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Sunday, July 2, 2006

Getting Your Paintball Team Sponsored!

Top companies are offering sponsorships for scenario teams. How can you make your team stand out?
By Bruce 'Charon' Johnston

originally published in the July 2006 issue of Paintball Sports Magazine

In recent paintball history, only high profile tournament speedball teams playing in organized leagues received sponsorship. Today, with the increase in sales of woodsball products from companies like Tippmann Sports, the abundance of mil-sim style modifications for paintball markers (including the SP-8 and the Black Cell Ion), plus the advent of the Scenario Paintball Players League (SPPL) and increasing popularity of big games like Oklahoma D-Day (the world's largest paintball game) woodsball is coming back to the forefront of the sport. With this increased exposure comes an increased sponsorship opportunity for woodsball teams and players.
Since "sponsorship hunting" can be as competitive as a Tournament final, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses in order to devise your "pre-game" strategy. Before you take the field in your quest for a sponsorship flag, you need to ask yourself some questions. What makes your team different or special? If you were a business owner, what would you want and expect from a team you are sponsoring? Find (or establish) some unique traits about your group. If your team doesn't stand out from the crowd, how will you attract and maintain sponsors? Ultimately, how can your team benefit a potential sponsor?

Remember the potential sponsor only cares about one thing, selling more products. Sponsors need to be convinced that investing in your team makes good business sense. If you are sponsored you are acting as a representative for that company. Ideally, the company's name will be "marketed" to a segment of potential customers in a positive manner, which will result in more exposure and sales. Welcome to the cold, harsh, economically-driven "real" world. It's all about the bottom line.

What about winning? If a team wins every tournament or comes out on top in every scenario game isn't that team guaranteed sponsorship? Winning is not as important as you think. Jim Langlois owner of Mersey Road Paintball in East River, Nova Scotia says, "Yes winning is important but it is not the only thing that determines whether or not I sponsor a team. I am more likely to sponsor a great group of guys who don't win but will represent my field and the sport with dignity and class then I am to sponsor a winning team that yells at the refs, swears at competitors, throws their markers and acts like a bunch of spoiled brats."

Erich Garbers, Promotions Manager at Tippmann Sports and the founder of the Tippmann Effect echo these ideals, "Tippmann Sports looks for teams that will represent the company and our products in a positive way. We want teams that are making or attempting to make positive press for themselves and our sport. To be considered for sponsorship the team must use our products and have a marketing mentality to be able to effectively market our brand. Teams that are successful in receiving sponsorship will have a special blend marketing and playing abilities plus be true ambassadors of the sport. Once we find these teams they will get the full support of the entire Tippmann organization."

Robert Daugherty, founder of COPS911, said that one of the things he seeks from sponsored teams is feedback regarding new products. "It was important for me to know that the team members were interested in my products and committed to benefiting my company by testing the gear and providing valuable feedback."

Rory McCarthy, SPPL event director, commented, "It's vital that teams communicate clearly defined short term and long term goals so that potential sponsors can 'catch the team's vision' and better understand how players can benefit the company."
The best way to communicate your team's vision is through a professionally prepared information package. Due to the high volume of requests these companies receive they normally have a set of strict criteria that must be met for a team to be considered for sponsorship. To have any chance at being sponsored you must prepare and submit a detailed team resume! To avoid being eliminated on the break your first impression (and reputation) must be positive. It's essential for you to have an information package for potential sponsors that is concise and clearly identifies the unique benefits you offer the company. The package should contain "hard copy" documents and pictures that you can physically hand to field owners and company reps:

1. Team name, logo, home location, website, and contact information (including phone & email)
2. General team history
3. Names, ages and experience of team members
4. Color photographs of each team member
5. Practice schedule and home playing location
6. Tournament / public events schedule
7. Current equipment list of each team member
8. Team achievements / awards / press clippings, etc.
9. List of current sponsors
10. Team goals
11. How your team plans to represent the potential sponsor

The presentation of the resume is as important as the content. Sean Scott from Smart Parts immediately discards many sponsorship requests as soon as they arrive, "If a resume does not look professional... it gets the ole' delete button. If a team does not spend the time to bring me a nice presentation, I am not going to look at it. Pretty simple." The Smart Parts procedure is common with most companies. If you cannot effectively present yourself to the potential sponsor, what would make the sponsor believe that you will professionally represent them to the paintball community?

When you have everything prepared your home field owner is the most natural sponsorship candidate, and best audience for your first presentation. Hopefully you'll dazzle him with your brilliance and he'll sign on the dotted line. Then, start pursuing other business owners by presenting the package to anyone who can contribute to your team, no matter how small the contribution. Remember the larger the company you ask for sponsorship the more professional your presentation will need to be in order to be effective and avoid the "ole' delete button".

There is a general misconception that sponsorship means a "free ride". Erich Garbers at Tippmann Sports who is a former professional paintballer and long time industry insider sets the record straight, "Most people believe that a sponsorship means you will receive everything for free. Nothing could be further from the truth. Full rides in the paintball industry are very rare. Even pro teams must pay for many things out of their own pockets. For example some pro teams have a paint allowance where they are allotted only so many cases per tournament and any extra paint they use they have to buy themselves. Even with generous sponsorship packages, pro players will never recoup by playing what they would have made working a full time job. For most players it's not about the money, it more of an ego thing and a love of the game." Don't set your sights to high or expect to much when starting out. A sponsorship arrangement similar to deal between DYE Precision Inc. and Oliver Lang probably isn't in the cards for you just yet.

Even if your presentation is prefect, submitting to a company at the wrong time of the year can also ruin your chances of success. In the case of Smart Parts "Most sponsorships are given out at the beginning of the year. So asking for one half way through the year is going to be difficult at best. Major companies have budgets for sponsorship and they are usually used up by February. So asking later than that can be rather pointless." If you find that your presentation is ready to go mid way through the season hold onto it until winter. Not only will submitting early the next year increase your chances of success but it also gives you more time to add impressive information to the presentation.

Be prepared to be turned down over and over again. Securing sponsors is like securing a place on the podium at a tournament - but never give up. The reason that most people are unsuccessful in signing sponsors is because they are focused only on what the sponsor can do for them. Wrong! If you want sponsors, ask not what the sponsor can do for you; ask what you can do for your sponsor.

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