Scooter Sponsorship and Success - A Chicken and Egg Problem

Scooter Sponsorship and Success - A Chicken and Egg Problem

Don't measure your success in terms of your sponsorship status and don't think that lack of sponsorship is what is holding you back.

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:

The Chicken and The Egg

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 need to have a love of the sport.
     
  • You need to learn your tricks.
     
  • You need to learn how to carry speed.
     
  • You need to learn how to maintain your scooter.
     
  • You need to learn how to be a encouraging and respectful to other people.
     
  • You need to learn how to represent yourself and others.
     
  • You need to learn how to communicate.
     
  • You need to learn how to be responsible and reliable.
     
  • You need to learn how to earn the money for your own parts so you understand and appreciate what it costs to maintain a scooter.
     
  • You need to learn how to respect your equipment.
     
  • You need to learn how to fall and get back up.
     
  • You need to learn the importance of safety gear.
     
  • You need to learn the importance of training, fitness, health, and how to recover from injury.
     
  • You need to learn how to put together lines and runs.
     
  • You need to learn to ride park, street, and vert.
     
  • You need to learn how to take risks and push yourself.
     
  • You need to learn how to stop yourself before you've pushed too far or done something too risky.
     
  • You need to learn how to film, edit, and promote yourself through videos and online resources.
     
  • You need to learn how to win.
     
  • You need to learn how to lose.
     
  • You need to learn how to support your friends and teammates.
     
  • You need to learn how to approach and speak to industry leaders.
     
  • You need to learn how to look up to those who have paved the way before you.
     
  • You need to learn how to be a good role model for those kids coming up behind you.

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?

It's Just Business - It's NOT a Reward

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.

Less Is More

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.

Sponsor All the Riders???

"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.

Ride for You: "I'm sponsored by ME!"

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...

 

Footnotes

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. 


Comments

Seeing the attitudes and behaviors of some of the sponsored riders lately makes me wonder of the criteria of sponsorship and how well some riders are representing their companies. I think that maybe fewer sponsorships actually might make riders appreciate them more. You are correct in saying the riders really need to remember why they started doing this. It wasn't about being adored by a company it was for the love of riding.

By Dave LeGates (not verified)

Another GREAT article! Thanks ScooterDad!

Excellent job on this. I can't wait to read it with my 6 y/o son. He doesn't quite understand sponsorship, but is constantly asked at the skate park if he is sponsored. You have provided a great illustration of what all scooter riders should have for their mindset.
Thanks,
Steve

By Steve Johnson (not verified)

I'm a 13 year old rider i have had a scooter since i was 4 and i started to take it seriously over the 2012 summer. I love what you have said it makes me want to ride even more just for the fun of it. But one thing that makes me think that if i want to scooter is some people in my grade. They call scootering "gay" and i dont know what to do because i love the sport but thats one thing that puts me down about it. If you could maybe do a article on it it would make me happy to see it there. But anyways i like what you say thanks.
-Timmy

By Timmy H. (not verified)

Thanks, Timmy. Unfortunately, the hate on scootering is rampant. I believe that it exists mostly because people don't understand scootering or what it takes. The best thing you can do to fight negativity is to promote positivity within the sport and to not acknowledge those people who just want to hate. I have an article in the works that touches on some of this. Thanks for the comment!

By Kenny

Thanks for blog. I read it with my 14 year old this morning. I am so leary of his friends who are ALL sponsored by Monster (tm) or Elite industries (tm) or Redbull (tm). It is seriously all he talks about. He is in awe of these kids and I
Can't find a single reason why any of them should be sponsored by a company. Is this something that kids inflate, or even lie about? I want to convince him to just enjoy the sport and have fun with his friends and not feel down because he isn't good enough to get sponsored. It just seems crazy that if his 8 or so friends that he skates with, 5 are sponsored by some HUGE name company... Any advice?

By Misty Janssen (not verified)

There are only a couple of top pros that have sponsorship deals with Monster Energy or Rockstar Energy, so kids you are hearing about are probably not telling the truth. That, or they might be misunderstanding a different kind of sponsorship. Maybe a local convenience store gives them free drinks and stickers, so they think they are "sponsored" by the drink companies. If his friends aren't consistently in the top 5 of pro competition events, then they almost certainly aren't sponsored by Monster, Redbull, or anyone else like that.

Either way, it doesn't matter. The truth is that even the top riders in the world can barely support themselves off sponsorships and they certainly aren't getting rich off it. Ask your son what he wants to gain by being sponsored. Explain to him that it if it's just for parts, then he'd have a much easier time mowing lawns or walking dogs to make the money for the parts. If he thinks the sponsor would send him all over the world to compete, he's mistaken. Very few pro riders get sent all over for competitions, even by the best sponsors. Help him understand that sponsorship is a job and very few riders have real sponsorship opportunities. It's a trap I see kids falling into over and over and over again. They think it's the endgame of scootering, and it's not. If his goal is just to get sponsored, he's going to be greatly disappointed by scootering.

Good luck!

By Kenny

Hi, I am 11 from CA and I really want to get sponsored. I can do a stall, grind, 180 fakie etc. Please sponsor me. Last thing. My email doesn't work to well so call me [redacted]

By Aiden Springer (not verified)

Hey Aidan, ScooterDad is not a sponsor, but you should make some videos and take some photos and post them to ScootAm.com where other sponsors can find you and your videos. Good luck!

By Kenny

I really like what u said it makes wanna ride more I've been riding for 1 year I love the sport I lime to meet new people and please get back to me

By santiago Martinez (not verified)

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