The Art of the Deal: Getting Sponsored

Tisha RodriguesI decided to write this article because the biggest question I get asked when it comes to my MMA career is, “How do you manage to get all these sponsors? The best advice I can give is to network. When looking for someone to sponsor you as a fighter, you are basically selling yourself. Who are you as a person, how can you help promote their company. The way I see it is, who would I want to represent my brand if I were looking to invest in a fighter. Do they have a good personality? Are they well liked in the MMA community? Is this a fighter with great potential, “Star Quality”?. Do they present a positive attitude? Do they take themselves and the fight game seriously? I’m quite sure many if not all of these things are qualities that sponsors look for when choosing whom they will take under their wings.

I am consistently networking. I will introduce myself to every single clothing company, nutrition company, etc. and I will continue to follow through with them and form relationships with them. At the UFC expo recently held near my home in Boston, MA. It was my main goal to network with as many potential sponsors that I could, including anyone that might know of someone who would be interested in speaking with me about potential sponsorships. I never outright ask for a sponsorship. I make the initial contact, tell them a little about myself. Tell them where it is I want to be, what I want out of MMA and basically what makes me tick. Sometimes, it’s an instant connection. But sometimes I’m completely ignored or told to contact them once I turn Pro. I knew one of my sponsors almost a year before they sponsored me. Every company/brand may have different reasons why they sponsor fighters. I know one of my sponsors Tracy Tate is very particular about whom she sponsors and it’s not just about how many fights you have won for her, but in who you are as a person. To her that is most important in representing a brand she has worked so hard for. Many of us that are sponsored by Cage Candy have all been through some sort of great turmoil in life and managed to get back on our feet. Her company represents people fighting for their lives and her fighters are also fighting their own fight and this is what is most important to her. Other sponsors are interested in how often are you fighting or grappling and how much are you winning? Some are happy to just have people wearing their logo wherever it can be seen. Tussle is a huge sponsor of female fighters everywhere. He is also a huge supporter of women’s MMA. I believe when it comes to Tussle it’s a little of both, where he would like to see the women he sponsors active, they also have to prove great character as well. It’s not all about winning every fight, but leaving it all in the cage. So…..so what if you approach a potential sponsor and they turn you down? Life is full of rejection. If you gave up after every first or second rejection how far in life do you believe you would actually get? Keep trying with other companies. When someone does show interest, stay on it and if they do decide on taking you on, be sure to show full appreciation. Too many fighters think sponsors are just owed to them and they are not. It’s a two way street. I have very close relationships with my sponsors, they are all my friends now and people I feel I can talk to about how I’m feeling at any time. I personally wouldn’t want a sponsor that would just drop me after a single loss, but someone who believed in me as I do in them.

It is very important to promote your sponsor. I make sure to always take photos to send them in the gear they send me. Whether it be professional or not, they will absolutely appreciate it. Continue to speak about your sponsors by promoting their websites and anything their company may have going on. You want to also return the favor by helping get their name out there as well as wearing their brand with pride. It’s extremely important how you handle yourself and how you portray their name. You have to remember you are now a direct reflection of them.

I had a nutrition company who supplied all of my pre fight supplements, protein etc. Because I could not promote them in what I wore, I would send all my personal training clients to them and add their company to my personal business cards to help get them more business. Like I said, it’s give..not just take. I also of course had their logo put on my walkout shirts and gear.

Once a potential sponsor asked well, what am I going to do for them? I simply answered, I can’t make you Strikeforce promises, but I can tell you I will promote your company to the best of my ability in any way I can. I will always represent and carry myself with the utmost respect. Wear your logos on any fight gear I wear in tournaments and fights and add links for them on any online sites or websites I may have. I am also sure to give them mentions in any interviews that I do.

So what exactly are sponsors looking for? Only they know for sure and perhaps it’s constantly changing. It is definitely great if you are both talented as well as marketable in this sport. If you are someone they want to sponsor and at the same time, they can have you actually modeling gear in their own ads, then it’s unquestionably an upper hand, but is not a deciding factor. You have to take initiative to get your name out there. Send requests on social networks to any brand possible. Make connections with people in the MMA industry. Build yourself up and sell yourself is the bottom line because it won’t always just fall at your feet. Some of my sponsors have come to me with the proposal to sponsor and others waited to watch my career unfold a bit first and wanted to follow my journey and see what I was all about before becoming a sponsor. But, I never stop. It’s a bit of a part time job, but many great things, in fact amazing opportunities have come through contacts and people I have personally met. So I don’t consider a second of it wasted time. I’m positive the fact that they saw how aggressive and serious I was about what I do and what I want out of my life definitely made the difference in their decisions. So, put yourself out there, set your fears of rejection aside and promote yourself! Someone saying no, is not going to kill you. If you make 20 contacts and receive positive feedback from one, then count it as a success! The best of luck!!

In closing I would like to thank my sponsors who are my second family. Fight Soap ” Good Hygiene, for Bad Behavior.” Tussle Fight Gear, Cage Candy, Fight Chix,Lead Creative Group, Boston Brawler and most recently Tuf Girls Athletics and Rising Fighter!! Love you all for your belief in me and continued support!

Tisha Rodrigues

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