By Steve Medcroft
With the U.S. mountain bike season about to close and all thoughts drifting towards Interbike; U.S. cycling's end-of-year Las Vegas trade show, most pro riders are putting together their sponsorship deals for 2006. The process involves creating a resume worthy of sponsorship and making presentations (by phone, email, letter and so on) to companies looking for athletes to assist. It can be an overwhelming and time consuming process.
Enter sponsorhouse.com. In the pits at Mammoth Mountain, California, when he was not on practice runs for his elite pro men's Downhill or Mountain Cross competitions, Team Yeti rider Rich Houseman sat at a folding table under an eight by eight Easy Up talking to anyone who was interested about sponsorhouse.com; the online sponsorship clearinghouse Houseman works for.
The service, Houseman says, "is an online system connecting riders and sponsors." Riders complete a profile; basically an online resume complete with results, photos and bio. The profiles are visible to the fifty or so companies that use sponsorhouse.com to find athletes; companies like Sinister Bikes, Iron Horse and Turner. "It replaces having to find the right contacts for the companies you want to be sponsored by and knowing when and where to send resumes to get noticed," Houseman says.
The service began in 2001 when Northeast-based motocross racers Scott Tilton and RJ Krause started helping friends with their sponsorship resumes. "They were writing resumes for top guys and I think it just dawned on them that there might be service in what they were doing," Houseman says. "They developed, and continue to improve, the software the service is based on."
The service was adapted to mountain biking in 2003. "They dabbled in it at first," Houseman says. "Then my brother (retired MTB pro Gary Houseman) and I stumbled on it and were the first mountain-bike pros to use it. They hired me in 2004 and we've focused on mountain biking full time from there."
The service is offered in three versions. "There's an entry level; a free account," Houseman says. "The basic level is $60 per year. The premium level is $120." Although the profile of any athlete with an account can be viewed at the service's Web site (www.sponsorhouse.com) the difference between the packaged programs is mainly in how many contacts your profile will be actively marketed to by the service.
Houseman says his sponsorhouse is partly responsible for the collection of sponsors he represents to make a living. The last deal he did? "I hooked up with Kicker stereos which is an outside-industry sponsor. Kicker is a stereo equipment manufacturer and I'm considered one of their factory riders."
Not everyone who rides a mountain bike is an elite-level pro like Houseman but "people are really surprised by how little experience or results you need to get sponsored," Houseman says. "The programs are open for everyone from beginner to pro." He says beginner riders may only receive discounted product at first but even that is "an opportunity to get your foot in the door and grow with the program."
"My theory is that everyone is sponsorable," he says. "Results will get you a long way but a lot of companies look at the grass roots level for what kind of a person and what kind of rider you are. From my experience and from the companies I talk to, the main thing they're worried about is how they're represented on the course. And that means that everybody is sponsorable."