Making the most of rider sponsorship


Rider sponsorship is highly sought after and an essential part of a professional rider’s funding.  And we all know how expensive horses are and that every penny counts, especially in the current economic climate.  But where a sponsor exploits a rider, usually where there is not a sponsorship agreement in place, the resulting dispute is often time consuming and expensive for the rider.

Whether the sponsorship is in the form of a sum of money, or sponsorship in terms of products for the rider and/or their horse(s), it is important that the rider and sponsor have an agreement to ensure that there are not any loose ends, which may lead to disagreement.

The agreement itself should include the following provisions:-

1)   Exclusivity – is the rider allowed to obtain sponsorship from other sponsors, and if so, are they restricted to sponsors not operating within the same market?  Where there is no written agreement as to exclusivity, the rider may obtain sponsorship from a direct competitor which is bound to cause dispute and will ultimately lead to the rider losing one or both sponsors.

2)    Use of the product – the sponsor is likely to want the rider to only use their product.  It doesn’t look good where a rider is seen using a competitor’s product on their horse.  

3)    Promotion of products – the rider may be contracted to promote the product at a required number of competitions/events per year.  The rider must ensure that this is viable and realistic.  Additionally, the rider may be required to attend the sponsor’s hospitality events and appear on trade stands, which again the rider must ensure is not in conflict with other commitments.

4)      The rider’s behaviour – the sponsor may want the rider to agree to behave in a reasonable manner, failing which the sponsor will terminate the agreement.  This was seen with supermodel Kate Moss, with whom a number of sponsors withdrew sponsorship due to allegations against her.  It may be that the sponsors who did not terminate their contracts with her was not because they decided to continue to support her, but because the contract did not provide for them to be allowed to terminate because of the allegations.

5)      Exploiting appearances – the rider should protect themselves by ensuring that the sponsor is not able to exploit them by contracting them to appear at an excessive or unreasonable number of events or competitions.  The contract must reflect the fact that the rider has a commitment to his/her horses and to a carefully planned and often changing competition schedule.  Where the contract does not do this, inevitably the rider will be unable to attend the required number of events thus allowing the sponsor to terminate the agreement.

Team Sponsorship

Another issue for riders to consider very carefully is whereby he/she agrees to be sponsored as part of a team (and will therefore usually sign a participation agreement) which may be in conflict with a personal sponsorship agreement. 

An example of this is team sponsorship providing all team clothing.  Where an individual team member already has sponsorship from a clothing company, whose sponsorship agreement prevents them from entering into any other clothing sponsorship agreement, the rider would not be able to enter into the team participation agreement without the express agreement of his/her individual sponsor.  If he/she enters into the team agreement without permission from the individual sponsor, they may terminate the contract with the rider.

My message to riders is how important it is to have a sponsorship agreement, which ideally they should seek legal advice upon before it is signed, to ensure that the terms of the agreement are reasonable and fair to the rider, and are achievable in practice.