Written by Emilia Tuukkanen, BJJ Black belt, BJJ&Nogi European Champion from Finland, living and training in southern Spain.
Everyone who competes in BJJ knows how much money it takes. Just licenses and competition fees take hundreds, plus hotels, flights & other transportation, training fees, seminars and training & competition gear. That’s a lot of money to put in something you don’t usually get anything back (meaning prize money or other valuable prizes). This is why every athlete wants to be sponsored, and knows that just getting some gear for free (or sometimes they call it sponsoring if you get a discount. That is not actual sponsoring, i’d call it more like co-operation) is not enough.
There has been many articles about getting sponsored in BJJ, but I will still tell you how I feel about it as well as what I have done and still do to get and keep my amazing sponsors.
First thing that I already briefly mentioned is you have to realize that it is not sponsoring if you get only few free gis (or other products, ie. nutritional etc) per year and rest with a discount, or your free stuff depends on how much you sell or something. That it great for the “sponsor” but not for you. Gi-sponsoring should provide you with enough gear to train with everyday and leave you with still unused gis for competing. I am not trying to sound greedy, but if I want to be able to train and compete on high level, my sponsors need to be there on that level too. It is perfectly okay to say “no” to offers that seem more re-seller and distributer deals than actual sponsorship, since you did not apply for a job at the company.
But of course to be able to get good sponsorship deals you have to have something to offer. Today everyone has some big medals, they are World medalists, European Open medalists, IBJJF International Open medalists, ADCC medalists etc. The medals alone are not enough to set you apart from all the others. For me, it has definitely been my social media (instagram, blog and website) and branding as BJJ Couple with my better half Santeri that has helped us get sponsored. I have a strong follower base, and being part of bjj couple is different and, for any company, easy to use in marketing. You need to be active in SM, post interesting pictures, write about your life&training, find that thing that makes you unique and stand out. One important thing to remember is that the company has to benefit from you. If you are followed by 130 persons on instagram, your FB-athlete page has only 150 likes and you don’t have a blog or anything, there is not much you can do to prove your marketing value.
One thing many don’t consider is that you have to think what is worth your time and money competition-wise. Sponsors are not interested in some small local competition’s champions. I’d say IBJJF’s, World Pro’s and ADCC’s competitions are the ones you need to get medals from. If you don’t have unlimited amount of money to use in competitions, choose wisely the ones you go to. You need those internationally known medals to show you are good world-wide, not just in your own city or even country.
Few things NOT to do while looking for sponsors:
1. Don’t go commenting on brands’ instagram, Facebook etc pages asking for sponsorships. It’s not professional and you seem desperate. Commenting something nice is ok, putting a full sponsorship application there for everyone to see is not.
2. Don’t expect to get amazing deals without merits and/or social media. You need to have something to offer the sponsor in exchange of financial support, training hard and loving jiujitsu is sadly not enough. Also lower belt doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t get sponsored, but as a blue belt the social media is crucial.
3. Don’t send emails full of spelling mistakes etc. You should put the same effort in presenting yourself as you would while applying a job. If your english (or whatever language you need to use) is not great, get some friend proof-read your emails. Even though how you spell and write has nothing to do how great you are on the mats, it gives a bad and unprofessional look for you. If a company gets two sponsorship applications with the same merits, one well-written and other one not, who do you think they will choose? They will want someone sharp and professional to represent the brand.
4. Don’t send applications to just any company, when looking for financial sponsorship from non-bjj-related companies. Do your research, think what you could offer them and how they could benefit from being associated with you. Remember that you might have to start by explaining bjj and it’s popularity first.
After all, whether it is a bjj-related company or not, they need to be able to use you as an asset to their advertising and marketing. Sponsoring is not a one-way street where only you get cool free stuff, but the company has to gain something from supporting you as well. Sponsoring is not a synonym for gifts.