Becoming a “Sponsored Athlete” seems to be the pinnacle – the top of the mountain for almost everyone starting out with aspirations in the fitness world, more so now than ever with the explosion of the internetz and social media.
Here’s how the journey is supposed to look in the mind of an aspiring “fitness model” :
> Lift for a year or two (sometimes less)
> compete at a show
> pay for a shoot
> wait for the big time supplement companies to blow up your phone and pay you a 6-figure salary for life…Why wouldn’t they? You’re the shit!
> “hmm weird, no phone calls – don’t they know who I am?”
> Give the companies a nudge by contacting them yourself with a cut and paste email, a covering letter about how awesome you are and your favourite stage photo attached from your show
> Get no reply to your email or a polite, “Sorry, we’re not taking on anymore athletes at the moment” (Translation : “LOL, no”)
> Receive a spam DM on Instagram from a starter company who has sent this same DM to hundreds of “aspiring” fitness models
> You accept their offer of being an “ambassador” which gives you a 10% off code for your followers
> You change all of your social media profiles to “Sponsored Athlete” and begin to spam the daylights out of everyone’s news feed on your friends list until everybody hates you.
In case you hadn’t guessed, that was a little tongue-in-cheek but I’m also being self-deprecating here because this was exactly what I expected when I won my WBFF Pro card back in early 2013. As I found out, it doesn’t quite play out that way and I’m grateful it doesn’t.
“Why are you even writing about this topic, Altu? These ‘sponsored’ athletes do no harm, right?”
Well, actually, they do.
Mostly to themselves but also to their potential followers and I’m going to tell you why…
Before I do that, I want to let you know what my intentions are here. I certainly don’t just want to go on an inane rant for the sake of it and not offer any solutions. (I do love a rant, though – guilty)
I’ll approach this article with the view to helping two types of people – The people I mostly want to reach with my website and posts are the everyday person who I’m trying to get fitter and in better shape while helping them to avoid the many pitfalls in this, quite frankly, still very sleazy industry.
The second group of people I want to reach as a side effect of this, are aspiring fitness professionals themselves.
Reaching out to both parties brings me closer to my goal of making the fitness industry a better place for the professionals which in turn helps with my ultimate goal of making it a better place for you, the consumer.
Right, now that we’ve got all of that out the way, read on if you think this post may be of some benefit to you.
SPONSORSHIPS – ARE THEY ALL BAD THEN?
Let’s clear something up straight away. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making money from your passion in a legitimate way that brings value to the industry.
There are also some legit sponsorships by some big companies for some well known individuals in the fitness game. I know that Optimum Nutrition and Reflex athletes, for example, are quite well looked after – Having their competitions paid for etc and I’m pretty certain they get a “salary”, though I can’t speculate how much.
GymShark clothing athletes will also be paid handsomely for the business that they bring in to the company as another example.
These are true sponsorships and are great if you truly believe the products you’re promoting align with your values as an athlete – I personally wouldn’t take a sponsorship from most supplement companies since I don’t believe that anybody truly needs more than two or three supplements and very few beyond these supplements are supported by scientific evidence.
The companies offering legit sponsorships also usually offer a huge array of overpriced, useless supplements beyond the ones that work. Probably hence why they can offer great sponsorships. Again, this isn’t to say that certain companies don’t break the mould by offering great products AND great sponsorships for their athletes. I know of a few.
Unfortunately, here’s where the problems lies – Most athletes don’t particularly give a shit about what product they promote.
The title of “Sponsored Athlete” means more to most than the product they’re promoting and their own integrity. Not to mention, the idea that a sponsored athlete gets paid bags of money for simply having their name attached to a bogus supplement or a ridiculous gadget.
Sponsored Athletes – A Fitness Professional’s Perspective
Not to be a dream killer here but once an athlete has got it out of their head that they’re not going to make bags of money from giving a company the honour and privilege of attaching their name to their product (yes, that was sarcasm), then they’ll usually just be content with the title of “Sponsored Athlete” for some social media validation, ‘exposure’ and a sense of importance.
Again, this isn’t to put people down – We’ve all been there as the “aspiring fitness model” and sought social media validation. Most people, including myself still do either consciously or subconsciously.
This is simply to make people who are just starting out aware of the pitfalls of this industry and to potentially show you a way of making income in this business that provides more value to people while maintaining your integrity.
Ok, let me show you exactly why this clamour to be a ‘sponsored athlete’ massively devalues you and your skills as a fitness professional with an actual case study.
A CASE STUDY – THE “SPONSORED ATHLETES” CONTRACT
Here’s a contract offer that a friend of mine in the industry received from a HUGE supplement company. I won’t name them but believe me, you’ll all have heard of them. You can see they’re not a fly by company since they market in both the US and the UK.
Take a quick look over this contract offer before we break it down…
Got the main details? Ok, let’s now look at my buddies approximate social media figures. His main source being Instagram :
- Instagram : 20k+ Followers
- Picture engagement : Average 500 likes (some reaching over 1000 likes), 10-20 comments on average.
My pal in question is also very marketable, charismatic and good looking with some wins on the stage under his belt so he’s good shape. Another huge plus point for the company in question.
Now, let’s look at what he’s being offered in the contract :
$100 Supplement allowance
Wow! 100 bucks, huh? Sounds great getting $100 worth of supplements but it’s worth bearing in mind that the actual cost to this huge company, who likely gets massive wholesale discounts on their ingredients, is going to be much, much lower. I’m being generous when I say it might cost them $30 but probably even less.
Also, supplements make a difference to your progress by how much? 5% if we’re being generous? Based on this, you can see a $100 worth of supplements per month won’t really go very far towards an athletes progress.
Use of your image in all marketing materials in the U.K and the U.S
This might initially sound like great ‘exposure’ but in reality who is going to take the time to look you up after seeing you in marketing materials? The company may or may not credit you in the image – This is more of a benefit to the company as they are getting royalty free use of your pictures! Happy days for them.
Take a quick look at how much royalty free images cost from ShutterStock below and how much this company will save. (an enhanced licence is likely what would be needed for a huge supplement company like this since their marketing will likely reach more than 500k people).
£119 for only 2 images! They’ll be using more than that I imagine. They’re potentially saving thousands from this deal if you accept their contract.
YOUR TIME : 6 DAYS PER YEAR
Now, this part could be fun – 6 days of events, photoshoots, expo’s etc.
However, all of this is to be included in the contract? Your time will be covered by a $100 ($30) supplement front? I don’t know about you but my time is worth more than that. Way more. There’s also no mention of travel being paid for but let’s be nice and assume it will be. Surely, it’s the least they could do?
Photoshoots can be expensive but realistically, all of the images you’ll receive will be branded with the supplement company products. It’s not likely you’ll be able to use the shots to grow your own brand.
Again, the contract is skewed way in favour of your ‘Sponsor’
SOCIAL MEDIA – THREE POSTS PER WEEK
Now, here’s where it gets juicy and where THEY use you to grow their business for relatively little.
Any digital marketer has, at some stage, probably looked into paying for advertising. The gold standard was Google Adwords but Facebook ads are now right up there.
To cut a long story short, the way it works is you bid on a keyword that you want Google to show your ads for and for your customers to click on. Depending on how much competition that particular keyword has determines how much each visitor who clicks on your ad will cost you.
Here’s an example below of some keywords that may suit our large supplement company. Pay particular attention to the ‘Suggested Bid’.
As you can see, for each CLICK i.e. each visitor, Google suggests bidding on average $1 for you to beat the competition and have your advert for fitness supplements shown on their website. Bear in mind that these are COLD leads. These visitors don’t know you from Adam and do not trust you, therefore will be difficult to convert into customers.
So, what’s my point?
Let’s do a little maths and hopefully my point will be clear.
This company wants to pay you $100 worth of supplements ($30 real cost to them) in exchange for 3 posts on your social media which, in my buddies case means 1500 likes per week for this company – or 6000 likes per month!
Now, obviously not all of those people who have ‘liked’ the image are going to click through to the supplement company but let’s say that even 5% of people do click to check out the product (it will probably be more since social media followings TRUST and LIKE the athlete they’re following)
That’s 300 clicks a month – 300 clicks a month would normally cost them $300. What if 10% clicked through? That’s $600 a month of advertising costs. What if 20% clicked through? That’s $1200 worth of advertising costs. They’re paying you about 2.5%-10% of the money they would be paying Google for worse advertising!
Forget the advertising costs though – Remember what I said about Google and Facebook ads being cold leads because the visitor clicking your advert doesn’t have a clue who you are yet and therefore has no trust built up for you?
Well, if those leads are cold then these social media clicks are FIRE. A visitor clicking through from an athletes page is worth infinitely more than a cold click from Google because that person has now been recommended that product from an athlete that inspires them, who they look up to and who they trust.
Who do you think is more likely to buy? The guy casually clicking around Google because he’s bored at work or the guy who’s favourite athlete has just said “Go buy these supplements! They’re awesome!”. It’s a no brainer.
This, in my opinion, is the most devaluing part of any supplement ‘sponsorship’ contract. Most in the fitness industry are blind to it – Hopefully, you no longer are after I’ve just crunched those numbers for you.
You’re worth so much more than the $30 supplement bung thrown your way by some of these supplement giants. Not only that, you can provide so much greater value to the industry at the same time. Think about it.
Again, this all benefits the company. You have to wear their clothes as a part of the contract which again increases their visibility and being an affiliate means you get a 10% commission for every sale you bring their way.
Sounds great but in reality, it just means you’ll push more sales for them for a meagre 10%. Sure, this can add up and I don’t want to come across as a scrooge here but you can make more income and provide so much more value at the same time to people who need your help instead of pushing supplements on them.
That’s a true Win-Win situation.
Do you now see how much value big sponsors can squeeze out of the average, aspiring fitness model? Most will squeeze every last drop they can out of you for their $30 a month and end up with thousands of dollars worth of value.
I heard plenty of stories coming out of this years BodyPower expo that certain exhibitors paid their “sponsored athletes” around £10-£30 per day for a 10-12 hour event. That’s not a sponsorship, that’s exploitation. It’s a great deal for them but a terrible one for you and your followers/readers.
What’s an Aspiring Sponsored Athlete to Do, Altu?
“Thanks Altu, you mother f***in’ dream killer! So, how am I supposed to make money and make this industry a better place at the same time?”
I’m glad you asked! First though, less of that “mother f***in’”, yeah? You’ll hurt my feelings.
Now, I could tell you to jump straight into offering people coaching, creating products and/or selling people meal plans (ugh! If you see anybody selling ‘meal plans’, run, don’t walk the other way) but that would be highly irresponsible of me if you’re not ready and could have potentially even worse consequences on the people you’re working with that just telling them to buy some overpriced protein powder.
The first thing I’d recommend for you to do is to up your knowledge game – The fitness industry and the qualifications remain largely unregulated. The first personal training qualification I did was 5 weeks long of full time classroom and practical studying. Besides anatomy and physiology, (which doesn’t have much room for misinterpretation) most of what I learned there was crap.
I did another course many years after that through the gym that I worked at which was 3 days long, I…shit…you…not. Three fucking days to become a qualified PT.
One guy who hadn’t the slightest idea about fitness was put on the course and the examiner even took me aside and said, “I’m going to pass him, but I’ll need you to take him under your wing. He’s quite green”. This poor kid was unleashed on the unsuspecting, equallly unfortunate public as a “personal trainer”.
Point is, your education does not stop when you’ve finished your qualification. That’s when it begins. Question everything. Follow people who value the truth and evidence. Don’t marry guru’s and their ideologies. Put time aside to continually develop your knowledge every single week.
Help people on social media or by whatever means resonates with you. Make posts that provide value. Make videos, write, speak…Inspire, motivate, educate – whatever you’re good at. If you’re not good at any of those things, chances are you’re not going to reach many people and therefore won’t be a viable option for a company to sponsor you anyway.
If you’re not good at any of those things, figure out what you’d like to be good at and start practicing, a lot. You’ll get good.
Once you’ve provided great value to people, you’ll probably start seeing a common theme and finding specific areas you’re particularly passionate about.
Congrats, you’re finding your ‘niche’!
Once you’ve found this, things can then really start falling into place naturally. You’ll find that people come to you as the “go-to guy” in your chosen subject matter. At this point is when I recommend thinking about creating a product, offering a service or using whatever medium that you enjoy to make money from your passion.
While there are tons and tons of crappy products and coaches in the fitness industry, there will never be enough QUALITY products or coaches.
The cream will always rise to the top so long as you provide value. Integrity always wins and the shit ALWAYS ends up sinking to the bottom.
That’s just my advice after spending over 12 years in this industry in some shape or form. Take it or leave it but hold tight a second, I still want to talk to you fitness professionals after I speak to the people we should be trying to help…
The Consumer – The Warning Signs of a “Sponsored Athlete”
It’s great to be motivated and inspired by a physique athlete but ask yourself a few questions :
- Did this person really achieve their physique with this supplement? (‘No’ is the answer btw)
- Why are they posting multiple times per week about this same brand/product? (monieees!)
- Do they post helpful things besides these supplement marketing messages, bathroom selfies and images of themselves working out? (but not actually providing any information about what or why they’re doing what they’re doing)
As I mentioned earlier in this post, this industry still breeds some very sleazy and unscrupulous people and practices. All the way from overly photoshopped images, drug abuse, to blatant plagiarism of others materials.
The best way to tell if somebody is worth following (Sponsored or not), for you, the consumer, is to look at how much value they’re providing to your journey. It’s usually easy to tell if you ask yourself the questions above.
As I said, motivation and inspiration is great but be sure that any athlete you follow is providing you with tangible, truthful and valid information that adds to your journey rather than somebody who sees you as another dollar sign.
Also, just simply be aware that many ‘Sponsored Athletes’ aren’t actually sponsored at all (a $30 supplement bung is not a sponsorship) and if they are, check out their sponsors to see what kind of a company they represent. It can be quite telling about what the athlete stands for and where their values as a person are at.
This isn’t to tell you to judge every sponsored athlete – That would be wrong and a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. There are a select few athletes who really have made a conscious choice to align themselves with a legit product rather than any old company who waves cash or cheap powder in their face.
There also exist a select few supplement companies and a few supplement stores that sell solid products at good value, some clothing brands and some services that even I would be happy to stand behind because they would add value to my readers.
If the contract involved any terms like the contract in the case study though, I’d tell them to go fudge themselves real fast. I will never force a certain amount of sponsored posts on to my readers who hopefully follow me for good content and neither should any other fitness professional.
Beware of those “fitpro’s” who devalue themselves, but more importantly, who devalue you.
As for you, my fellow FitPro’s – add value to people and you will become valuable…to everyone, not just a fly by night supplement company looking to exploit you for their success.
Thanks for reading my post about the “Sponsored Athlete”! What do you think of the whole “Sponsored Athlete/Brand Ambassador” situation in the fitness industry? Were you aware of how it worked?
Thank you, truly. This is the best article I have ever read and you’ve explained something that no one ever wants to bring up. Everyone is trying to force create products and shove it down consumer’s throats while a product should be created based off of your audience’s request… Dude, put social share buttons on this article, I’d share it everywhere!
Thanks for the comment. Glad my post resonated with you and that I’m not the only one that thinks this!
Thanks also for the heads up about the social share buttons. I thought they were active, but must have been switched off when I changed the site’s design. They’re back now.
Good points. New to me. Had not thought about what a sponsored athlete really means. Thanks for writing it.
Hello Altu, your post was very informative and it changed my plans of becoming a sponsored athlete and instead want to become a personal trainer. I have the knowledge but not the certification, can you tell me the name of the 3 day course you took? Thank you.
Glad you found it informative.
I wouldn’t recommend a 3-day course ideally, even though I understand you want to start quickly. It was over 10 years ago, so I’m not sure if they still do it but I remember the company was called ActiveIQ. Search for them in Google – they’re UK based. The first course I did was 5 weeks of full-time study and that helped a lot more. The tutors were constantly there and there was a lot of practical parts, which is important for a trainer. Either way, make sure you constantly continue your education in the field. Good luck with it!