It’s that time of year again.  Mixed up with the start of college football season, kids headed to school, and the sudden realization that the days are shorter, it’s time to match athletes with teams and brands and fill the rosters with age-groupers.  Yup, it’s amateur athlete team application time!

2014 was my first season in this interesting world as a member of Revolution3’s Age Group team.  I’m always learning more about how to manage the role, keep my life balanced, and this is critical – how to increase my value to the team.  Being sponsored is about so much more than getting “free” stuff.  Here’s a few things I’ve figured out so far…

Different teams have different purposes, but in general you will be a billboard for the team brand and its sponsors.  Teams are often populated and structured to promote their values or purpose.  Elite teams (and developmental teams for younger athletes) promote performance, and that team name or brand wants to be associated with success.  The balance of remaining teams, such as my own Rev3, are extensions of the brand marketing needs, and team members are often referred to as Brand Ambassadors, valued for their ability to reach target customers.

Typical applications request your racing history and results, non-athletic pursuits, profession, and experience with the brand(s).  Social media exposure and mastery has grown in importance.  You are often invited to provide a narrative about your goals, your brand passion and how a slot on the team helps the team (and you, but really, it’s more about the team).  Be mindful of application requirements and deadlines!

If your application makes the first cut, get ready for an interview with the team manager.  The process is akin to a job application and interview, but your pictures might include more lycra.

Requirements vary widely.  However, you will often be required to wear branded apparel when training and particularly when racing, and regularly promote the brand and sponsors.  Elite, performance and developmental teams are more about dedication to training and success at races. Are you committed to crushing PRs and the competition?  Brand ambassadors are more likely to be required to volunteer additional time and energy to marketing.  Are you ready market this brand?

Some sponsors have well-established programs, like PowerBar’s Team Elite, that makes your requirements very clear. PowerBar partners with Rev3, but is also a single-brand sponsorship.

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Using Instagram to capture and promote the PowerBar love! #PBTE

Benefits vary.  Yes, there is some “free” stuff.  Truth be told, some items are “free” in that you don’t transact money, but instead you regularly provide payment in hours.  Time will be spent on social media posts, blogging, volunteering, traveling, speaking, etc.  Expect some personal investment for clothing, travel, race entries, etc, and while many sponsored items are available at discounted prices, little is actually “free.”

Other benefits are less tangible, but should be the primary reasons to join.  Team comraderie stands out, especially when racing alongside your teammates!  But on those dark evenings following a disappointing training session or in the midst of personal turmoil, teammates can be wonderful for support and recovery!  Strive to really understand all the benefits when you interview or talk to current team members.

It’s all about a simple value proposition.  Any branded team or athlete should return more value than invested.  If you can figure out how to deliver the value, you’ll have a sponsor for life. It’s not always so easy to monetize your input, but many teams have mechanisms to evaluate this.  Remember, the brands represent a business that must remain profitable so that you have a name to wear on your kit!

One of the hidden “costs” is that you may have to publicly dissociate from competing brands, or end other agreements altogether.  Teams often partner with multiple sponsors.  Some you will be happy to support, while others may directly complete with your go-to running shoe or nutrition plan.  You are often still okay to maintain these brands, but going public could jeopardize your team membership.  This can be tricky if your local Club, your coach, your team and you have different sponsors – the best approach is to be transparent and proactive, discussing those relationships with each party.  There may be tough choices, but deal with this early and with great clarity around expectations.

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Hanging out post-race with local Rocky Top Multisport Club mates, yet still representing our brand teams.

Still want to be on a sponsored team?

Good!  Do your research.  Talk to existing team members.  Learn about the personality of the team; do you fit?  Learn about the company and its people, products, services and values.

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>My first weekend with my new 2014 Rev3 team… yes, make sure you are a fit, or it might be a long season!

Like a job interview, know what the team is looking for.  If they seek brand ambassadors, demonstrate your ability to market widely and quickly, often through social media, blogging or possibly via job like coaching.  If they seek elite racers, demonstrate a history of improvement and success, along with dedication to winning.

No matter the team focus, desirable team members must also be perceived as genuine, truthful, ethical, and let’s be honest here, THEY REPRESENT (and can connect with) THE TARGET CONSUMER.

This can all be tricky to manage, but the benefits are often worth the sacrifice.  Friends.  Contacts.  Knowledge of the industry.  Access to products and information before they are available to the rest of the world.  Learning or practicing new skills.

Bottom line: Don’t fake it just to get “on the team.”  It will be work, but it should not feel like work, and you don’t want to be removed, or worse, financially responsible for not meeting your obligations.  It should be fun and provide mutual benefit.

And lastly, you never know if you are “team material” until you apply.  Check out your favorite brands and see what opportunities await.  I’m happy I did!  Good luck!

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Team Rev3 and friends at the 2014 USAT AG National Championships.  Love this bunch!

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