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By Doug Devin - 1995

The first sponsorship my team was offered came from the brother-in-law of somebody on the team. This guy owned a garage, and to help out his wacky relation's team he would write us a cheque for $300, in exchange for which we had to put the name of his garage on our cammies. Wow! We knew this was the beginning of the big time for us, and we would be flying to Nashville for the Line SI Masters for sure this year!

 Ah, the simple days of youth. But back then few teams received any sponsorship much beyond that. Today it is very different of course. I thought it might be useful to examine the question of sponsorship, especially for some of the newer players who still have stardust in their eyes and don't understand how sponsorship works.

 I think there are two forms of sponsorship: Real Sponsorship, and Vanity Sponsorship. In real sponsorship a business provides financial support to a team (or sometimes individual players) and generally expects something in return. Generally the return takes the form of advertising, either the paid kind, or exposure in the magazines when the team has its picture taken while holding up a banner with the sponsor's name on it. The mfg. hopes that people seeing the ads or reading the tournament reports will conclude that because the Awesome Death Dogs use Goofball brand paint, then the reader should too. There are also side benefits like prestige withing the industry and occasionally tax write-offs. But the key is that the mfg. or dealer expects to get something back for the money he invests in the team. Remember this point, as it will come up again.

 Vanity sponsorship often has at least partially different motives. Typical vanity sponsorship involves the captian of the Awesome Death Dogs, who also owns the field where they play, giving the team members field patches to sew on their cammies. That's all they get, but at least they get to claim that they are now a sponsored team. This allows them to swagger around the staging area impressing the hell out of the other players who don't have sponsorship.

 Believe it or not, but many of them teams who hold up banners with the logos of various dealers and mfgs. get little or nothing from those businesses! However, they feel it is worthwhile to look as if they are heavily sponsored - good for the ego, and possibly useful for negociations with other businesses. So keep in mind that just because the Awesome Death Dogs have the WGP logo on their banner doesn't mean they got those Auto Cockers for free, or even cheap. They probably paid just as much as you did. One local team just obtained "sponsorship" from a major mfg., but it turns out they paid dealer cost for their masks! Is this real sponsorship, considering that any team wanting to buy a couple of dozen masks could have got pretty much the same price?

 Much vanity sponsorship comes from someone on the team being involved in a paintball business. Sometimes that works out O.K. If you get a free season pass, or cheaper paint or whatever just because a team member owns the field, terrific. But arragements like this can go sour if the sponsor decides he is being taken advantage of. This is why even friendly arrangements between team members often invlove teams working off the sponsorship in some way. So the Awesome Death Dogs have to give up one Saturday a month to go the the field and help build a speedball course, or referee a newbie game, or dig a pit for a new outhouse. This sometimes means that the lazier members of the team forget to show up, or whine about how overworked they are for the crummy support the field gives them, and so on. You can probably see how these friendly arrangements can come apart.

 The bottom line is that in most cases the company providing sponsorship expects the team to earn it. At the upper levels that means appearing in ads, and at the lower level it means refereeing a group of newbies. But very few businesses will just hand you free paintguns, or paint, or airfare to a tournament just to be nice guys. If you think that your team will receive something for nothing, I suggest you examine the deal a little more closely. You say you'll be getting free paint? Wow, wish I did. But wait a minute, the fine print says two cases per event. Hmmm, that works out to 400 balls per man, which should just about last you one game. But you also get your entry fees paid to local tournaments? Good for you, but did you notice that is only if the sponsoring field is turning a profit, and only if they don't want your team to ref on those weekends? Gee, this deal doesn't look so hot now, does it. It will look even worse when the majority of the guys on the team realize that a handful of characters who get along with the field or shop owner real well seem to get a much better deal than the rank and file.

 Aside from the fact that all sponsorship has a price, whether up front or hidden, there is the effect that sponsorship can have on the morals of your team. Money does funny things to people. A nearby team used to be sponsored by a paint mfg. awhile back. After every tournament the boss at the paint mfg. would call them up and ask how they did. If they won, he was delighted, and would pack up a box of patches and t-shirts to send them. If they at least placed 2nd or 3rd, he wasn't quite so happy, and regretted that the goodies had to go to another teams. If they didn't place in the trophies at all, he would start wondering aloud how long he could continue to provide them with paint at his cost when they weren't getting his company's name in the magazines. Talk about pressure. Guess what started to happen with this team? You got it, they started to alter their playing style to ensure they won.

 Another factor in sponsorship is that many companies are coming to the realization that their return doesn't justify the investment. For example, no amount of sponsorship by the makers of the Patriot or Black Knight is going to get us to sell our Auto Cockers or AutoMags. Nor are happy users of R.P. Scherer or Zap or Nelson going to switch brands just because the Ironmen did a deal with National and are now in love with Pro Ball (just as they used to be in love with Bullseye). Many mfgs. are looking at cutting back on sponsorship because they don't get enough of a return, but they are looking at expanding their support of fields because that's where the real money is made. If you owned a paint company, who would you want to keep happy? A pro team that expects you to give them paint and screams its collective head off whenever they don't think the quality is good enough? Or a field owner who sold 5,000,000 of your balls to newbie customers last year, customers who couldn't care less who the Ironmen are or what brand of paint they shoot? Not a difficult question, is it?

 So, if you belong to a local novice or amateur team that dreams of the day when you will be sponsored like the big kids, be careful! Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Sponsorship always has a price. Sponsorship can cause hard feelings between teammates. And sponsorship can change for the worse your team's approach to sportsmanship. On the other hand, if you get some free squeegees or something, would you send me one? Awww, come on, just one little squeegee? I promise I won't tell about that wiping I saw last week, and I'll be nice to you guys when I'm reffing...and....wait a minute! What the hell am I saying?! See! I told you this sponsorship stuff was dangerous!

 My dream sponsorship? Big Rock Breweries - all we can drink.


Doug Devin

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