A fresh look at personal sponsorships

Sponsorships for athletes have come a long way…

The Romans were amazing people.  2,000 years later, so many things around us directly or indirectly come from them:  Our modern government institutions, many engineering concepts (like domes and arches), our legal system and the English language, to name but a few.

The Romans also gave us the concept of sponsorship.  Gladiatorial battles were the Romans’ sport.  it is the sole reason why today we can still see the Colosseum in Rome.  Big, brave gladiators were the Christiano Ronaldos and Michael Jordans in those days.  To help a gladiator prepare for battle, he would typically be taken into the care of a nobleman who would provide food and lodging, and all the necessary training facilities.  He became the gladiator’s sponsor.

In return the gladiator fought in the name of the nobleman: “Spiculus, fighting for the glory of the family of the most noble Vinius Burpus.”  And yes, ultimately, the gladiator was prepared to die for his sponsor!

Fast forward to 1894 and meet the first female sponsored athlete of the modern era, cyclist Annie Londonderry.  Or should that be Annie Kopchovsky?  Annie was a Bostonian of Latvian descent.  Being a rebel at heart, she could not resist taking up a local businessman on a bet of $10,000 that a woman cannot cycle around the world in 15 months. 

Annie had no money for the venture, but she was a rabble-rouser.  In no time she whipped up several sponsors for her cause among businesses in Boston.  The Londonderry Lithia Spring Water company was prepared to be Annie’s main sponsor, but on one condition:  She had to change her surname to Londonderry.  Resourceful Annie did not think twice and did it – all for the sake of sponsorship money.

Annie completed her journey in under 15 months, but no one knows whether she ever got her $10,000.  She never changed her surname back to Kopchovsky, though, and so remained an endorser of Londonderry Lithia Spring Water for the rest of her life.

Today sponsorship contracts for cricket equipment all roughly look the same.  The international players will get some money from their sponsors, but the foundation of every sponsorship contract is the supply of a reasonable quantity of equipment.  In return the sponsored player typically commits himself exclusively to the sponsor’s brand, agrees that the sponsor can use his name and image to promote the equipment, and undertakes to do certain things for the sponsor (like personal appearances at functions of the sponsor or photo shoots).  Requesting the sponsored player to do a certain number of postings on social media are also becoming more common.

Apart from diligently policing that its sponsored players always use their equipment and care for it properly, sponsors, in my experience, rarely demand their full pound of flesh from the sponsored players.  When one then considers that Rome’s gladiators were prepared to die for their sponsors and that Annie Kopchovsky was prepared to change her surname to her sponsor’s brand name, I guess asking sponsored cricketers to send out a few Instagram posts is not asking too much…       

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