Social media, ambassadorships, and professional rider status have been a hot topic lately. When USEF “clarified” their amateur rule, GR1306, it created a grey area causing the equestrian community to question brand ambassadorships and amateur status.
USEF defines remuneration in GR1306 “as compensation or payment in any form such as cash, goods, sponsorships, discounts or services; reimbursement of any expenses; trade or in-kind exchange of goods or services such as board or training.”
By the current rule, you cannot be an amateur and a brand ambassador receiving discounted products in exchange for endorsements. A brand ambassadorship is currently defined as a form of sponsorship and after the Chronicle of the Horse and many others have brought this to light, many amateurs and professionals alike may wonder what to do next.
Step 1: Define Yourself
A professional rider is just that, a “pro”. They are paid to train, show, and improve horses for someone else. They make their living by training horses and teaching riders.
An amateur rides for pleasure and makes a living in a career different from that of a horse trainer. Amateur numbers outweigh the population to professionals and are the consumer base for the equestrian industry.
Sponsorships: Professional equestrians usually receive product sponsorships (free product) to help build the brand’s image through the rider’s status, PR, and competition results. Ideally, a sponsored rider should be creating an ROI by advertising on social media, presenting logo wear, and promoting or encouraging exclusivity of the products with the horses in their training program. Product sponsorships help riders offset the financial burdens of full-time athletic training.
Brand Ambassadors: These are equestrians working in special partnerships with equestrian brands. These relationships are beneficial to brands because many sponsored riders don't move a lot of product directly. These programs allow every day, relatable consumers to have special discounts on products in exchange for “word-of-mouth marketing” and social media promotion. Brand ambassadors are most valuable as social influencers.
“You mentioned ‘Social Influencers’. What’s up with that?”
Social influencers have a large audience, formally called engagement, attached to their identity on social media. They have a large audience of followers who are engaged with their content. From a marketing standpoint, brand ambassadors who are also social influencers are valuable and can direct many consumers to purchase products online with a simple click.
Social influencers have marketing skills and are not necessarily professional riders. In other industries, many social influencers work full time creating content for their audience and are paid cash deals for all their product endorsements, reviews, and more.
Step 2: Sink or Swim
The current USEF discussion is bringing to light the fact that many amateurs are working with brands in ways that professionals should be. As an amateur, you have some decisions to make.
If You Are A Professional Rider, Pass Go and Collect $200
There is a huge opportunity to step up your social media game and become more valuable to your sponsors! Social media outreach plays a big role in the sponsorship selection process. By having a large presence on social media, you are more valuable to companies who are wanting to sponsor riders.
Be aware of your sponsorship responsibilities and create an ROI. For you to be beneficial to your sponsor, you need to help them move product. This involves work on social media (to reach a larger network), updating your website, using banners with sponsor logos, and word-of-mouth referrals. If you work with an agent or manager they should prioritize your social media image. If in the coming years you become valuable enough, brands will be willing to pay for your audience if it’s large enough.
For The Rising Star
If you’re an “up & comer” and not accepting payment for schooling, training, etc. but have brand ambassadorships, it might be in your best interest to surrender your amateur status.
Begin to facilitate relationships with brands that can also help boost your image with their marketing and promotion efforts.
Amateur Brand Ambassadors: Stop, Drop, And Roll
If you’re currently a brand ambassador, but do not wish to make a living in horses, you need to ask yourself about your future goals. If you are not planning to show, then you don’t have to worry about your rider status.
If you do not see yourself becoming a professional in the near future, talk to your brand and smooth things over. You can offer to pay full price for your product instead of receiving discounts, or ask your brand to remove you from their formal program moving forward. You can always do product reviews online, but promoting the brand with shout-outs via your personal social media account (the same one you use as a rider) would be breaking GR1306. You can still tell your friends that you love the products, and word-of-mouth marketing has great power in small communities.
You Catch My Drift?
Some social influencers may not be competitive riders. Being valuable on social media doesn’t make someone a horse trainer, and therefore it is very possible to be a brand ambassador and NOT a pro rider!
The current rules hurt small businesses in the equestrian market and without clarification can affect the equine economy. Brand Ambassadors are an affordable asset to many equestrian start-ups trying to get their product out there and a large number of amateur riders can benefit from discounted products. These discounts may enable them to put more money into entry fees, training etc.—stimulating the economy of horse sports. Amateurs shouldn’t have to become professionals to be an active member in the equine market.
The tips above are based on the current amateur status and USEF rulebook. As social media is a relatively new concept in marketing there are opportunities for USEF to further clarify these rules in the future.