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Why athlete partnerships need 20/20 vision

Why athlete partnerships need 20/20 vision

Six months ago, we were all preparing for New Year celebrations, ready to see in 2020 – a brand new decade – with fresh opportunities and hope. Little did we know just what challenges would lie ahead. Reflecting on those hopes and ambitions, realising now just how decimating the COVID-19 pandemic would become, it seems foolish to have harboured any optimism for a normal year.

Resilience is a trait often overlooked in business. It’s the art of taking knockbacks and failures, transforming them into an asset. Resilience is a very human characteristic that can set apart the great from the merely good. It’s the sort of thing that you learn through experience; and precisely what makes you stronger.

When it comes to partnerships, whether that’s a sponsorship in the most traditional sense, or simply a working collaboration, human qualities play a decisive role; this is especially true in personal partnerships with athletes or sports personalities. You need to know that the person you are supporting has the right character traits and can act as an ambassador for your brand or company. 

One person who knows how to remain resilient in the face of adversity is rally driver Chris Ingram. For the Manchester born star, who celebrates his 26th birthday in a few weeks’ time, 2019 was a dream come true. By winning the FIA European Rally Championship title, he became the first Brit in 52 years to take the accolade and earn himself – and co-driver Ross Whittock – a place in the motorsport history books. Sounds straight-forward, right? Far from it.

At the start of 2019, Ingram was – in his own words – ‘skint’. His sponsors, through no fault of his own, had pulled out last minute and he didn’t have the funds required to embark on his ERC campaign. He had been left high and dry. Quick thinking on the part of his family saw a Crowdfunding page established to pull together the funds to go rallying. And thank goodness it was a success. The fairy-tale of Ingram’s 2019 was told brilliantly in this BBC feature, five minutes of drama, tears and celebration.

Yet, the newly crowned champion found himself in the same situation at the start of 2020, circumstances that have only been cemented due to the pandemic. Once again, the Manchester City and Oasis fan had to dig deep and use his ingenuity to stand out from the crowd. Even as reigning Champion.

Teaming up with Motorsport News and FIAERC.com, Ingram took part in an eponymous Race At Home challenge, a month-long esports competition which pitted rally aficionados against the champ in a virtual setting. It also offered a unique platform for existing and prospective sponsors to jump on board, all while supporting the NHS.

Athletes are far more than their successes in competition; those who develop a three-dimensional character often find themselves more appealing to personal partners. Yes, titles, victories, awards and trophies are great, but the human elements need to shine through. In Ingram’s case, showcasing his skills online allowed him to demonstrate his true personality – a friendly, amiable and courteous individual who puts his backers and supporters first.

Those personalities who are passionate about a charitable purpose or philanthropic campaign can also add tangible value to their partners. Ingram, for example, has long supported causes close to his heart and home city, including the Forever Manchester charity that raises money to fund and support community activity across Greater Manchester.

For a reigning champion with media appeal and charm, who is committed to helping his home community and his sport, who has set himself the clear target of becoming a World Rally Champion, it’s frustrating to see Chris’s efforts fall short. In the wake of the COVID-19, perhaps it’s time to get 2020 back on track?