Every month or so I receive a newspaper-like publication, courtesy of
my American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) District 17 membership,
called Cycle USA. It’s a collaboration of sorts, covering regional
motocross and off-road motorcycle racing events in several AMA
districts in the upper Midwest. Stories are contributed by a host of
writers, each with their own individual styles and one common
characteristic: sponsors always get their props.

The first mention of a racer in an article goes something like this:
"Phil
McCracken's Amsoil-Red Bull-FMF-Renthal-WD40-Bic Pen-Uncle Bill's
Cigs & Live Bait KTM 250SX finished a close second place to overall
winner Harry Butz and his Pro Circuit-MX Tech-ProGrip-Slim Jim-Porky
Barn CR250."

As a young, aspiring racer, I would have assumed that Harry Butz had
won enough races to be showered with free goodies from Pro Circuit
and all-you-can-eat beef jerky from Slim Jim. For some riders, that just
may be the case. But if he rides at any level south of the Pro class, it's
a safe bet Phil McCracken isn't getting anything free, no matter what
his lengthy list of sponsors might suggest. Why? Business, baby.
Sponsorship is all about moving product. I'll explain, but first a little
personal history on the subject.

I first tried my hand at sponsorship after the 2002 season, in which I
won the Open B class of the Missouri Hare Scrambles Championship
(MHSC). The Internet provided plenty of advice on how to contact
companies, how to present a racing resume and what type of message
to convey. Much of the advice suggested stressing the concept of
being a role model and promoter of the industry. I already had my own
website that was gaining popularity among my racing colleagues and
felt that there was no better way for me to promote the sport, so I
had
to be a shoe-in for sponsorship, right?

Not exactly.

I sent about 10 resumes to companies like FMF, Race Tech, and others
whose products I'd used and enjoyed. I did my research, found the
individuals who I thought would be most sympathetic to my cause, and
forwarded my work. My message was simple, yet eloquent: I liked their
products, used them regularly, was a role model for our sport, and
would give them free advertising on my website. The results?
Absolutely nothing. Not a single response.

Earlier that year I'd had another poor experience with a slightly
different form of sponsorship from a local motorcycle dealership. Prior
to the start of the MHSC season, the dealer had mailed postcards
advertising certain dollar discounts on parts and accessories for
finishing in the top 3 of most classes at any given race. Anyone who
bought a motorcycle at this dealership and raced it in the series was
eligible. The program seemed more generous than anything I'd ever
heard coming from a dealership, so I called to get the scoop. They
confirmed everything described on the postcard, so a month later I
drove 40 miles to the dealership with a handful of trophies, expecting
to claim about $100 of discounts. Naturally, the postcard (and the guy
on the other end of the phone) neglected to mention one key caveat:
the motorcycle had to have been a brand new purchase of a current
year model. I'd bought my motorcycle from them a couple years earlier.
No discounts for me.

Kawasaki's contingency program for the MHSC worked the same way.
Anyone who knows me well should know that while I always buy dirt
bikes new, I rarely pay top dollar for a current year model. Leftover
floor models are my bikes of choice, but they do little for obtaining
contingency money. For some reason Kawasaki doesn't think a brand
new 2004 KX250, debuted in the 2006 season, does much for their
marketing effort. Go figure. I discovered this indirectly after registering
for the program in 2004 (racing a new '03 KX250) and never saw a
penny of Kawasaki contingency bucks. In 2006, Kawasaki was a little
more forthcoming in their online registration, admitting that a 2004
KX250 wasn't eligible for the program.

Enter Sponsorhouse.com

A few years ago, RocketRacing.net's Jim Walker mentioned he'd
obtained sponsors through a website called sponsorhouse.com. It links
up those looking for sponsors with those who have sponsorships to
give. The process is effectively the same as traditional methods –
prepare a resume and send it out to companies – but the website
handles the flow of sponsorship applications and offers from sponsors.
Signing up for the service is just a matter of following instructions and
deciding how much you want to pay for various levels of access to
sponsors (I chose the next-to-most-basic access and paid $15 for the
service). Once enrolled, you prepare a resume using the sponsorhouse.
com format, upload pictures of yourself if you want to, and then review
sponsor lists. Each sponsor (FMF, Twin Air, Renthal, etc.) has its own
profile, and if they're accepting applications, one click of the mouse gets
you to a page with a cover letter format. After writing a brief message
to the company, in which you explain why you want sponsorship, it's
forwarded to the company electronically.

I signed up for sponsorhouse.com a little late in the application
"season" (November/December is a good time to start; I began
applying in February) but was still successful in obtaining an offer from
Renthal. The offer was a 35% discount on Renthal products. Not
exactly a showering of free stuff, but a respectable offer in my first
attempt. Most of the discount mail order companies sell Renthal
products about 15% below retail price, so it seemed, on the surface, to
be a nice deal. But there were conditions. Naturally, I had to plaster
Renthal stickers over certain parts of the bike. Easy enough. I also had
to use Renthal sprockets, grips, and handlebars, which makes sense.
The first two items have been bike essentials for years, but handlebars,
not so much. Back in the days when Renthal was primarily a crossbar-
handlebar company, I switched over to Tag's thicker, tapered bars with
no crossbar. Anyone with a Scotts steering damper can tell you why
it's so much easier to use when there's no crossbar in the way. A
creature of habit, I've stuck with Tag. However, to abide by the Renthal
contract, I'd have to buy a $65 set of Renthal "Fatbars" (tapered and
crossbar-less, like Tag). After reading that provision in the contract, I
was less enamored with the idea of sponsorship. Mostly, it comes down
to economics.

Let's do some math.

A typical sprocket combo from Renthal retails for $90 (this is with the
"standard" countershaft sprocket, not the more expensive Ultralite).
The mail order companies usually sell the sprockets for 15% under
retail, or $75. The Renthal 35% discount takes the price down to $59.
If I buy two sets of sprockets each year, I save $16 each time, or $32
for the year.

As for grips, Renthal's basic sets retail for $13 and can usually be
bought for $10 through the same discount sources. A 35% discount
gets you down to $8.50. As with sprockets, I go through a couple
pairs of grips each season, so I'm saving $1.50 each time ($3 total).

Bottom line, I save $35/year on the stuff I actually want to buy for the
bike. But to get that discount, I’d have to spend $65 for handlebars I
don’t want or need. Now obviously, it's unlikely Renthal would ever
know the difference if I used their handlebars or otherwise, but
somewhere, intertwined within my propensity for favorable economics
(read: cheapness), I do have a conscience.

Twin Air also came through with an offer, this one a 40% discount on
filters. As with the Renthal offer, the actual economic benefit of the deal
is marginal, but the conditions were very manageable. I have to put a
Twin Air sticker on my bike and agree not to use any other brand of air
filter. So look at me folks, my KX250 is now a Twin Air Kawasaki
KX250. I got sponsorship!
"I'm thinking about
approaching Yamaha,
KTM, Suzuki, Kawasaki,
and even Husky for
sponsorship.  I will
threaten to ride their
equipment if they don't
pay me something to
stay on the Honda."

--Jeff Smith
This should save me $5, maybe even $10 a year.
The Sponsorship Story
From the
2006
archives!