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Securing sponsorship and funding

Where does athlete funding come from? Hear from paralympic swimmer, Monique Murphy in this video and read about how athletes secure sponsorship.
I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities that I was given after my accident. Hydrotherapy at the rehab centre, I had access to that every day. And the ladies there would let me in early, let me out late just to give me that happiness each day, I guess. And my family are incredibly supportive of me, especially my Mum, even though financially we did struggle a lot. I was spending up to $400 a week on taxis to get me to and from training. I couldn’t afford new training swimmers and I was losing weight and they were just bagging, sagging on me in training.
You know, I had to– all my training gear came from the lost property room just because all these costs were just mounting up. So, I did a GoFund me page for my prosthetics to allow me to have access to a better quality of life. And my swim club Melbourne Vicentre were incredibly supportive with me. They helped out with the training fees and cost of my prosthetics. When I was named on the Dolphins team, our CEO, Nicole Livingston, helped me with connections to get a courtesy car from Mazda which took away the costs of a taxi. And, you know, for some people these were just little things to help out.
But for me, it allowed me to keep swimming, because initially I wasn’t looking past the national championships. So after that, Swimming Australia also has a lot of funding, and the Australian government help you out based on your placings. So, as soon as I started to perform and get the results required, I was entitled to some funding. It’s still pretty difficult. And, you know, I’m definitely not living a lavish lifestyle. But it allows me to train and that’s what I need to do to get through my day. So I was incredibly fortunate. And I owe what I’ve been able to accomplish to so many people. But swimming, any sport, definitely comes down to a financial aspect.
And, also just working towards getting a bit more financial funding for Paralympic athletes and people with disabilities, because it’s not quite even, and we do have a lot of costs with all our prosthetics or aids and things. So, yeah, it’s a bit of a battle sometimes, but as long as I can get to the pool every morning, that’s the main thing.

Now that you’ve listened to Monique in the video and heard about the financial needs of an athlete / para athlete, it is easy to understand why funding is so important. Also, the athletes themselves need to earn an income. So, where does the funding come from?

Financial support

Monique was fortunate in the financial support she received from various sources which included Government funding through Swimming Australia (after performing at a certain level and achieving a certain placing to be eligible). However, while governments invest substantially in sports development and athlete preparation, this money doesn’t always fully cover the increasing costs and certainly doesn’t end up in the athlete’s pocket, so to speak.

Athlete sponsorship

This means there is an important role for the sponsorship of athletes by private enterprises in supplementing the costs and potentially providing an income for athletes. We’re all used to seeing the brand labels on elite athletes’ sports clothing such as Nike, Adidas and Puma etc. which show us which company has provided the sponsorship. This is another important financial avenue for athletes.

Attracting sponsorship

However, attracting sponsors is not a simple task, and to successfully achieve this athletes often need to have already demonstrated some kind of value to a potential sponsor. This might be through:

  • one or several successful performances
  • showing they align with a sponsor’s corporate objectives
  • appealing to the sponsor’s target market

This means that athletes who have not already made it, or are perhaps competing in a less mainstream or popular sport, will typically find it more challenging to attract and keep hold of sponsorship deals. Athletes may also have their potential sponsorship market limited as sport governing bodies often have exclusive organisational sponsorships. This means that athletes are restricted from entering sponsorship deals with competing brands. On top of this, sponsorships often require the athlete (or their manager) to have a certain level of sophistication in their negotiating skills in order to secure the deal.

Obligations of being sponsored

In addition, sponsorships are not ‘free money’, as they come with expectations that an athlete will perform successfully and provide coverage of a sponsor’s brand. A sponsor may also have expectations that the athletes will contribute to a company’s goals, for instance, by attending key events and participating in media activities, etc.

This means that in addition to training and preparing for competition, an athlete will now also have obligations to meet to fulfill their sponsorship deal. Research1 into athlete sponsorships has indicated the added pressures of having to perform can be detrimental to athletes’ well-being and lead to issues such as burn out.

Your task

Your task is do a web search for ‘athlete sponsorship’ and take a look through a few of the sites that pop up. Consider these questions:

  • What types of opportunities are on offer?
  • What information do these companies ask for and what types of commitments do they expect from the sponsored athlete?
  • How do you think these opportunities/commitments might help or hinder an athlete’s training and preparation?


  1. Creswell S. Possible early signs of athlete burnout: A prospective study. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2009;12(3):393-398.
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