So, You Want to Find Some Sponsorship for Your Competition BBQ Team?
By Mark Gibbs, Pitmaster of Checkered Flag 500 BBQ and Brian Walrath, Pitmaster of Brown Liquor BBQ
The 2017 barbecue season is done, the points have all been earned, and the coals put out. Winter in the Mid-Atlantic is a good time to do some competition practice and start preparing for the 2018 season. But this is also a good time of year to think about reaching out to potential sponsors. They too are likely not super busy and evaluating their sales for 2017 and putting together their marketing plans for 2018. One of the items on their list is likely, which teams to sponsor next barbecue season. Mark and I thought this would be a good time to share some of our experiences and tips for deciding who and how to approach sponsors for help for your barbecue team. We even reached out to a few of our sponsors and others for comment and incorporated their thoughts into our tips below:
We reached out to some of the companies that we see sponsoring teams on the competition BBQ circuit to get some thoughts on what it takes to obtain sponsorship for your BBQ team. We got a few responses and wanted to share some thoughts with our members that may help in your search.
The main things that sponsors told me are they want teams that are be positive first. Really, not winners first? Yep they want teams that will shine a positive light on their products first and foremost. You could be the winningest team in BBQ, but if you are not respected by your fellow competitors and BBQ fans you do not bring much value to the table. The other factor was they like to sponsor teams that keep their product visible. Hang a banner, wear a shirt at awards. Return on investment (ROI) is what keeps sponsors in your stable from year to year.
- Be Specific!
The first sponsor that I ever had for my team was 3 Eyz BBQ. I did a class with them that set the tone for my entire competition BBQ team going forward. I had a 3 Eyz “experience” class where I got to watch the team in action at Pork in the Park in 2012. It was a blast! My team ended up earning the MABA Rookie of the Year in 2012. When Dan congratulated me at the MABA awards banquet, I said “hey you should sponsor me”. He said, “ok will you use 3 Eyz in social media and on a banner?” Of course I jumped in and said yes! Dan handed me two pounds of 3 Eyz rub and said you are sponsored. He laughed and said,”I have just taught you your first lesson in BBQ sponsorship…….be specific in what you ask for!” Dan supplied us with all of that great 3 Eyz rub we needed going forward, but the lesson was certainly learned.
- Does the product really work with your BBQ team program?
Just because the ABC Sauce Company of Walla Walla, Washington is going to give you a couple of cases of sauce for sponsorship doesn’t mean it is a great thing for your team. Be willing to promote the product that you are getting sponsorship for. If you believe in the product that you are getting sponsorship for it benefits both you and the sponsor.
- Don’t have competing sponsors!
In my experience, most if not all of the sponsorships I have had have been done with a handshake and a thank you for both sides. So you struck a deal to have the Joe Chunk Charcoal Company to throw you a pallet of charcoal in 2018! That’s great! In May, you switch smokers and get sponsored by Big Red Charcoal because they have great lump charcoal. Joe Chunk Charcoal is probably not going to be happy to see that Big Red Charcoal on the back of your trailer.
Sponsorships are two-way commitments. Sponsors expect a return on their investment and having teams that have committed to them competing products is probably the biggest no-no! If you have changed up your program and are no longer using the products that you have been given, offer to return the unused product and let the sponsor know the situation. Most are very understanding about the changing landscape of competition BBQ and you never know when your paths may cross again. Keep doors open on both sides.
- Social Media Presence
Almost every team and team member has a social media presence. Facebook, Twitter, Websites and Instagram just to mention a few. Commit to promoting your sponsors with POSITIVE social media posts. Always recognize them when you are talking about your BBQ team. Just his past season there were a couple of stories where sponsors pulled their sponsorship from some teams and some big events because of some unpopular social media threads. One tournament director said, “Sponsors have a lot of options where to spend their dollars. Sponsors monitor social media and make marketing decisions based on some of the negative things they read on social media.”
Give you sponsors positive media with great pictures and stories about how their product and support help your team compete each week.
- Sometimes the answer is No!
Not every sponsor has deep enough pockets to sponsor every team that comes to them looking for sponsorship help. You may be having a wildly successful year and you send a letter or email to the Joe Chunk Charcoal Company. They may or may not respond or they may respond with a form letter thanking you, but after careful consideration……yadda yadda….you get the rest. But don’t take that as a slap in the face to your team’s success. Send them a letter thanking them for their consideration and let them know you are still excited about their product and you will reach out again in the future. It took me three years to get my charcoal sponsorship.
- I love email, but sometimes a letter with a stamp on it is much more personal
Send a letter. Yes the one in an envelope with a stamp and a real piece of paper in it. I talked to a technical recruiter a while back and he said that letters get noticed. They stay on a desk and are visible. Sometimes emails get lost in the Inbox. It happens to all of us.
- Last but certainly not least……don’t take sponsorship for granted.
Never assume…..we all know what happens when you assume…..that the sponsors you had in 2017 are still going to be with you in 2018. And hopefully, they don’t assume the same. Good communication is key here. This week I am writing letters to my sponsors thanking them for helping us out in 2017 and asking for their continuing support in 2018. Try to include a picture with their banner, shirt or hat and all the nice bling that you won using their products this past year.
Budgets change, situations change for both the team and sponsor and perhaps they are ending their sponsorship program or you are no longer using Super Brand Sauce in your program. Communicate, so you both know what is happening in the New Year!
Hopefully, you were able to get some tips on how to look for and obtain sponsorship for your BBQ team in 2018!
My Take on Sponsorship and Communicating with Sponsors
Let’s face it, competition barbecue is expensive. It’s even more expensive if you’re a one man or one family team and fitting the bill out of one household account. Costs for a typical contest are at least $500-700 on the cheap and typically over $1K after you factor in everything purchased for the weekend. The best way to offset these costs besides taking on a partner to split costs is in the form of sponsorship help. Very few sponsors are offering actual money to help with expenses or registration fees, but what they will often help with is their product. And every little bit helps!
When thinking about approaching sponsors, I always took a step back and tried to approach my targets with a realistic point of view. As an up and coming team that continues to get better each year (ok, ignore 2017), Brown Liquor BBQ, in recent years I’ve felt our team was finally in a position to start talking to companies about sponsorships/partnerships. I think you don’t have to be the best team on the block and have a long list of wins, top 10s, calls, etc…but you do have to have some…SOME results you can present. The other thing is, what products do you really want, or more importantly, need! Let’s face it, unless you’re Myron Mixon or Tuffy Stone, you’re not calling up a smoker builder, well known meat supplier, or overpriced (sorry, my cynical side) cooler company and getting free stuff. Think about the stuff you use every competition…products that you know well, trust to perform, and can get behind.
Keep in mind also that writing or contacting sponsors is also a numbers game. You have to send many letters and emails before you get a reply…if you even get a reply. If you’re ever at an event where representatives from the company, or even better, the owner is present, take that opportunity to approach them and ask if they will give you five minutes to talk about their product. Also, this may not be the best time to come out and ask outright for a sponsorship. Maybe take a softer approach and say something like, “Are you currently sponsoring any new teams, and if so, what do you look for in a partnership.”
When you’re writing a potential sponsor, I like to include very specific information. Take the mental approach of, “what’s in it for THEM,” not you. Sure, you want to introduce yourself and talk briefly about your team history and accomplishments. But, what you want to concentrate on is how you can help them. Maybe it’s helping them break into a new or untapped market. When we approached Tub O’Towels, they sponsored a lot of race car companies and folks in the automotive industry. But I knew that the outdoor living market was one they had very little exposure with on their website and I made it clear I could give them that exposure, especially on the east coast in the Mid-Atlantic market that is heavily populated. Also, you want to build your social media footprint online. Sponsors look at your number of followers and fans and how often you post, and what you post about. Make it very clear that you will post about their products across all of your social media as much as possible and if they have any special sales or events, you’ll be happy to promote them. Finally, be very clear in your ask about what you’d be willing to do for them if they agreed a partnerships was a good fit. Be up front and tell them that you’d like product in exchange for things like social media posts, hanging a banner at your site, etc…
Sponsors don’t always want the best teams…sometimes they want popular teams that have a big social presence that can influence other teams. Talk about your competition experience. We come right out and say, we’re a very social team and have folks over to our tent to talk about our products and equipment. We welcome the public in our site and often engage with them. At the end of the day a sponsor is in it for the exposure and sales. If you can help them do that, you’re worth something to them and they’ll invest in your team with product.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my current sponsors that I think reaffirms what Mark and have shared in this article:
“We look at how many competitions a year that teams attend, how they place in the competitions, and most importantly how active and well engaged they are on social media. It also helps if we see that they have posted kindly about other sponsors. We expect teams to display our large stickers (about 12″x14″) or our 2’x3′ banner and to occasionally tag us on social media posts.”
Good luck with acquiring new partners to work with in 2018, we hope these tips help!