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Are You A Sponsored Athlete, Or An Unpaid Salesperson?

SponsorshipSlideMost sports supplement companies and other fitness related companies aggressively promote their products through athletes who can sing the praises of their benefits.  Who could be better at describing the efficacy of a product and how it enhances training or recovery than an athlete who not only already uses those types of products, but someone who has a following and who can convince new customers to purchase from the company which they represent?


Here’s where things get problematic.  The pool of bodybuilding and fitness athletes is pretty massive, and the waters are teeming with athletes who are anxious to get their so-called “big break”.  As a result of this, savvy marketing teams from fitness related companies often sweep up these individuals because they are enthusiastic and can propel a brand’s exposure.  All the company needs to do is to offer some free product to the athlete and provide instructions on how to use social media to get the word out that these products exist.  Then the athletes post images of themselves holding or using products, and add affiliate codes so that any orders which are generated through that athlete’s post are credited to the athlete.  This can be a great way for an athlete to make some extra money while competing or chasing down fitness related gigs and projects.


It is important to bear in mind that such athletes really aren’t sponsored, but are instead unpaid salespeople who provide free advertising and generate sales via social media posts which direct followers to product websites.  Yes, they get commissions if they have affiliate codes, but such commissions are nothing to write home about unless someone is really blowing the roof off in sales.  This is in stark contrast to a true athlete sponsorship, in which an athlete is paid to represent the brand as a brand ambassador. 


The sponsored athlete is chosen for his or her physique, performance history and awards, facial good looks, charisma, enthusiasm, and often the size of his or her social media following.  Usually a sponsored athlete signs a contract which stipulates that he or she will receive a certain amount of free product, and in most cases will also receive financial compensation which is either paid via a monthly salary or via a contest stipend.  Though the athlete usually agrees to a set requirement or recommendation to provide social media posts for the company at regular intervals, the company pays the athlete for his or her trouble.  Personal appearances and events are also part of the sponsored athlete agreement and clearly described in the written contract.  The sponsored athlete is compensated for use of his or her likeness on advertising materials as well.


Obviously it is a far better deal to become an official sponsored athlete for a company. Otherwise, you are just providing free advertising and cheap labor in exchange for products which are sold at a significant markup from what they are manufactured at.  If you post a selfie with product that somehow goes viral, the company will certainly love the boost, but I doubt you will ever see any type of compensation if you aren’t a sponsored athlete, which means you provided your likeness for free. 


The truth of the matter is that there are only a handful of athlete sponsorships to go around, with a massive surplus of athletes vying for those spots.  The athletes who end up getting sponsorships stand out from the crowd in some way, or fit a brand’s look and philosophy so well that it makes sense to bring them on board to represent a brand.  The rest of the athletes must navigate through all the companies out there to try to find an arrangement which benefits them in some way.  Sometimes it is easy to sell a product, usually because the athlete enjoys using it so much that he or she doesn’t mind providing free advertising or labor.


Sometimes a supplement company will launch a contest which is based on social media posts.  One company, which shall remain unnamed, launched a huge campaign this year that was patterned on this idea, and decided to award 5 of the entrants $10,000.  Sure, that sounds like a good chunk of change, but if there were 8,000 entrants, then 7,995 walked away with nothing.  At the end of the campaign, the company got tons of free advertising and all those hashtags they requested for “tracking” purposes also propelled their brand in a huge way.  To be honest, this is a brilliant marketing tactic, but not the best move for the majority of athletes who participated. 


I have also seen companies launch contests in which entrants must purchase a product, then post on social media with hashtags to enter the contest.  This is another form of free advertising for the company, a great way to generate sales, a brilliant means for them to boost exposure, and yet another way for athletes to be suckered into doing free advertising.  I don’t see much harm in taking part in such a contest if you truly love a product and want to proclaim it, but just remember that it works wonders as an advertising tool for the company without any benefit for you.


One thing I will never advocate is purchasing products, even at a steep discount, while also representing a brand as one of its “sponsored” athletes.  If you are asked to pay for a product while also providing free advertising on social media channels, run quickly in the other direction!  Basically you are dealing with a company which doesn’t value you enough as an athlete to provide compensation for your advertising efforts.  This isn’t the same as purchasing a product, finding out you like it, THEN posting something on social media which lets people know how much you like it.  I know of several athletes who had done this, which sparked the attention of the company which manufactured the product, eventually leading to a sponsorship deal.  But do not, I repeat, DO NOT PAY for products as a way to get false sponsorship for a company.


It isn’t a bad thing to work as an unpaid salesperson in the fitness industry as long as you know your place and value.  Once your following builds, the smart thing to do is to leverage your visibility into getting an athlete sponsorship.  The main thing is to make sure that you don’t get taken advantage of in the process.

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