article than I'd like, but these are lessons we all have to learn, so here goes. Follow me on this: If you get free parts, then you aren't buying parts. Without money from sales, manufacturers don't have income to make parts and advertise. Without money for parts and advertising, they can't sponsor anyone. What that boils down to is this: not everyone can be sponsored because if they were, there wouldn't be anyone left to buy parts and support the company so some riders can be sponsored.
This all probably sounds like a cold splash of reality, but there's a silver lining. It might be harder to get sponsored than you hoped, but if you do your best, never give up, and ride because you love the sport then you might be lucky enough to be sponsored someday. And when you do, that sponsorship will mean even more because you understand how it works. You'll appreciate it more, be more respectful of those industry leaders doing the sponsoring, and you'll understand some of the business reasons why sponsorship decisions are made.
Have you seen Talladega Nights? You know the part at the end of the movie where he drives the car with the cougar painted on the hood and his sponsor is "ME" (he's driving for himself)? That's what you should do. Ride because you love it. Film and make videos because you love it. Go to competitions because you love it. Ride the parts that you love the best, not because you think you'll be sponsored by that company if you have those parts. Respect all of the sponsors and be happy with anyone who might decide to support you some day. Leave it up to the sponsors to decide what they want to do with their business and respect their decisions.
As I said before, you have many years of riding for yourself before you have to worry about a sponsor. Take pride in the fact that you represent yourself, you support yourself, and you ride because you love the sport. So quit thinking that all roads lead to sponsorship and that it's the salvation of scootering. The reward is the journey. Say that 10 times tonight as you're falling asleep.
The reward is the journey. The reward is the journey. The reward is the journey...
1. ScooterDad is not a team sponsor. There's no way we could afford to sponsor anyone at this time and we don't have any future plans to become a sponsor.
2. Scientifically, of course, there is a solution to this problem. The chicken and the egg didn't just appear out of nowhere, but rather they slowly emerged from less sophisticated systems through a process of evolution over millions and millions of years.