“Sponsorship” and Branding in BJJ

In the Brazilian jiu jitsu community, we have developed a niche market for heavily branded or flamboyantly designed training gear. Many of us don’t wear huge logos or designs in our every day lives, so it’s a bit of an escape to hit the mats with our fabulous spats and rashguards featuring Vikings or Medusa. We kind of feel like we can be kids again.

“Sponsorship”

As we become competitors, or wannabe competitors, many of us reach out to brands for sponsorship, promising to wear their gear on the podium and promote them on social media. Most times, athletes who work with these companies do not receive complimentary uniforms or payment; they simply receive a discount and the “prestige” of being partnered with the company.

It is not financially beneficial for BJJ brands to sponsor the majority of athletes who reach out to them. This is why discount agreements exist; the brand still makes a profit on the gear and it receives free advertising.

I’m not exempt from the sponsorship game; I was very interested in working with brands when I was regularly producing content and I have received a lot of free gear over the years, either for review or as a “sponsored athlete”, though I’ve never been very competitive.

For me it was a way to make the effort worthwhile financially as BJJ writers are usually not paid or paid very poorly. Over time I realized that I was constantly promoting the brands, making videos, taking photos, sharing posts, doing reviews, answering emails about sizing, etc. however compensation and reciprocation was not worthwhile.

If you are in a casual sponsorship arrangement, think about the amount of time you spend promoting brands and then look at the price of a uniform. A good quality gi usually costs, all in, $200 (their cost is closer to $60). It doesn’t make sense, financially. Additionally, you often have to make sure you are wearing their gear any time you post content.

You would be better off getting a part-time job and using the cash to pay for your tournaments and gear.

Patches

What’s really interesting is the trend of purchasing patches from various brands or academies and sewing them onto our $200 uniforms. Why are we paying to advertise for these companies? What benefit does it offer us to wear the patch of a random jiu jitsu brand?

If we choose to resell these uniforms, would a buyer want all of these random patches adhered to them? Additionally, why are customers at certain academies forced to pay for branded uniforms to advertise for them? We are customers, not employees. There should be a choice.

While I love to see my favorite brands and brand owners in BJJ thrive, and I love their creativity, I think that as athletes and customers, we may want to look at the reality of “sponsorship” and in our tendency to pay to promote their brands.

I have had the opportunity to work with Killer Bee Kimonos for many years to create my own my own branded gis with custom measurements and that’s what I will continue to do in the foreseeable future. Brands with blacked out logos like Parabellum Kimonos also offer great options for those who prefer to be more understated.

I still have and wear a lot of my old, heavily-branded BJJ gear. It’s usually great quality and some of it has lasted over a decade! Maybe it’s just that I’m an old lady now but I have no interest in buying heavily branded gear in the future. Usually it is twice the cost of Under Armour or other athletic brands without twice the benefit.

Financial Sponsorship

If we look at the labeling in sports like Nascar, those competitors are paid to wear logos, not vice versa. It is how they make a living and when they partner with a brand, it is a carefully considered decision with a clearly defined contract.

Start at 9:07

There are athletes who can legitimately benefit from sponsorship and offer value to brands. If this applies to you and you are entering or involved in a sponsorship relationship why not ask for an affiliate link where you will earn commission if people purchase their gear? Rather than looking at sponsorship as something that enhances your image (because does it really?), approach it as a collaborative opportunity that provides equal financial benefit for both parties. Ensure that you have a formal agreement stating payment, terms and time period and that both parties adhere to it. That way, everyone wins.

Do you have creative ways to pay for your training or tournaments? Let us know in the comments below!

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