Elite athletes find key to corporate success

Lucrative sports deals don’t happen magically. There has to be a bit of sales magic too. For Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe, and now Stephanie Rice and Michael Phelps, Olympic success has literally brought fame and fortune … but their high profile success is not just about the colour of their medals.

With the Olympics just over I can’t help but think of all the other athletes who won medals and wonder how many of them will end up with amazing sponsorship and media deals like Cathy, Ian, Stephanie and Michael. Not many I’ll bet.

And with the Paralympics just begun, how many of these athletes will capitalise on their talent and success with lucrative sponsorship and media deals? Maybe even less.

These talented athletes do not have to fade away into sponsorship oblivion. There are plenty of sponsorship opportunities available for them. They need to get out there and prospect for them just like sales people do. And with something to show for it like an Olympic or Paralympic medal, the right attitude and approach, many more athletes can realise the benefits of sponsorship deals to help them extend their sporting career or find new career opportunities.

How do I know this? Well I have had the pleasure of being personally associated with the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) since 1991 and my company has been a major sponsor of the VIS ACE (Athlete Career & Education Program) since 1998. We have been training elite athletes on prospecting, self promotion, selling and sales planning, like tae kwon do gold medallist Lauren Burns, judo bronze medallist Maria Pekli, Paralympian pentathlon bronze medallist Don Elgin and hockey gold medallist Louise Dobson since 1998.

Research shows very few people have the luxury of waiting around to be courted.

The world of corporate sponsorship is very different from elite training, and although they take to it quickly, the athletes have to learn how to effectively self promote, access corporations and negotiate with a strong sense of their own value.

Like sales people we have taught the athletes to learn how to identify opportunities and promote themselves on a consistent daily basis. The results have been outstanding, with several of the athletes gaining large corporate sponsorship deals over recent years, even for lower profile sports.

Don Elgin, who raised his public profile during the Sydney Paralympics with appearances on national television and radio says,: “At the time I did the Barrett program I was a VIS scholarship holder and no one knew about Paralympic athletes and there was certainly no sponsorship for them. The Barrett process educated and empowered me to take action to get out there and educate the market and secure sponsorships.

“The best thing I learnt was that the worst people could say to me was ‘no’ and that was a revelation because it meant that everything was possible. I was able to tap into the potential I already had and this helped me have the confidence to get out there and give it a go. Not only am I better equipped to source and negotiate sponsorships, but the course has had a positive impact on my confidence and this has assisted the promotional work at my place of employment,” Elgin says.

“When I started the Barrett program I was a postie. Using what I learnt I was able to move through customer service and business account management roles to national marketing coordinator for the philatelic division of Australia Post. I have also adapted what I have learnt at Barrett to all parts of my life including my work with the juvenile justice system and my family where I help my young daughters to develop their public speaking skills and their ability to see the good in people,” he says.

“Whilst I have achieved a number two ranking in the world for my sport and success in my career, I have come to realise that having children is the greatest honour and challenge of all. I now know that I need to make sure I leave a legacy that helps them unlock and achieve their potential whatever that may be.”

While many of the athletes come with no professional sales experience they adapt quickly and apply themselves. They are refreshing in their outlook and great to work with as they have the drive, determination, work ethic and commitment to succeed.


It continues to remind me that attitude is the key and you make your own success.


Happy selling.



Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

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