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Image: What Sponsors are Looking for

by Coach Seiji

Hangtown '07 was a display of what not-to-do on a racetrack between Jason Lawrence and Ryan Villopoto!

photo: Cudby

In this week’s installment to Racer X’s Virtual Trainer, I would like to step out of my trainer shoes and write an article from the viewpoint of an industry “insider.” Articles here are usually focused on what you can do physically and mentally to improve performance on the track. In this article I would like to focus attention on what you can do off the track to improve your relations with the public, sponsors and the industry. This is not really training but is no less important to the aspiring racer than sets and reps in the gym.

I realize that I am a trainer and my expertise lies in training the physical and mental components that make up success at the races but over the last few years in motocross and what seems like a lifetime in other competitive sports, I have had the unique opportunity to observe and be involved in decision making at the team management level. I have sat in on meetings and discussions about riders, contracts and all the ingredients that make up the “silly season” both in motocross and in other more mainstream sports. In all cases, results are the single most important factor when a team or sponsor is making decisions on where to lend support. You have to have the results; this is why you train and stick to your program! Without the results the rest of this article is a moot point.

But a close second to results are the intangibles that a rider can possess: public image, public relations, sponsor relations, etc. These characteristics and qualities may be second in line to results on the master list but can be equally as important. You can be winning championships but if you lack favorable public image or you are constantly upsetting the team sponsors you are severely limiting your options as to where and for whom you can ride. Motocross is a small community in reality: close doors in a community this small and before you know it you won’t have any doors left to knock on when you are in a time of need.

It is difficult to categorize and prioritize the individual components that make up a rider’s public/sponsor relations “package.” Listed are some key points in the areas of public relations and sponsor relations that I have observed and feel are important in creating your own PR package:

Public Relations: This is your public image and how you relate to the public in general. Race fans, other riders and families, the target market of your or your team’s sponsors, even people and families in your local community.

  • Personality: Fortunately or unfortunately part of your job is to be a public representative of your team and sponsors. You have to keep this position of representative in the back of your mind when out in public and try to present what you feel the team and sponsors desire. I assure you what they don’t want is some pissy, unhappy, always sulking representative of their team or companies. Perception is reality. You may not be in the greatest of moods but you have to try to present the image that you are happy to be racing motocross for the team and sponsors that you have chosen to represent. You may have a different personality in the private confines of your own room but out in public, in the pits, stands and elsewhere you really need to portray a happy, outgoing and appreciative member of the team and really of the companies that back you. Whatever mood or personality you show in public is what the public will assume is your personality and mood all the time. It’s much better to NOT be in the public eye if you are in a bad mood if you cannot portray that you are in a good mood. I have been to more than one meeting where a team owner has stated “he definitely has the speed but he is too quiet and people always think he is upset.” You don’t want to be that guy.
  • Actions: People will judge you by your actions more so than by your words. You can say all you want but if your actions don’t match your words, the actions always speak louder. You want to act in a way that makes you a positive asset to your team and sponsors. This is all common sense really; act in a way that you like to see others act. Act in a way that makes the fans appreciate who you are outside of your race results. Think about having a camera on you at all times. What would you want the public to see you doing? There are going to be trying times for sure. A mechanical, a bad result, a crash etc. are all times when you could act out in a way to vent your frustrations but remember the camera! Take it as an opportunity to show the public what kind of person you really are inside, past the initial frustration and anger. They will remember that far longer than the actual incident that spurred those emotions in the first place. Example: at Red Bud this year in the second moto of the Lites class there was a fierce battle for second place between Canard and Dungey. Dungey had been tripling LaRocco’s Leap almost every lap while Canard was doubling up. On the final lap Dungey was right up on Canard entering the turn before the leap and clearly was railing the outside to triple up and pass Canard who took the inside to double up. Dungey’s motor quit on him right up the face thus ending the battle and losing precious and hard fought points. Was he angry? How could he not be? He is a true competitor and a winner and winners hate not winning. He could have made a display of his inner turmoil for sure but he calmly handed the bike over to the technicians. He actually went over to the fence and gave out his helmet, glove, goggles, and shook hands with the fans that witnessed the epic battle and the hard luck. What do you think the fans remembered? Guess what? The camera WAS on and they showed all this on Speed Channel. I was supremely impressed by RD’s poise and actions during such an emotional time and I am sure the fans and sponsors felt the same.
  • Image: Again, perception is reality. If you appear messy, grunged out, and just plain sloppy then the public will assume that you’re a slob, immature, and just plain don’t care. This may not be the case but the public has only so much information about you and what you put on display is what they are going to use to make decisions on how and who you are. Put your best foot forward and don’t give them a chance to make a false judgment. Display yourself as a clean, responsible and professional individual. The teams and sponsors are partly paying for this image as it is a direct reflection of their organization. If the riders are sloppy then the team must be also; again it’s the perception that the public will hold of the team based on the image of its riders. Managing an image is within the job description for any professional athlete. Image sells and that is what the sponsors are looking for.

Sponsor Relations: The relationship that you build and manage between yourself and your team and sponsors outside of actual racing performance.

  • Appreciation: It all pretty much boils down to this for the sponsors. You need to show your appreciation of their support each and every opportunity you get. Not only is this done by mentioning the sponsors at every opportunity and displaying their logo or graphic as best you can but also by the actions you may take unprompted. Sponsors want to be included and involved; they want to feel part of the team and part of your racing efforts. Not only should you make an attempt to talk to them when they are at events but also send them an email or call them with your race results and race report when they are not present. Sponsors also expect a little bit in return usually from the riders; if they ask you to make a public appearance, not only should you do so but you should do it as best that you can. A little bit goes a long way here. Seeing their helmet sticker proudly displayed or being asked to walk to the starting area are little things you can do that mean an awful lot to a sponsor. When renewal time comes around it’s the little efforts you can make that are above and beyond what is written in a contract that are remembered.

These are just a few points that may aid you in presenting an attractive overall package to potential teams and sponsors. Remember that success can come in many forms. A good result is obviously a success but starting a relationship with an industry sponsor or gaining fans in a new locale are also forms of success that can ultimately lead to your long term goals in the sport. Strive for wins out on the track but also strive to become a winner off the track. Having both can stack the odds in your favor that you will have the support and prosperity that is the dream of most riders.

About the Author: Seiji Ishii is the head coach of provides online coaching and personal training services to motorsports athletes. Coach Seiji has worked with both pros and elite amateurs including: Heath Voss, Ryan Clark, Austin Stroupe, PJ Larsen, Hunter Hewitt, Drew Yenerch, Jason Anderson, and Andrew Short. Learn more at or contact Coach Seiji directly.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Kristin Swartzlander November 05, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I love that you wrote this piece - many people don't realize how much you see as a trainer that no one else does, especially in relation to sponsorship. You're bang on - image, personality and attitude are what leads to (and keeps) sponsorship.

    Everything you do as a racer leads to a relationship - who it's with and how it's perceived is up to you. Whether it's a positive one with a fan by signing an autograph or a negative one with a current or prospective sponsor by sending an inappropriate tweet or getting photographed in a fight, you control what you put out there. Thanks for highlighting it!

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