We are living in a world where the sky is the limit when it comes to becoming a ‘sponsored’ athlete. Although the reality of being a sponsored ‘athlete’ comes in all different shapes and sizes from being sent a couple of beanies and a t-shirt twice a year to full-blown sponsorships by companies which have nothing to do with a particular sport.
Can you think of all of the sponsors your favorite winter athlete has? What does a Range Rover really have to do with skiing anyway?
Recently an online snowboarding magazine explored the sponsorship landscape from the benefits to downfalls of having an agent, as a snowboarder. Though these ideas can apply to other sports, the article brings up some valid points from how people portray themselves on social media to how social media can help or hinder the adventure sports realm. This all leads to question what it means to be a sponsored athlete these days? Or; how do athletes get sponsored?
Formally in days gone by it was easy to figure out who the pros were, they were the ones covered in stickers, doing competitions, in films and magazines. Social media has changed the game when it comes to sponsorships according to William Fraser, writer of the article Stacking Stickers.
“In the past, the lack of accessibility also allowed for us to know who was pro and who wasn’t.”
A major concern for a lot of athletes is how do they get sponsored? Many people don’t realize what it takes to earn a ‘living wage’ in sports like snowboarding from sponsorship. With what is described as the A-lister snowboarders who earn upwards of $500,000 are in the 1%.
“Their priority is performing, performing for themselves and performing for the stickers on their board, that’s it. They’ve got big goals and big money to answer to. When you’ve struck the perfect marketable mixture of talent, personality, and fan following, the sky’s the limit.”
– William Fraser
While most people associate agents with the movie Jerry Maguire – “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” the sports industry has changed. But agents are still powerful in promoting athletes to other brands who may have nothing to do with snowboarding or skiing, etc.
“Which is okay to some degree, I think. Non-endemic support allows boarders to put more money into what they love doing. These brands allow riders to travel, get proper physio, feed themselves, save for the future, etc. They also put money into the sport, giving snowboarding events the means to be broadcast around the globe, gaining exposure for snowboarding and bringing in money. This money can then be put back into the endemic industry through brands, resorts, and media outlets, benefiting everyone.”
Yet in opposition, Fraser writes;
“Does it mean that non-endemic brands could start having more influence over the direction of snowboarding than snowboard companies? Has this already been happening? I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions. But, I think questions like this are important to think about.”
Fraser writes of the growing wealth-gap with many of the riders he interviewed for the article talking about it. Meaning there are not many athletes making a lot of money, with many athletes making less.
“A big middle class of boarders who are really good, but only receive a pair of pants and some beanies at the start of the year.”
While there is no right or wrong when it comes to sponsorship in the extreme sports industry, the environment is ever-changing in terms of how people are or are not sponsored.
So how do people get sponsored in the industry these days? There are many ways, but it is recommended those just starting, to start small.
Tip: Many of the brands big, medium, and small in the snowsports industry have contact forms on their websites. Reach out if you think you are the right fit for a brand.
For example: ski and snowboard maker K2 has a page dedicated to explaining sponsorship, and if you should start the journey to becoming sponsored:
“Every sponsored athlete needs to start somewhere. You are on the right path but now you need to show us your dedication to the sport as an athlete and your dedication to K2. Get in touch with your local K2 rep and see if you can get involved with the rep at local events and enter some contests. A regional sponsorship probably fits you best but start working on a sponsorship video that showcases all of your talents.”
Alternatively; you really could just do something cool which has not been done before like Veronia Paulsen. She was the first female to stomp a backflip into Corbet’s in Jackson Hole in February 2020. Previously she wasn’t that well know, after this, the ski world knew who she was, FINALLY. She did have some sponsors already, but she became even more appealing for sponsors.
Ultimately being sponsored is a dream for many, and a reality for some. But it takes a lot of things to get to the 1% living off the sponsorship dollars. Everyone has to start somewhere, it sure will be a wild journey.