The reasons many racers are unsuccessful in finding sponsorship support is that they never start looking or they are ill prepared for the adventure. And looking for sponsorship-serious financial support-is an adventure with many downs and only some ups.

Unfortunately, a majority of racers would rather whine about the lack of sponsorship, how difficult it is to obtain financial backers, and how lucky those with sponsorship are rather than actually go after sponsorship.

Racers need to be prepared to earn a sponsorship because the competition for sponsorship dollars is fierce. You are competing for sponsorship opportunities available in just about every sport, in the theater, and everywhere there is a gathering of people. So in order to be successful at securing sponsorship, a racer must have a marketing package that stands out and offers an outstanding return on investment for the sponsor.

If the sponsor is looking for media exposure, then the racer has to make it happen. If the sponsor is looking for more traffic at a retail location, the racer has to make it happen. Far too often, a review of a racer's sponsorship package indicates that the package is backward. There is 75 percent about the racer and the team and just 25 percent about the marketing plan that is going to make the sponsorship successful. It should be just the opposite.

No sponsorship proposal should begin with begging for money so that an engine can be purchased to go racing. If a racer is going after sponsorship, that racer should already have the equipment necessary for racing.

We are offering a number of tips that we feel will help a racer's sponsorship efforts significantly.

WORTH REMEMBERING
Racers should keep a record of races run and results. Have current photos available. And make sure you have a portfolio of all media exposure that has been generated. All that information will come in handy when preparing the sponsorship marketing package.

1. There are two types of sponsors: business owners and fans. Some just enjoy seeing their name on a race car and are looking for nothing in return other than being a supporter of the sport. (We know there are also trucks and other vehicles in racing, but for ease of writing, we are using the term race car.) Then there are the more serious sponsors who are actually looking for a return on their investment, whether it is in media exposure, foot traffic for their business, or the opportunity to use the sponsorship for hospitality and entertainment at the race events.

2. Keep in mind that racers operating their race team as a business find success in sponsorship more often than those who do not. It is rather inexpensive to head down to the local Staples and have them create letterhead and business cards. They can also help with the creation of a professional sponsorship marketing package. First impressions count.

3. Telephone service is not that expensive. Set up a telephone line that is dedicated only to race team business. Make sure the people answering that phone understand the importance of a good image. Many think that having children answer the phone is cute, but it can be the undoing of a potential sponsorship deal.

If someone isn't there to answer the phone in a professional manner, install a voice mail system. And the voice mail greeting should not be, "Hey, this is Jimmy. You know the drill." Create a pleasant, business-like greeting that invites the caller to leave a complete message that includes a good time to return the call, the name, and the telephone number.

Return calls in a timely manner. This also holds true for e-mails. If you are using e-mails in your sponsorship marketing efforts, do not use instant message and do not use the popular abbreviations. Business people want to deal with professional people.

4. Oftentimes, we see racers requesting unrealistic amounts of money. They think the sponsor should finance the team, and they feel that it is OK to go back and ask for more if the original amount was not enough. A sponsor-a successful business person-is only going to give a racer what they think the opportunities offered are worth. There are no secret formulas that racers can use to figure out how their sponsorship package should be priced, but it has a lot to do with what your package includes, along with attendance figures, the number of events being run, TV involvement, and more.

5. With that being said, we also see many racers selling too cheap. It is best to start high and be able to negotiate down if necessary. If you place a low value on what you are offering, the potential sponsor could decide that it is not worth getting involved. Cheap is not always best.

WORTH REMEMBERING
If you are going after serious sponsorship, you will most likely find that the business you have approached will be doing a thorough check of your credit and personal references. Don't be surprised.

6. Make sure the sponsorship package you have created has a lot of value for the sponsor. The days of painting a sponsor's name on the race car and calling it sponsorship are long gone. Unfortunately, many racers, usually those who are without sponsorship or have the nickel-and-dime sponsorships, still have not been able to understand that.

A racer has to offer a package of benefits to attract serious sponsorship support. Some of the opportunities that should be included in a good package for a sponsor are as follows:

* Signage at the track where you race on a regular basis. If you are a traveling racer, make sure you have a sponsor banner that can be displayed. Make sure you have permission before hanging a banner.

* Include sponsorship of a night at the track. If you have more than one sponsor, divide it between all of them and invite all of them to be part of the night. This is also a great business-to-business opportunity for your sponsors.

* Track magazine advertising. You can save some money by including all your sponsors in one well-designed ad.

* Billboard advertising at the track.

* Public address announcements. Inquire about having announcements made about your sponsor. Oftentimes, announcers will do it as long as they have information. Some tracks may charge a fee.

* Exposure on the team Web site. No Web site? Get one. It's a great marketing tool. A good Web site is great for sponsors, the media, and merchandising opportunities (T-shirts, hats, and so on). Make sure it is kept current.

* Media relations. Make sure the media is receiving news on the race team.

* Be sure the announcer at events where you are racing has information on you and the sponsors.

* If there is a track magazine, see how you can get a story about you, the team, and the sponsors printed. Usually, all it takes is someone writing the story and providing photos. Many track magazine publishers are looking for material.

* Suggest a contest that would involve your sponsors providing the prizes.

These are just a few suggestions; the list goes on. The more financial support a racer seeks, the more perks that must be included.

WORTH REMEMBERING
Bobby Gunther Walsh, a NASCAR Modified racer at Pennsylvania's Grandview Speedway, has had a sponsor on his race car who is a politician. When politicians are running for office, they are always looking for maximum exposure in an effort to secure votes. We have even seen candidates for national offices place sponsorship on race cars. Racers should be in touch with politicians when they are seeking sponsorship. Here's a quick tip: We suggest getting the money up front just in case your sponsor loses in the election.

7. This one really irritates us. It's amazing how few racers see the value of having the sponsor names and/or logos on the hauler. Keep in mind that more people are going to see that hauler traveling to and from the races than will see the race car when it is performing. However, don't give it away.

Offer the opportunity to have the name/logo on the hauler. Explain the significance and charge the sponsors accordingly. In many states, racers have to pay extra for insurance because the hauler, with logos, becomes a commercial vehicle-that means higher insurance rates. Make the sponsor pay for this great exposure.

8. This is very important. We see proposals that promise the moon and have little chance of fulfilling that promise. Do not promise something to a sponsor that you cannot personally guarantee. We have heard of race teams that promise Victory Lane, championships, and media exposure in major dailies or on TV. It's much safer to just say that you will be giving it your best effort-just make sure you do.

9. We wish we had a dollar for each time we have heard from a racer who feels he has been taken advantage of by a sponsor. The monthly sponsor payment has not been received, and the sponsor is not returning calls. Guess what? There's nothing in writing, no contract. That's bad business. No matter how big or small the sponsorship deal, there should be a binding contract/agreement outlining what the sponsor gets in return for the monies being paid. And if you live up to all that you promise, you should be getting paid.

If not, you will have more ammunition for your lawyer to use when he contacts the sponsor seeking payment of the sponsorship fees and all legal costs.

10. Many racers fail to research potential sponsors. Check the Internet. See what you can find with the Chamber of Commerce. Find out as much as you can so that you know if the sponsor will fit. It will be important information for your proposal.

These 10 steps and points "worth remembering" will give you a great start on going after serious sponsorship. Before you ask, the time to start looking for sponsorship is now. Sponsorship marketing is an ongoing, everyday effort. And it does not stop when sponsorship is found. Once you have sponsorship, the hard work may really just be starting. You will have to do everything you promised, and you will have to work at protecting your sponsorship.

As to where to find sponsors, they are everywhere. We always suggest becoming active in local charities and civic organizations. Go to a Chamber of Commerce meeting or two. There are many successful business people who are involved in these groups.

In many areas, there are weekly business journals and tabloid newspapers that carry area business news. They also have lists of new businesses. You can keep a close eye on the business news in your local newspaper. That could very well be where you find your sponsor.

Seeking sponsorship is hard work. You will have to devote a lot of time and effort. It is not something you can do part-time at night; it has to be done during business hours.

If you don't feel that you can do all this but still want to reap the benefits of sponsorship, then hire someone to do it for you. Be prepared to pay a retainer and commission for their services, and keep in mind there are no guarantees.

ERNIE SAXTON BIO
Ernie Saxton has been involved in the business of motorsports for more than 40 years. He has been a photographer, a writer, an announcer (174 different tracks), a public relations person, a broadcaster, a marketing executive for a major company, and has even promoted some events. His monthly newsletter, Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News, is read by many key figures in motorsports and has helped many local, regional, national, and international racers and promoters with their sponsorship efforts. He continues to write for a variety of publications and is a cohost of two motorsports radio shows. He is also president of the Eastern Motorsport Press Association, which encompasses about 175 professional media that cover all forms of motorsports.

Saxton is considered an expert in sponsorship marketing, and his Web site, www.saxtonsponsormarket.com, has a wealth of information. He represents teams and events seeking sponsorship support from time to time and can be reached at Esaxton144@aol.com. Send an e-mail and ask for a sample copy of his Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News.

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