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

Many years ago, my good friend 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 handle
d the flow of sponsorship
applications and offers from sponsors. Signing
up for the service
was just a matter of following
instructions and deciding how much you want
ed
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
d a resume using the sponsorhouse.com
format, upload
ed pictures of yourself if you
want
ed to, and then review sponsor lists. Each
sponsor (FMF, Twin Air, Renthal, etc.) ha
d its
own profile, and if they
were accepting
applications, one click of the mouse g
ot you to a
page with a cover letter format. After writing a
brief message to the company, in which you
explain
ed why you wanted sponsorship, it was
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
what was at the time 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.

Back in the mid-2000s a typical sprocket combo
from Renthal retail
ed for $90 (this was with the
"standard" countershaft sprocket, not the more
expensive Ultralite). The mail order companies
usually s
old the sprockets for 15% under retail,
or $75. The Renthal 35% discount t
ook the price
down to $59. If I b
ought two sets of sprockets
each year, I save
d $16 each time, or $32 for the
year.

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

Bottom line, I
could save $35/year on the stuff I
actually want to buy for the bike. But to get that
discount, I ha
d to spend $65 for handlebars I
d
idn’t want or need. Now obviously, it's unlikely
Renthal would ever
have known 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
was marginal, but the conditions were very
manageable. I ha
d to put a Twin Air sticker on
my bike and agree not to use any other brand of
air filter. So lmy KX250
became 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 saved me $5, maybe even $10 a year.
The Sponsorship Story
From the
2006
archives!