Event marketing: Self-marketing a must for amateur athletes

Michael Lang is president of Lang & Associates, a Toronto-based international event marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Atlanta.Kirsten Armitage is an account executive with Lang & Associates, and co-ordinator for the Event Marketing column. Contributions, ideas, media releases...

Michael Lang is president of Lang & Associates, a Toronto-based international event marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Atlanta.

Kirsten Armitage is an account executive with Lang & Associates, and co-ordinator for the Event Marketing column. Contributions, ideas, media releases and feedback should be directed to Kirsten at (416) 229-0060 or fax (416) 229-1210.

Elvis Stojko, Silken Laumann, Jean Luc Brassard, Myriam Bedard. These are among the limited number of Canadian amateur athletes who are able to make a decent living from corporate sponsorship.

The reality, however, is that most of Canada’s 900 world-ranked athletes must rely on financial support from Sport Canada’s Athlete Assistance Program, National Sport Organizations, family and friends.

While public perception may be that most athletes at the top of their field are represented by agents and/or personal managers, this holds true for only a handful.

For the few with agents, it is often the athlete’s own fame and marketability that draws corporate sponsorship, not a well-developed sponsorship strategy and proposal from an agent.

Amateur sport is currently facing a funding crisis. The lifeline for amateur sport since the mid-1970s has been government support through Sport Canada.

This agency has already announced a 5% budget cut for 1995-96 and it is expected that Paul Martin’s Feb. 27 budget could see a further 12% cut to its current $50-million budget.

For sports that receive a major percentage of their funding from government, cutbacks could have a drastic impact on their ability to support developmental programs.

In turn, this puts more pressure on athletes to support their own training. It is estimated that the average national team athlete living away from home spends $27,000 annually to live and train in Canada.

Few athletes can cover these costs and either go into debt or depend on support from others.

The future will rely on athletes taking responsibility for their own athletic careers not only on the playing field, but through self-marketing.

It is conceivable that athletes in the near future could be competing for corporate dollars against their own National Sport Organizations, as well as other multi-sport organizations such as the Canadian Olympic Association and the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada.

The buzzword in the sport communities these days is ‘athlete-centred,’ meaning, all initiatives must have a direct impact on the athlete.

What better way for a marketer to demonstrate its support for an athlete-centred sport system than through athlete sponsorship?

MetLife is one such sponsor that has recently created an effective grassroots program aimed at supporting amateur sport. The MetLife Amateur Athlete Assistance Program is a five-year, $1-million commitment to support athlete training and living expenses.

Notable athletes include Sheryl Boyle (canoe-slalom), Curtis Myden (swimming), Paige Gordon (diving) and Carroll-Ann Alie (board sailing.)

To date, 14 athletes have been selected in the program’s first year. MetLife intends to create a fundraising campaign to enhance its commitment and generate community awareness for the company and its agents.

Properly developed athlete sponsorship can provide excellent value. The key is selecting the right athlete(s) and creating a program to properly leverage this investment.

As illustrated below, an athlete relationship can provide an excellent link to further integrate the core sponsorship and market the program:

- Athletes’ strong personal characteristics (drive, determination, commitment) make them a desirable property for advertising and public relations purposes.

- Athletes are important role models and draw attention to and enthusiasm for consumer and trade promotions.

- Athletes know about motivation and competition and can channel their experiences into inspirational public speaking appearances for client hosting and/or employee programs.

- National team athletes are accessible all across Canada; they are true representatives of communities large and small.

Athletes are quickly realizing they have a responsibility to become experts in self-marketing. Thanks to one of their own, they now have help.

Sheryl Boyle, Canada’s canoe-slalom champion, has recently written a booklet based on her own sponsorship experiences.

Partners in Sport, soon to be published by the Canadian Sport and Fitness Administration Centre, outlines a step-by-step approach to athlete self-marketing.

Chapters deal with basic marketing principles, marketing plan preparation, media relations, sponsorship packaging and sales, and sponsor relations.

As a result, corporate Canada can expect a greater number of Canadian athletes in its offices armed with a better understanding of the buyer-seller relationship.