Sponsorship and Social Media


Running USA Accelerator Series speaker Shan Riggs, an expert in the marketing and sponsorship space, weighs in on the must-dos for events seeking better sponsor relationships and improved social media presence

Sponsorship and marketing are two of the most challenging issues faced by endurance events today. With running events feeling the pressure from rising costs, participant apathy and competing pastimes, the market for runners’ attention is more crowded and confusing than ever.

At the recent Running USA Accelerator Series presented by Race Roster, Shan Riggs (pictured, right) was among the speakers who delivered focused presentations around solving for these challenges. A veteran of the sponsorship sales space and former IEG executive who knows the nuances of the market inside and out, Riggs kindly agreed to lend us his insight to share with those who weren’t able to make the Cincinnati or Indianapolis Accelerator events.

Read on for his comments on how to best present to prospective sponsors and what social media content your event should be creating today. And don’t miss the last question – he needs the help of Running USA members to find his next personal fundraising/running quest!

You presented some great case studies at the Accelerator Series this month that demonstrated how major brands can really activate around endurance events. What are the key takeaways for endurance events?

Riggs: In addition to the traditional on-site activation, pretty much any sponsorship that involves significant cash needs to involve a content strategy, and most of that content is used on social media. Endurance properties have amazing stories, but we are not always good at capturing those stories, especially through short-form video, which is the medium of the moment. It's never been cheaper or easier to capture and edit videos from six seconds to a few minutes in length, use those videos to capture the attention of prospective sponsors, and then develop content together that can be shared on the property and sponsor channels.

You're also a savvy social media marketer. What do companies need to know right now about how the social landscape is changing and how their strategies need to adapt accordingly?

Riggs: Social media is a huge portion of most of the sponsorship deals that we develop with brands, and the focus right now tends to be on Facebook and (by follower count) even more on Instagram. As most people know, Facebook owns Instagram, but Facebook has not yet monetized Instagram in the same way. For example, it is still possible to organically grow audiences on Instagram without paying for Instagram ads (if you know what you are doing and willing to put in the time). What this means for sponsorship deals is that sponsors are willing to pay more per follower (typically 2-3 times as much) on Instagram than they are for Facebook, because then they don't need to pay Facebook for reach.  For endurance properties what this means is that it is probably worth the effort to develop your Instagram audience not just because it can lead to more registrations, but also because it can be a valuable asset for sponsors.

What's the best/most thought provoking question you've been asked recently about sponsorship/marketing for endurance, and how did you answer it?

Riggs: I often get asked what is the most important thing that sponsors are looking for in a deal and unfortunately there isn't one thing for everyone. However, I have found that going into any sponsor discussion, the most important thing isn't knowing what hot buttons to press on, but what hot buttons to ask about. Even if I know from my research what business issues a sponsor is faced with, I shouldn't start the conversation with: "Hey, I know you are faced with X issue, we can fix that for you!", but rather: "I heard that your business it faced with X, is that true and how are you working on it?  Perhaps there are ways we can work on that together." In initial conversations we try to talk 30% of the time and have our prospects talk 70% of the time. It's more important the ask the smart questions than to have the smart pitch because it's not truly a partnership unless we start by listening and understanding.  

For those who don't know you, tell us a bit about your background?

Riggs: I have been doing sponsorship marketing for 17+ years, most of that time was spent at IEG, which was fortunate because it was very much the center of the sponsorship world. That company has changed recently so now I work with a variety of former IEGers to help our property and brand clients connect in unique and profitable ways. We advise on what to sell, how much to sell it for, and who to take it to. We also sometimes represent our clients in sales, as well as support their social media efforts.

I am also a passionate runner, with a focus on ultramarathons.  I try really hard and occasionally even win a race if the fast people don't show up.  

I sometimes combine my knowledge of marketing and sponsorship with my passion for running to do fundraising/PR events. For example, a group of us ran 166 miles non-stop across Panama to raise money and awareness for a local school, and one time I ran 200 miles in 50 hours from Chicago to Indianapolis as a publicity stunt/fundraiser for Medals 4 Mettle.  

What else would you like people to know?

Riggs: I am actively looking for the next big running adventure/fundraising/PR event.  I am guessing Running USA members might be able to help me out.  Send me any ideas you have: shan.riggs@gmail.com