FEMALE FOCUS – Sponsorship in Racing: Is it harder for Males or Females?

Dummy Grid Rolls away

We all know the feeling, you fork out for an expensive championship with the view that not only will you be competing at a top level but you will also be paying to be noticed by that elusive “talent spotter”. You know, the guy with all the cash that hangs out by the side of a rain soaked kart track, sees potential, approaches you and decides to sponsor you for the foreseeable future. Well unfortunately for many of us this character is never seen, instead at the start of the new season we have to make that difficult decision on whether to spend our hard earned on less important things like eating or hygiene, or go in guns blazing with a new chassis and another self funded year of racing.

Sponsorship, it seems, is likened to the Holy Grail, extremely hard to come across and no-one’s really sure if it exists. In motorsport especially it seems the emphasis on your success rides primarily upon “who you know” as opposed to “what you can do”. Many of the karters that are noticed and move onto the higher echelons of racing either are extremely lucky, or have the cash in the first place to be able to put themselves in a position where they’ll be noticed.

Here comes this crux of my article, is sponsorship harder to come across for males or females? Arguably females have that special selling point of, evidently, being a woman in a male dominated sport. Just think of the advertising possibilities, especially if the fortunate woman is attractive. Let’s not forget the demi-god that is Lewis Hamilton, despite being a run of the mill male, he had his special KSP (Key Selling Point) too, being mixed race. This was wrung dry at every opportunity. But what about the average looking male out there, what selling points do you have? Essentially your progress up the motorsport ladder is riding primarily upon the amount of success you have within your championship, and how good you are at boasting about your achievements.

Clearly there never seems to be a good time to start looking for sponsorship, especially now in the grips of a widespread economic recession. At a risk of sounding bias[DW1] sed, interestingly within karting especially there seem to have been more male racers that I’ve been made aware of that have been coaxed into sponsorship schemes such as the famous “McLaren[DW2]  Driver Programme”. Obviously these drivers have to be talented to start with, and probably competing in a class that has more coverage than others, and is higher up the karting “hierarchy”. As I mentioned earlier, being a woman in a highly dominated sport, and succeeding within it, is a priceless selling point. However, there have been no women that I know of in karting that have been chosen by the “omnipresent” sponsorship God. Now this could fall under a multitude of arguments, ranging from “Maybe there aren’t any good female drivers in karting?” Wrong. Or perhaps, “There are so few of them that they’re hard to come across?”. Maybe. Although, Jenson Button was once famously quoted for saying, “Women can never race in Formula One because their breasts would get in the way.” However extreme, or maybe even amusing this statement seems to be,  there is still an element of this stereotypical view of female racers. Perhaps no matter how unique they are to the sport, women will never be quite so desired an investment as a “reliable” sportsman. It can be argued that a male provides less “risk” for the company and therefore they know what they’re buying into and what the potential audiences will enjoy.

It’s a tricky theme to look into as the statistics from successful sponsorship deals emerging from the karting scene can be counted 1on one hand. The fairytale of poor “Johnny No-one” from “nowhere that special”, being turned into a superstar racer overnight is a rarity to say the least. Perhaps this leads to the only conclusion that can come from a pastime that became the sport of the “elite”. Sponsorship in any form is a dirty word, karting provides little glamour for major companies to revel in, whether you’re male or female. Perhaps you have that key selling point and provide the exterior of uniqueness that could potentially attract a company, but until you re-mortgage that house, and wait for that Grandma to pass away with the inheritance money you have a tough ladder to climb just to reach that goal of being a sellable, desirable product.

So, don’t invest in a sex change just yet for that magical moment where you get spotted for being a certain gender, save it to get you as far as you can go. Who knows, a Leprechaun may be waiting at the side of the track with a pot of Gold. After all Eddie Jordan is Irish.