I receive emails all the time from (current and aspiring) fitness competitors, fitness models and other fitness lovers who ask me for advice on obtaining a sponsorship from a fitness brand. The brands people are seeking sponsorship from range from supplement brands, clothing brands, food preparation companies and more. Many people would like to be a sponsored athlete but have no idea how to start, so let me give you some tips.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert when it comes to sponsorships but I do know a little something. I have been sponsored by companies in the past (when I was competing regularly) and was also offered a sponsorship by a wonderful supplement brand which I had to turn down because of my move to Switzerland. Even though I know a little, I thought it would be best to turn to a brand to ask them what they look for in a sponsored athlete to best answer any questions that you may have.
I contacted iconic Australian fitness wear brand Muscle Republic to ask them what they look for in a sponsored athlete. You may have seen Muscle Republic and their athletes all over social media. I know I have and I’ve always been impressed by how tight-knit their athlete family and brand seems. After speaking to the founder, Vic Gigliotti, I know now know why the Muscle Republic family is in fact like a family and Vic had some great words, advice and ideas to share with us about athlete sponsorship.
How to become a sponsored athlete:
1. Be yourself.
This may seem obvious but in the world of social media it’s often easy to fall into the trap of trying to represent yourself as something you are not. “Companies are looking for a sponsored athlete that is genuine, real and true to themselves. If you are this, companies with substances will approach you. Definitely surround yourself with the right people and opportunities will arise,” says Vic.
2. Know the brand.
If you want to work with a company or brand as an ambassador or sponsored athlete, make sure you familiarise yourself with their history, their story and their values. Muscle Republic believes “the heart is the real muscle” and the brand was founded as a community-based brand that produces clothing which, together with their values of belief, focus, belonging, support and resilience, helps their customers achieve their fitness goals. Knowing something like this about the brand before approaching them will show the company you’re a fan of their products and that you actually use their products (or wear their clothing). The fact that you’ve put time and effort into researching the company will show that you have really dedicated yourself to submitting a genuine application rather than sending a standard “cut and paste” email to every brand you’ve ever heard of.
3. Work out what the company looks for in a sponsored athlete.
Here it is important to know the company’s values and to ensure you meet those values. Sometimes the potential sponsored athlete is wonderful and the potential sponsor company is also wonderful but they may not work together. Find a company that has values and ideas aligning to your own. Says Vic, “I know my brand and how I want it represented therefore I don’t want the wrong people associated with its representation. I watch the athletes through social, their posts, how they respond to positive and negative comments… their content is key”.
4. Have some form of social media.
Whether or not you agree with it, social media does play a key role in obtaining sponsorships and ambassadorships. Building up a profile on one or more social networks will allow you to share brands and companies with people and having this outlet will improve your viability to the company you represent. But remember that you don’t need to have a huge following to be a sponsored athlete. Some companies, like Muscle Republic, choose substance over a 5 or 6 figure follower count; “I decided I was going to pick individuals I wanted to represent my brand and believed in my values. I believe I am creating the best brand out there that it will grow regardless of which social-media celebrity thinks they will influence my sales” says Vic. So don’t be afraid of applying for sponsorships if you don’t have a gigantic social media following. Being true to and passionate about the brand and that will have more of a standing that a big follower count.
5. Understand that not all sponsorships will take place in the form of monetary remuneration.
Nowadays it is common for brands to provide a sponsored athlete with a sales commission, free product, free photographer and videographer services, transport and accommodation at events and exhibitions and other non-monetary rewards in return for social media shares, attending the events and exhibitions and representing the brand effectively at all times. It is rare for sponsorships to be wage-based and brands often require that you start at an ambassador-level and work your way up so they know how well you can represent the company because entering into a full sponsorship. Don’t let not receiving a full wage sponsorship dim your spirits – becoming a sponsored athlete is usually part of a long journey.
6. Know that you don’t need to compete to be a sponsored athlete.
It is a common misconception that you need to compete and do well in fitness/bodybuilding competitions in order to become a sponsored athlete. This isn’t the case at all. Muscle Republic, for example, considers placings but have no interest if the athlete doesn’t have good energy or isn’t humble. Vic says “I believe health and fitness is a lifestyle and I am not concerned about a sponsored athlete competing. I would rather them maintain and promote our core values through their everyday lives and their social media profiles”.
7. You don’t need to be a personal trainer or coach to be a sponsored athlete.
Fitness does not have to be your career if you want to be a sponsored athlete. According to Vic, “fitness is a lifestyle more than anything else. If athletes are passionate about fitness and being the best they can be, then they will be involved in helping people change their lives and realise their goals”. And that kind of person would be a great ambassador or sponsored athlete for a brand like Muscle Republic, even if they aren’t necessarily a competitor, trainer, coach or working in a position directly in the fitness industry.
8. Know how the potential sponsor company wants to be approached.
Some companies have a link on their website where you can apply to become a sponsored athlete while other companies, like Muscle Republic, prefer to find and contact the athletes themselves. Figure out what they prefer or contact one of their current athletes to find out how you should go about the process. According to Vic, “if the athlete’s values and profile fits Muscle Republic’s marketing plan and company values, then we will contact them”. If you are passionate about representing a company like Muscle Republic then you could, for example, tag them in your social media posts when you are wearing their clothing, leave positive comments on their social media profiles, leave positive reviews about their products and so on. Showing that you are passionate about the brand and willing to go above and beyond to share their values will most definitely result in the company noticing you.
9. Understand that being a sponsored athlete is an ongoing commitment.
Being a sponsored athlete means that you are a part of the company’s team and that requires ongoing commitment, work and effort. Most companies, including Muscle Republic, track their social media following, website hits and sales made using athlete discount codes. Muscle Republic also works with their athletes so they can grow alongside each other; “I believe a team approach is necessary for growth. If you want to grow fast then go alone but if you want to go far, go together” says Vic.
To sum up the above points: to become a sponsored athlete you need to be unique, passionate, hard-working, reliable and willing to work towards a sponsorship. You need to have an audience to communicate with and a love for the brand you are representing. Form a positive relationship with the company and other athletes and look at the sponsorship as a job, rather than a right or privilege.
I hope those tips and tricks have helped you in your quest of becoming a sponsored athlete.
Feel free to share any tips or knowledge you might have in the comments!
I’d like to thank Vic Gigliotti of Muscle Republic for taking the time to answer my questions about becoming a sponsored athlete. On a side note, I’ve met Vic numerous times and he always has time to chat, catch up and make others feel welcome and appreciated. Vic and his Muscle Republic are wonderful ambassadors of everything the fitness industry needs more of.