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DART SPONSORSHIP | WHAT IT IS AND HOW TO OBTAIN IT

Imagine competing in as many tournaments as you’d like at no cost to you. Imagine getting free jerseys, darts supplies and all expenses paid for your darting endeavors….okay….now throw that notion out the window – that is NOT what dart sponsorship is! In other words…. hi, my name is Jen Mounts and I’m here to crush your dreams.

Image of Dartslive Pro Sponsored Players

Many players yearn for the utopia of sponsorship, yet have no real idea how to obtain it or what it entails. Hopefully this article will shed some light on the often-misunderstood aspects, the three different types of sponsorship and give you a leg up on others looking to make a deal.

THE 3 different TYPES OF dart SPONSORSHIP

If you’d like to jump to a specific type of dart sponsorship section, click any of the buttons below:

#1 - PRODUCT SPONSORSHIP

Image of Free Products and Services regarding to dart sponsorship

Product Sponsorship usually takes the form of entry level opportunities with manufacturers in the darting world labeling said players as support/team members. It’s 100% a marketing agreement and has dominated our sport as of late.

WHAT IS THE AGREEMENT?

The Sponsor will offer you free products/services on either a quarterly basis or semi-annually in exchange for you being an ambassador of their company and the sport of darts. You will be expected to perform with the product given to you and exclusively market the Sponsor’s brand/company online and in person with your peers.

This means you cannot advocate for companies that are in direct competition with your sponsor. For example, if you are Team Fit Flight you cannot promote L-Style products since they are both primarily flight & shaft system companies. If you are uncertain what is considered a conflict of interest you should reach out to your sponsor with any questions regarding this matter – they will be very appreciative that you involved them in your social posting. 

Image of Fit Flight Product Beside L-style Product

The contract/agreement is typically set anywhere between 1-3 years. It’s usually on the shorter side (1 year) since it can be risky to invest in entry level players. The thriving beauty of a dart sponsorship is the give and take of effort between both parties. It is not charity or a donation for an athlete, but instead a business agreement.

HOW DO YOU GET PRODUCT SPONSORSHIP?

This kind of dart sponsorship can be obtained by literally anyone who has an excellent online presence or large social media following, marketing influence over others in person or extremely skilled athletes who are winning events on a national/international scale. Simply put, you need an audience.

Having both the power to influence the people around you AND skill on top of that is naturally the goal here. However, as stated before, you can certainly charm your way into a product dart sponsorship by only possessing one or the other.

Image of Stacey pace competing in a game of Cricket against Paula Murphy on a live broadcast (two excellent examples of sponsored players

Take myself for example, I wasn’t anywhere near the top 10 most talented females in America, yet I obtained product sponsorship within 2 years of playing darts.

Throw me up against a Paula Murphy, a Stacey Pace, a Cali West, a Robin Curry – I’m going to get smashed 8 times out of 10.

Despite the lack of truly professional talent when you take the entire nation into account, dart sponsorship literally fell into my lap because I had already developed a brand of my own that had a large following of people.

The brand I speak of was a combination of extremely active social posting on multiple platforms with darts related content and creating a Youtube channel dedicated to darts tips, tournament vlogs, product reviews and navigating social issues within the darts community.

how to develop your brand - dart sponsorship part 3

I even began my graphic design career solely based on the inspiration drawn from the darts world – wanting to invent new, more powerful ways to advertise the industry. I started binge watching tutorials on photoshop, illustrator and video editing software and making profile pictures, logos, banners and better video content over time.

There are countless ways you can build your own audience – no need to go extreme like I did. Just remember, you are virtually useless if you don’t have an audience beyond the dozen or so people watching you compete at events.

Only a very select few can develop this sort of an audience simply by winning (think Larry Butler or Darin Young). The exposure and media coverage alone could have built their own audiences, yet they did some marketing along the way on top of that and look what they’ve accomplished over time!

For the rest of us, we need something else. A blog for example can be a great way to build an audience. It’s very cheap and easy, just time consuming.  It will take a little longer for people to catch on and start consistently following you, but it’s certainly one of the easiest ways to go about it.

Image of Darin Young and Team USA partner Larry Butler at the World Cup of Darts (two of the greatest examples of sponsored players who understand the nature of dart sponsorship)

If you’re comfortable behind a camera, film yourself covering darts related topics or conducting your own product reviews. This is a sure fire way to grab the attention of the darts community and dart sponsorship. Video content does better than virtually all else on social media.

On the flip side, if you only care about your performance and skill – you can tailor building an audience around that concept just as well! Take video of your practice routine – no commentary necessary. Live stream yourself competing online or set up exhibition matches with live streaming companies.

Image of the Championship Darts Circuit Stage who have sought out dart sponsorship as an organization

Ask your close friends and teammates to take photos/videos of you performing at events so you can completely focus on competing. Stick to a few basic principles and make sure you’re posting your fantastic tournament results and showing off the product you’re using to win these events in order to obtain and keep a dart sponsorship.

summary: There are 2 types of product players - Marketers and Competitors

The strong marketers who never win major events can still point their fans to the sponsor’s website and the talented players who can’t seem to do any better than share other people’s posts online can always bring brand awareness and brand loyalty by winning events with their sponsor’s product.

Each type of product player make up two parts of the puzzle. Marketers make it easy for people to purchase the sponsor’s product by posting links into the newsfeed of social channels and the skilled players are proving to the public that the product works – they are the proof of concept. Now, can you imagine how deadly it is to have a person with both skills? They become the ultimate influencer!

Bottom line is anyone can get a product dart sponsorship if they try hard enough in the short-term, but not everyone can keep it and evolve it into something greater. Don’t forget you absolutely can be dropped/fired once your contract date is up. Product sponsorship is the easiest to obtain, but just as easy to lose after your year of fame is over.

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#2 - FINANCIAL SPONSORSHIP

Image of Financial Income benefits like Air Travel, Hotel Stay and Paid Entry Fees as apart of dart sponsorship

Financial Sponsorship is almost exclusively reserved for top tier players labeled as Premiere/Premium/Official/World Champions/Pros, ect. It’s becoming more and more difficult to negotiate for this sort of relationship due to the ever growing dominance of digital marketing and dart players’ inability to actually market effectively.

The #1 misconception about dart sponsorship is people think because a player is highly skilled – they are entitled to it. Almost like it’s a reward for they’re talent. Simply being good at darts does not influence people enough to justify a company financially investing in you.

Gone are the days of throwing a patch logo on players and calling it a day – this is currently one of the most ineffective forms of advertising. If you’re not storytelling and content marketing (in times of information and advertising overload) you’re not doing your Sponsor justice. Creativity and authenticity is required to successfully tell a story.

Debunking myths about sponsorship - dart sponsorship part 1

The 2nd greatest misconception about dart sponsorship is people assume that Sponsors will fly you all over the country or even internationally to get you to tournaments. In reality, you often need to already be traveling to major events on your own dime and have a history of winning before being considered for pure financial gain.

Sponsors are then paying for your exposure (that you’ve worked hard over the course of years to obtain) and not trying to create it for you by fronting all of your traveling expenses which is super high risk for them. My guidance would be that you need to already have a social following of a few thousand darts players and travel at least once a quarter outside of your state to successfully negotiate for guaranteed financial assistance.

WHAT IS THE AGREEMENT?

Depending on the company, product sponsorship can absolutely transform into a guaranteed fixed income agreement. Whether you’re brand new to a Sponsor or trying to renegotiate your current dart sponsorship before it renews, the following are common possibilities of what a Financial Sponsorship Agreement looks like:

Said income can be money directly in your pocket intended to offset some of the costs of competition or more controlled where the Sponsor themselves book flights, hotel or entry fees for you (until the established budget has been met).

Some companies offer financial performance bonuses if you place high in singles events at agreed upon major tournaments. This can also be possible for product players – don’t be afraid to ask if a structure like this can be discussed! If you’re not the best competitor, a performance bonus could motivate you to finally push past your competitive plateau and give a new meaning/value to the difference between 2nd and 1st place.

Certain Sponsors might also be able to offer you a kickback on your signature darts setup (custom barrel, custom flight, replica jersey, ect). Whether it be a fixed dollar amount per unit sold or a small % of sales, this is a great opportunity to incentivize the sponsored player to take extra time to market their own signature product and directly benefit from that.

In exchange for the established financial budget, potential for bonus money, creation of signature product and the kickbacks that come with it, you are expected to be a consistent travelling professional and maintain a strong online following. Off and on the oche persona is super important here – getting involved in a public scandal can easily be in breach of your contract.

Times are getting so crazy due to the power of digital marketing and what can be tracked. Some of the major companies are even basing a high % of your worth on metrics from your social media alone. Don’t discount the possibility of future financial sponsorships solely riding on this concept.

Image of Analytics showing Important Social Media Metrics that pertain to dart sponsorship

WHO CAN OFFER FINANCIAL AGREEMENTS?

I think it’s important to take a moment here to explain the different types of Sponsors in order to help demonstrate who is capable of offering a financial agreement. Notice how I didn’t use the term financial assistance, support or help. Again, sponsorship is not charity – it is a binding contractual agreement

Any manufacturer of products in the amazing world of darts is going to be hands down your most important partnership. This is your best option at working towards financial gain by aligning yourself with certain brands and staying loyal to them for years (bouncing around between sponsors every year diminishes your negotiation power and credibility).

Here is a heavily opinionated guide to which types of manufacturers to solicit first (not necessarily in order of importance):

Molded Flight and Shaft System: It is far less expensive for these companies to sign on new players. Therefore, I believe they are the easiest (and most credible) to obtain. It’s also much less expensive to manufacture signature flights for a player than a custom barrel, for example. Gaining one credible sponsor quickly will fast track your journey of rounding out your sponsorship portfolio, so to speak.

Barrel: The barrel you shoot with has the greatest impact on your performance. You can change out the shape, texture and length of your flights/shafts in a pinch to perfect the oscillating of your flight pattern, but figuring out what barrel is just right for you is a long and expensive road. You’ll want to approach a barrel manufacturer who’s designs you like to shoot with. Don’t expect them to spend tons of design time and upfront manufacturing costs to make you a signature barrel right off the bat unless you are exceptionally talented or have an exceptional social following.

Jersey/Sports Apparel (Your Darts Uniform): Jersey companies are probably even easier to obtain than Molded Flight Systems since we’re not talking about a patch for advertisement… you’re basically a walking billboard for the company! So you do see pretty inexperienced players getting picked up by jersey companies and wearing their stock designs only. My method of acquiring sponsored players is quite the opposite with Magic Wear: Each player gets unique signature designs annually which is a major upfront cost for the company plus incentives. Magic Wear player bios.

I prefer players that already have a barrel & flight sponsor and have established a history of marketing and impressive performance. We can sublimate logos directly onto fabric which looks much cleaner and more professional than patches. If a player is just starting out their career and gaining new sponsors each month, that renders their starting jerseys sub-optimal since they need to deal with patches. Keep in mind Flight System and Barrel companies usually provide at least one dye-sublimated jersey for their team members to get you by in the beginning.

Ask me 5 years ago and this option would be at the bottom of the list, however online personalities and live streamers are a booming industry (finally evolving in the world of darts). Instead of pushing products, live streamers and Youtubers want to push their brand and grow their viewership.

Apply all of the same principles I’ve laid out in order to promote their brand/get your peers interested in what they are doing and in exchange they might be able to offer you all of the same services manufacturers can offer: financial help, product, bonuses based on social metrics and exposure.

Sometimes your options can be limited if a Production company or Social Brand officially partners with other companies and won’t be able to sponsor you if you’re already representing a competing company. For example, USA Darts Production is now owned by Magic Darts Inc. (the parent company of A-ZDarts.com). Therefore, if you are currently already sponsored by a competing darts supply website then you wouldn’t be able to join the USA Darts Team.

Popular Youtubers might even have sponsors of their own that will be in direct conflict with you. Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask them what their plans are for the future so you don’t find yourself in a sticky situation forced to choose one sponsor over the other!

Naturally this will be primarily a local audience focused dart sponsorship. Instead of pushing a product, you are trying to get patrons into a specific bar or convince your peers to play on a certain dartboard machine. Whether it be a bar owner, a vending or amusement company – go for it! If you have the ability to recruit players to commit to local leagues/tournaments/blind draws it’s all the same concept of working on your personability and influence over others.

Bar owners in particular don’t typically seek out representatives and they will more than likely be very unfamiliar with drawing up a guaranteed sponsored player financial agreement. To avoid a handshake agreement that can terribly backfire on you, I suggest you as the player taking the initiative to draw up a contract yourself if you’re looking for a long term partnership. 

A-ZDarts.com is a perfect example here: We are a reseller of darts supplies and carry every major manufacturer (we stock over 100 different brands and have over 14,000 unique skew items).

Unfortunately, we stand to gain a lot less of a return on investment when sponsoring players considering the talented shooters/marketers are already dedicated to just one barrel manufacturer and just one flight & shaft system manufacturer. This dramatically reduces the amount of exposure they can actually bring to our website. Some of our players can literally only promote 10% or less of the products on our website.

For those reasons I’m personally ranking darts websites last. Despite this, we still have created a small team of American players and try to think of new innovative ways to form a long-lasting mutualistic relationship. A-ZDarts player bios.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS on website dart sponsorship

If you really pay attention, you might notice a trend in players losing website sponsorships in particular more frequently than others. I personally believe it is due to the lack of innovative thinking between both parties to combat the limited chance of ROI for the Sponsor.

It took me two years of experience actually acquiring players, negotiating their contracts and monitoring them to realize the Sponsors themselves have quite a bit of learning to do (based on my own failures). Expectations are just not set from the beginning and misconceptions about the relationship are very apparent on BOTH sides.

I can’t tell you how many Sponsors I’ve overheard berating their players for not creating their own content on social media, for not sharing their travel plans, for not participating in marketing campaigns, ect. I found myself struggling to empathize with them until one day I finally realized why… it dawned upon me that I had never actually ASKED my own sponsored players to meet my expectations of them.

sponsorship in the year 2020 and beyond - atomic darts

I had never actually taken time to truly TEACH them how I wanted them to market the companies I work for. I never even explained to them what my companies were all about – what our mission statements were. They weren’t capable of doing anything better than sharing our companies’ own posts on social media and at the end of the day, that was MY fault.

This deeply disheartening realization is what truly inspired me to write this blog and further completely revamp how I manage players/structure contracts moving forward. I hope bringing awareness to this issue will inspire readers to communicate with current sponsors to make sure they are perceived well in their eyes (because your Sponsors might be too ignorant or timid to reach out to you and give you a chance to fix it otherwise). Like I once was!

HOW TO OBTAIN FINANCIAL SPONSORSHIP

It is very unlikely to become a salary player overnight or when signing with a brand new sponsor. As mentioned before, financial agreements typically become established only after a player has proven their loyalty to a company going through the ranks of product sponsorship over the course of years. 

Investing money directly into players is going to require certain results to create a return on investment for the Sponsor. For every $1 I give to sponsored players to help offset costs of their darting careers, I would hope to receive $3 back in revenue. This can only be possible if the sponsored players have an extremely large audience to market to and consistently put themselves in the position to gain exposure.

So if you can’t do anything else besides sharing sponsors’ social posts you’re doomed in the long run. Very highly skilled current sponsored players have been getting away with putting in this little effort for years and I truly believe they are in for a rude awakening. As the years go by, sponsors will buck up and restructure their expectations. Stay ahead of the curve and give yourself true ability to negotiate for better contracts every year!

how to obtain sponsorship - dart sponsorship part 2

Start training yourself to be realistic NOW. If you have 1000 friends on facebook, only 100 or so can actually be influenced by your marketing. Those numbers don’t even begin to compute in terms of qualifying you for loads of cash. I’d like to personally see over 3000 friends (mostly darts players) for facebook specifically. 

Ed Chambers said it best “fighting with your ex over child support on facebook does not count as social media marketing”. The first thing I do when a player asks me for dart sponsorship is look at their social media. They are almost always disqualified from my consideration within 1 minute of scrolling. 

If more than 60% of your content is not darts related and you use your social media channels for personal bitching/spreading political opinions you might want to consider a separate like page for your darts career/darts advice or darts persona. Then ask yourself, ‘would I even get more than 100 likes on that separate page?’ If the answer is no, you have to completely revamp your online presence.

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#3 - PERCENTAGE DEAL

Image of PDC professional Darts Players who experience a completely different level of dart sponsorship than Americans

The most uncommon opportunity American players can look for is a true financial backer who can offer a % deal. PDC professional darts players tend to be eligible for this sort of deal since the sponsor is almost guaranteed global exposure. With that said, you have to be literally one of the best in your country if not the world to be considered.

In North America specifically, I think it’s safe to say that if you can’t hang with the tour card holders of the Championship Darts Circuit then you’re more than likely not talented enough to be a worthwhile prospect for a % deal – it’s by far the greatest gamble a Sponsor can make.

Tour Card Holders of the Championship Darts Circuit who have the best negotiation power when it comes to dart sponsorship

WHAT IS THE AGREEMENT?

The Sponsor/agent/manager/representative (whatever you want to call it) takes care of the expenses of tournament travel/entry fees and the player gives back an agreed upon % of what they earned (if any) at the event. There could be a cap to how many events a player can attend or a restriction of the type of events that qualify.

The Sponsor not only takes all of the financial burden/risk off of the player, but also might organize their schedule, promote them on social media, book promotions, events and exhibition matches. They even can help solicit/negotiate other opportunities for dart sponsorship on behalf of the player.

Your role as the player is to be solely focused on showing up where you’re told to go and win. You are no longer required to organize stressful aspects of a career in darts, but you lose quite a large % of your earnings/endorsements for this luxury.

HOW TO FIND AN AGENT

You might have to do some digging here in the U.S. to find someone to represent you (especially one willing to fly Americans overseas where this sort of dart sponsorship makes sense). If you have any connections to top players in your area or nation-wide professionals you could try directly asking them. Of course respect their decision to not share their information or accept that they might have no idea.

My strong advice to the average player out there is to always represent yourself. Small time agents have surfaced in the past looking to take 25-50% of small time player’s winnings and sometimes even their sponsorship money with other companies. You’re missing out on the actual benefits of having a representative like guaranteed consistent exposure and intense competitive experience/conditioning.

WHO TO CONTACT ABOUT dart SPONSORSHIP

Now that we’ve covered all of the different types of dart sponsorship and companies involved, let’s talk about how important it is to speak to the correct person with your initial message. 

The #1 mistake I notice players make is they contact a company’s general info or sales department with the basic question ‘how do I get sponsored by your company?’. This is entirely futile, they are likely to ignore you and delete your message (because they get several of these a day). If possible, go straight to the company owner or better yet the marketing department.

If you can’t figure out the right person/email to message then it’s okay to initially email the general info rep, but specifically state that you are looking to get in touch with the marketing department or player manager in order to send your personal darts bio to be considered for dart sponsorship.

FYI: I don’t suggest bothering current sponsored players of that company (especially if they are strangers to you). Use that card only if you have a good/real relationship with a current sponsored player.

WHAT TO SAY IN YOUR INITIAL MESSAGE

Once you have the right contact, you have to put together a proposal. I recommend keeping the actual email message short and concise. Explain who you are, who your audience is (the size and demographic of your social media following). Feel free to link your different social channels in the email to make it easier for them to look you up – that would impress even me.

If possible, describe exactly what you are seeking (be honest about what is most important to you to get out of this relationship). Don’t forget to be courteous and humble when explaining your needs. Then immediately follow up with how you will then benefit the potential Sponsor to make it abundantly clear that you understand dart sponsorship is a two-way street.

An example would be (if you’re seeking out a barrel sponsorship) you could talk about how you love their cuts, their colors, even their culture that inspires the barrel designs they create. Say you believe you have marketing potential that is authentic because you actually LOVE their product and have always used it (only if this is true).

Bottom line is work out your unique selling point. Why you? Express that deeply and bring that to the table above all else. Skill comes 2nd – don’t even talk about your tournament finishes/accomplishments in the email (attach that list as a word doc). 

WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN SOLICITING dart SPONSORSHIP

Don’t send your resume to every manufacturer out there and hope that one lands. First of all, they all talk to each other – you’re going to look absolutely ridiculous. Secondly, all companies/brands are extremely different in how they operate and how they treat sponsored players. If you think you can benefit every single business in the world you’re just dead wrong.

I alluded to this earlier, make sure that you’ve recently posted darts related content on your social media channels before soliciting sponsorship. Give your digital footprint a once-over and weed out any controversial/inappropriate posts/comments you might have made. The player manager is going to stalk you on social media so prepare for this ahead of time.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m proud of you for reading this far! The fact that you did probably means you are 100 x more likely to land a sponsor than your competitors (Jen Mounts guaranteed statistic right there – you’re welcome).

The last thing I want to leave you with is to aspire to actually be approached by companies rather than seek them out. Although in most cases companies out there have identified and already reached out to the people they want to represent them, you stand to gain more negotiation power if the sponsor hears of you through the grapevine or notices you themselves.

When you’re the one to make initial contact, you’re probably fighting for a tiny sliver of the remaining marketing budget pie (the Sponsor might not be actively looking for players). On the flip side, when a Sponsor is in the mood to make a deal and comes a knockin at your door, your negotiation power just went from 0-100.

Good darts and good luck!

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