What does it mean to be "sponsored"?

What does it mean to be "sponsored"?
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As the brand manager for several triathlon bike brands over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of “sponsorship” requests. Many proposals are very well done, and I wish I could support more athletes. But budgets are budgets, and it’s just not in the cards to throw bikes at every well-intentioned triathlete I meet. That brings me to the bad asks, and man are there a lot of really bad ones. I literally had someone pitch me that “Since I race in a lot of triathlons, you should give me a free bike. Because lots of people will see me riding your bike, and then they’ll want one too." Of course, I’m sarcastically paraphrasing, but not by much. "So yeah, sounds great. Here’s your new free bike." Come on, now. Let’s get real. That would be like me saying “Dear Eddie Bauer- I wear your jeans all the time. So you should give me jeans for free so lots of people see me wearing them.”
Brands and athletes throw around the word “sponsored” fairly loosely these days, and there are many benefits for both sides of a really good working relationship - whether we’re talking five-figure payouts for the big dogs at the top of the sport, or discounts for age-group competitors. So what does it really mean to be sponsored? What interests a company when it comes to sponsoring an athlete?
I personally could care less if you race over a hundred races a year and stand atop the podium in every one of them. If you have a humdrum personality; are a know-it-all, high-horse jerk; or grab your medal and run type, you’re of little value to me. Let me say that again- I really don’t care if you win. That is to say, good results are great, and part of what I need is feedback from athletes at the top of the sport, but that’s not the whole story. Not even close.
Gone are the days when sponsorships are filled with logo placement and PA announcements. In today’s connection economy, I need people with reach and charisma that can contribute to spreading and galvanizing our brand’s message. An ambassador. U.S. political ambassadors don’t show up to summits wearing an American flag suit, hit the buffet, and then leave. They act on their country’s behalf. Engage. Connect. Relate. What I want is a team of people who make my brand human. Not a one-time transaction for a billboard.
So next time you pitch me for sponsorship, consider these tactics for your fancy PowerPoint deck: Don’t show me logo placement on your blog; show me evidence of insightful content that makes a contribution to the sport. Don’t show me pics of you on the podium; show me pics of you interacting, laughing (smiling!) with your peers before or after the race. Don’t show me number-of-Followers or Likes; show me samples of your posts, display the personality in which you engage your audience. And please, PLEASE, don’t tell me you’re consistently one of the fastest on the bike. Because frankly, a fast swimmer who is first out of the water will get me way more face time while riding than any fast (middle-of-the-pack-out-of–the–water) cyclist will.

~ Steve.

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