Why does a rider become unhappy with their sponsor? What makes a sponsor feel they aren’t getting what was expected from a rider? A simple concept like sponsorship¿”We’ll give you stuff, and you’ll ride for us”¿is really quite complicated.

Snowboard-related companies are expected to sponsor riders, and all do to varying degrees. To help new companies embarking on the sponsorship boat, as well as those who’ve been unlucky with what sponsorship can become, SNOWboarding Business contacted several manufacturers to see how they handle it.

When Things Go Wrong

Laying down the rules right from the start is the best policy, says Paul Ferrel, team manager for Mervin Manufacturing¿Gnu and Lib Tech. This way riders don’t assume things like amount of expense money or salary they will receive. “It sounds almost cliché,” Ferrel explains, “but riders like us a lot because we try to be sincere. We don’t break promises, but then again we don’t make a lot!” Ferrel says owner Mike Olson’s kind nature filters down as well: “From him we’ve learned not to burn bridges¿if you do, you’ll find there’s no one to work with. Acting nice goes a long way.”

Type A President/Team Manager Carl Hyndman says that with the exception of a couple people who left Type A to start their own company, taking one rider with them, they haven’t had unhappy riders: “He the departing rider really had no friends at Type A, and felt closer to the guys who left.” Type A’s secret? They only sponsor five pros, riders they know well, and are able to take good care of them.

Emanuel Krebs, pro rider and product manager for Limited, is certain of the biggest factor in failed rider/sponsor relationships: “Lack of communication¿if you get into a relationship with would-be sponsors, you need to talk about expectations first. And I do look at it as a relationship¿more personal than business, including the ability to say what’s on your mind. Problems occur when you’re frustrated and can’t talk to your sponsor.” Krebs knows his stuff¿he was sponsored previously by Burton and Sims. “Riders may be quick to blame companies when things go wrong, but most riders are too young with their first sponsor to know how to deal with the business side. If you’re communicating well, you’ll be much less subject to problems.”

Ride (Liquid, Cappel, Preston Bindings) Team Manager Jack Coghlan tells of a rider who left because she felt Ride wasn’t doing enough for her. “Some companies have too big of a team and can’t keep track of riders,” Coghlan relates. “But sometimes the rider has too big of a head¿someone who thinks they should be getting the same pay as a big-name rider, but they’re unknown. They have a mistaken sense of where they are in the scheme.”

Eric Koch, promotions manager at Burton, echoes these sentiments, adding: “What generally seems to go wrong is expectations being raised disproportionately to the industry and life.” He reinforces the problems of communication breakdown, stating that riders must feel able to pick up the phone to discuss their goals and desires. Koch also discusses an element many may find surprising: large, established companies actually fear the tactics of new upstart companies trying to woo away their riders. He notes the ease with which new companies can make big promises, like offering riders 100,000-dollar salaries, when they might not be around in a year. But the damage is done; the riders’ heads are filled, and they become unhappy. This situation is especially frustrating for Koch when the new companies attempt to take the mid-level riders Burton has been working with for years.

Ton A’ WaWa owner Chris Chapman represents a different set of problems with rider/sponsor dealings, because he and wife Janet Freeman often put in sixteen hours a day keeping the company going. He relates how a rude rider can lose them as a sponsor: “We’re at work, and we get a call from a rider demanding, ‘Where’s my r pants?’ Riding is their life, but we’re working hard and have a problem with that.” Ton A’ WaWa riders are often courted by bigger companies, and Chapman and Freeman also face the added frustration of greed. Chapman relates: “I get a little tired of ‘Dude, you need to sponsor me, I rip!’ only to have them turn around and sell the clothes for pot.”

Unfortunately, sometimes things turn ugly. Shane McGraw, team manager at Black Flys, started to relate an incident of sponsor/rider unhappiness, only to stop himself short: “Before I worked here we had some problems with a rider¿but you know, it’s so touchy, I can’t even go into it.”

Picking Your Riders

How do you choose who to sponsor? At Ride this is a team decision (they hold two or three rider meetings a year), although Coghlan says anyone who wants to ride for them will be considered. He warns that anyone who doesn’t get along with team riders will not be picked up¿”even a World Cup winner.” Coghlan feels the best policy is to pick kids who are humble and not worried about contracts: “We want kids who ride a lot and want to get better.”

Koch at Burton recognizes the obvious riding-ability factor, but finds “personality and marketability” to be at least equally important. Lib Tech’s Ferrel uses rider Jamie Lynn as an example: “People remember the attention he gives each person and his sincerity¿he’s personality and performance.”

Black Flys’ McGraw concurs: “There are so many good riders out there, we’ll take the ones with personality.” As an accessory company, he’s become accustomed to greed, “guys who want the whole warehouse,” but when notoriously good-natured rider Omar Hassan stopped by before a trip to Europe, “he asked if he could please have one pair of sunglasses!” Ton A’ WaWa’s Chapman has more essential requirements: “People are going to see them, so we try to sponsor nice kids, not someone who scowls when you look at them.”

Contract Or Not

Ride takes a very systematic approach to written agreements: riders aren’t given a contract the first year, and their sponsorship is equipment-only. This gives rider and sponsor time to size each other up. After that time, a contract is drawn up¿but if eventually a rider wants to leave, Coghlan says, “With some exceptions, we pretty much just let them.”

Apparently, tearing up contracts and/or letting unhappy riders go is how the rider/sponsor relationship is handled now. Burton’s Koch doubts the necessity of written agreements: “These days in the industry, a contract doesn’t have much value at all. If we needed it to, we could pursue a big legal battle. Let’s face it¿the contract doesn’t mean much to riders.” But there is evidence the growth of snowboarding is already causing changes in how the rider/sponsor agreement develops. Ferrel says, “This is the first year of Mervin doing contracts with more than just the top guys. It’s because snowboarding is getting bigger.”

For a company the size of Ton A’ WaWa, one type of written agreement is important. Chapman draws up contracts regarding the clothing given to riders¿a way to prevent them from turning the apparel into quick cash: “A common contract states that the riders are testing the garments and need to mail them back¿whether they actually do or not.”

What You Give And What You Get

It’s already been mentioned that Type A keep their pro team very small, but they also flow a lot of product to friends who are not on the team¿”if we respect who they are and what they do,” Hyndman says. Type A solicits lots of feedback from their pros, and once a month they hold meetings where everything is voted on, including product decisions. In addition, every year Type A figures out where the team would like to live, and they set up a team house and car. Last year they chose Squaw¿friends and filmers were welcome to stay as well.

Mervin’s Ferrel has a more simplistic approach: “We give lots of product to people who snowboard a lot, and they give us feedback.” In addition, Ferrel recognizes the value of frequent contact with team riders: “I don’t do it nearly as much as I should, but it’s really important.” Black Flys doesn’t pay many of their riders, but they offer many creative forms of assistance: “We give them as much product as they need,” says McGraw, “and we help them go on trips. We put out Lava magazine and give people more exposure that way. We screen our own T-shirts here, and if a rider needs to make money, we’ll let them come in and make shirts for free, and they can sell them.”

Ride offers three levels of sponsorship: the pro team receives a model board (their design), board royalties, salary, and all equipment and travel; the am team receives a small salary, small travel budget, and all equipment; future ams get all the equipment they need. Ride also has regional rep riders, sponsored through sales reps. Even with a worldwide team of 50, the Ride team is tight¿they have team houses in Squaw and Vail, and as Coghlan says, “They help each other a lot.” To prevent frustrations caused by slow mail, international riders’ goods are provided via their country’s distributor.

Burton’s team also has several levels of sponsorship and an even bigger team of 100 riders. Still Koch feels their riders are well served: “As VP/Director of Marketing Dennis Jenson says, ‘It’s almost impossible to not do well on the Burton Team’¿it’s a combination of the energy we put in and the energy riders put in.”

Not all sponsors are as clear on the concept or positive of its benefits. Says Ton A’ WaWa’s Chapman: “The sponsored-snowboarder thing is blown out of proportion! I’m still trying to figure out what a rider does for us. We do use our riders for coverage and in ads, although it seems more often we’re the ones being used.” Even with misgivings, Ton A’ WaWa still tries to sponsor one rider per territory.

Go Forth And Sponsor

This varied selection of large and small companies illustrates the various ways sponsorship can be approached. The choice is individual¿or in the case of companies with team voting, democratic. At any rate, it’s wise to learn from others’ successes, as well as their mistakes. To help you sponsor wisely, a few final words of advice:Paul Ferrel, Mervin: “Keep your promises, and communicate the rules of the road.”Jack Coghlan, Ride: “Big companies need to take care of their top guys¿small companies need to not spread themselves thin.”Emanuel Krebs, Limited: “Riders need to establish their expectations clearly with sponsors when they come in, and vice versa.”snowboard a lot, and they give us feedback.” In addition, Ferrel recognizes the value of frequent contact with team riders: “I don’t do it nearly as much as I should, but it’s really important.” Black Flys doesn’t pay many of their riders, but they offer many creative forms of assistance: “We give them as much product as they need,” says McGraw, “and we help them go on trips. We put out Lava magazine and give people more exposure that way. We screen our own T-shirts here, and if a rider needs to make money, we’ll let them come in and make shirts for free, and they can sell them.”

Ride offers three levels of sponsorship: the pro team receives a model board (their design), board royalties, salary, and all equipment and travel; the am team receives a small salary, small travel budget, and all equipment; future ams get all the equipment they need. Ride also has regional rep riders, sponsored through sales reps. Even with a worldwide team of 50, the Ride team is tight¿they have team houses in Squaw and Vail, and as Coghlan says, “They help each other a lot.” To prevent frustrations caused by slow mail, international riders’ goods are provided via their country’s distributor.

Burton’s team also has several levels of sponsorship and an even bigger team of 100 riders. Still Koch feels their riders are well served: “As VP/Director of Marketing Dennis Jenson says, ‘It’s almost impossible to not do well on the Burton Team’¿it’s a combination of the energy we put in and the energy riders put in.”

Not all sponsors are as clear on the concept or positive of its benefits. Says Ton A’ WaWa’s Chapman: “The sponsored-snowboarder thing is blown out of proportion! I’m still trying to figure out what a rider does for us. We do use our riders for coverage and in ads, although it seems more often we’re the ones being used.” Even with misgivings, Ton A’ WaWa still tries to sponsor one rider per territory.

Go Forth And Sponsor

This varied selection of large and small companies illustrates the various ways sponsorship can be approached. The choice is individual¿or in the case of companies with team voting, democratic. At any rate, it’s wise to learn from others’ successes, as well as their mistakes. To help you sponsor wisely, a few final words of advice:Paul Ferrel, Mervin: “Keep your promises, and communicate the rules of the road.”Jack Coghlan, Ride: “Big companies need to take care of their top guys¿small companies need to not spread themselves thin.”Emanuel Krebs, Limited: “Riders need to establish their expectations clearly with sponsors when they come in, and vice versa.”