Last month I wrote an article in which I discussed different levels of athlete sponsorship and the tendency of some sports supplement and fitness related companies to use athletes as unpaid salespeople under the guise of being sponsored. This month I am flipping to the other side and discussing athlete value, i.e., what the athlete SHOULD be bringing to the table in terms of marketability, knowledge, and salesmanship when approached for a sponsorship. Both the company and the athlete should have something to offer the other party so that the relationship is a healthy symbiosis which promotes both parties. Essentially, when an athlete and a company work together, they should be working as a TEAM so that everyone can benefit from the union, but this doesn’t always occur.
In some cases, athletes will work tirelessly to promote a brand for little or no compensation, while in others, supplement and fitness related companies put their energies into an athlete, believing that the athlete will enhance the brand, only to have an athlete take advantage and become extremely lazy and neglect his/her end of the deal. While there are athletes out there who have tremendous value and who have built laudable reputations through inspiring articles, e-books, and client transformations, there are countless more who have an exaggerated sense of self-entitlement and who believe that simply because they graced the stage once or twice, they deserve to have everything handed to them for free.
If you are new to competing or to the fitness world in general, you need to be aware that it takes time to build your own brand and to find your place in the industry. Perhaps the best thing you can do at this point is to assess your value and what you truly bring to the table. Companies which are looking for brand ambassadors want someone with a following and a unique presence or message which is congruent with their brand philosophy, so if you aren’t there yet, you had better start working on building your own value.
Let’s start with physical appearance. Those who are successful in the bodybuilding and fitness industry have great physiques which they continue to improve upon over time. Individuals who maintain a relatively consistent weight and conditioning level throughout the year tend to fare best as well since they are close to shoot/contest ready almost all the time. Some of the top signed sponsored athletes are also some of the best looking people on the planet! I’m not saying that you have to have movie star good looks to land sponsorships, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. This is when you need to be VERY realistic about yourself and what you bring into the mix. You should be blessed with good looks or a distinctive, appealing look, or at the very least be photogenic if you expect to land a sponsorship with one of the bigger supplement companies.
Perhaps you are just average looking, or have a face only a mother could love, but you ooze sex appeal and charisma. If you are blessed enough to have such an energetic pull on people, this could work in your favor during booth appearances and videos, and increase interest in the brand you are representing. You are also far more likely to get picked up by a company if you have an enthusiastic and positive attitude. In keeping with this, you should only work with companies which sell products you truly believe in and like, because your enthusiasm for the products will come through naturally as you promote them.
Another valuable trait which increases an athlete’s value is integrity. People who do well in the fitness and bodybuilding industry and who have longevity within it tend to be truthful, sincere, and have strong values. You must have a strong backbone to survive in this highly saturated and fickle industry, and that only comes with knowing who you are and honoring your personal beliefs. If you sell out and take shortcuts, you run the risk of having a very short-lived career.
One of the most powerful ways to connect with your core audience is to show your human side and share stories which allow your followers to relate to you. It doesn’t matter if you show your own body transformations or those of your clients, as long as followers can see a before photo which they can relate to and an after photo which inspires them to take action. Such inspiration becomes even more powerful when you offer to help followers to reach their fitness and wellness goals. People begin to believe in YOU, and that can give you the leverage you need to promote a product line for a brand you represent.
If you have experience and education in fitness, nutrition, business, advertising, medicine, physical therapy, massage, or any other field which may be relatable to your journey in fitness and to the people who follow you, it’s a good idea to fortify such knowledge by becoming an authority. You can do this by creating videos, blog posts and books which showcase your knowledge. This can make you especially valuable to supplement and fitness companies which are considering bringing you on board because you can offer your knowledge as part of the deal which you negotiate with them.
Many companies assess the popularity and reach of an athlete through social media numbers, a tactic which can edge many athletes out of the running for top sponsorship spots if numbers are all they care about. Some athletes have purchased followers or promoted their profiles by paying for them, which has worked in their favor when securing sponsorships, but I don’t recommend this route since many of those paid followers won’t buy products which the athlete promotes. Then there are athletes who desperately want to work in the industry and obtain sponsorships, but have built their following solely on sexy half-naked photos of themselves. These athletes (mostly women) have resorted to using their social media channels solely as a means to post scantily clad selfies which ostensibly generate a ton of likes from the opposite sex. Every athlete who lowers his/her standards to this point where the only value generated is from smutty photos is sure to find that there is no legacy to speak of as time goes on and looks fade.
Even if you build your value and show consistently that you have a strong work ethic, you must continue to meet your end of the bargain. Sometimes companies will give you product as a trial run to see what you will do with respect to adding value to the brand. Some athletes will ramp up slowly, while others will jump right in with social media posts and will do all they can to promote a product. I have also seen some athletes start out as strong cheerleaders for a product, only to fizzle out because they lack self-discipline and consistency. Of course this can also occur on the company’s end, so it behooves both the athlete and the company to check in with each other regularly to make sure that everyone is happy.