Negotiating Contracts 

Debbie Matthews


As sports gain popularity, opportunities increase for the participants, sometimes at an accelerated rate. When this happens it becomes imperative that the participants in those sports become educated on the opportunities available and the responsibility that follows.
As Women's racing gains popularity and exposure, sponsorships will follow, and it is important to understand the role you play as a supported rider. With any type of support, comes a responsibility to those that support you. You are contracted to perform certain duties or services for your sponsors, in exchange for their support of your racing efforts.
Contracts come in several types both verbal and written. It is vital to understand that A VERBAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN PEOPLE OR COMPANIES IS EVERY BIT AS BINDING ON YOU AS A WRITTEN CONTRACT!
In my 26 year racing experience I have been involved in many contracts, some verbal and some written. It is imperative that you as a rider UNDERSTAND CLEARLY WHAT IS EXPECTED OF YOU in exchange for the support you receive. ANY HELP YOU RECEIVE whether in the form of discounts, free product or cash, CONSTITUTES SUPPORT, and an agreement between two parties, THAT IS LEGALLY BINDING TO YOU.
For this reason I have learned by experience that IT IS BEST TO GET A FORMAL WRITTEN CONTRACT. This is important for two reasons. First, it makes all parties aware of the responsibilities consequences, and expectations of the agreement. Second, it is an insurance policy for you. This paper is a written account of the agreement between you and your sponsor. For example: If ABC company offers you clothing but there is no written contract, how many sets are you allotted per year? Are there any exceptions? If you exceed the allotment are there any penalties? Do you have a clause that allows you to purchase any additional product should you exceed the maximum?
Most of all from a riders perspective, THIS IS YOUR INSURANCE POLICY that they follow up on their commitment to you. I can't tell you how many times reputable companies have fallen through on an agreement with a rider because the person that was handling your DEAL, left the company, and no one there knows about the arrangement. Usually when this happens, it wasn't a REAL support ride in the first place. It usually is help from an individual at the said company, rather than the company itself, in which case the company is not legally bound. These deals however are not always bad.  Sometimes this can be a great way to get your foot in the door, and expand on the support you receive from there. Many of my support rides started out in a similar manner only to evolve into full support within a year or so.
It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT WHEN YOU RECEIVE A CONTRACT TO GET A COPY OF IT. I usually take a photocopy of it before I return it to the sponsor. I also make sure that they send me a copy SIGNED by the person offering the support. The reason I take a copy prior to returning my signed copy to them is so I have a record should anything go wrong.
I also negotiate contracts for my daughter, which we have been doing since she was 7 years old. When we receive the contracts, I go over them with her line by line and make sure she understands what her responsibilities are as a rider, BEFORE she signs anything. By doing this we have avoided many headaches that could have arisen, had we not followed this procedure. 
It is important that you FOLLOW ALL AGREEMENTS YOU MAKE on your contracts. Believe it or not, by simply omitting a sponsor decal, you could jeopardize your ride. It never fails; the one decal that you fail to put on your bike, gear, or vehicle belongs to the sponsor who happens to show up at the track to witness your contract failure.  
It is also very important to realize that people constantly surround you from the industry that can affect your ride even if they do not represent the company you ride for! If they witness improper actions by you or your crew these can be reported to the company you ride for. The other possibility is that they might have been a potential sponsor for you, but you just blew that opportunity by your actions. If you are upset, or speaking about things, be aware of your surroundings at all times. THE RIDE YOU SAVE COULD BE YOUR OWN! Take the time to cool off and discuss problems calmly and professionally.
Finally, BE LOYAL! In an industry where loyalty is a rare thing, you can EXTEND YOUR VALUE to your sponsors by being loyal. A rider that is honest and loyal will keep their sponsors longer and build upon them. I hope this article will be of value to you as you negotiate the sometimes-tricky waters of sponsorship.
CONTRACT REVIEW
1. Understand the role you play as a sponsored rider
2. Know your responsibility as a contracted rider. Contracts come in both written and verbal forms, both are legally binding!
3. Any help you receive constitutes an agreement and is considered a contract

4. Be a role model

5. Be professional in dress and conduct at all times
6. Memorize your sponsors
7. Be knowledgeable about your sponsor, products and services
8. Use your sponsor's products
9. Your sponsor belongs to you! You earned that ride! Don't jeopardize your ride for anyone !
10. Get a written contract
11. Know the limits of your agreement, can they be altered ?
12. Get and keep a copy of the contract for your records signed by you and the person offering the contract
13. Be sure the contract is has contracted period of support on the document
14. Be sure you understand the contract and what is expected of you.
15. Follow up on all agreements
16. Professional presence includes stickers on your bike, gear, trailer, etc.
17. Remember and be aware of your surroundings
18. Know who your sponsors are.
19. Keep your sponsors informed of your progress. Good or bad
20. Develop a personal relationship with them
21. Be loyal
22. Be honest
23. Evaluate the product and it's performance. Report back to your sponsor in a clear, concise and professional manner. A good Sponsor will appreciate your input
24. If possible hand out cards or flyers at the events with your name and sponsors info. Tell them to contact your sponsor and tell them you sent them. This lets your sponsor know you are working for them and deserve the help they are giving you. Usually this results in more support from that sponsor because of your efforts and professional manner, and more sales for your sponsor
25. Discuss problems rationally and professionally
26. Extend your value