Tour de France champion Cadel Evans has provided Victoria University sports sponsorship lecturer Jason Bakker with some topical material over the past few weeks: Evans is one of Bakker's clients in his management business Signature Sport.
"Always learn about the athlete first," he recently told students who sought his advice on an assignment. "You have to know the person really well to establish the best sponsorship fit for them.
"It's all about the person, their goals and what's important to them. Sports stars don't want to be viewed as another commodity. Cadel is one of many who have knocked back large endorsements in the past because the products he was being asked to promote don't fit in with his beliefs and priorities."
Bakker first met Evans at a backyard barbecue on the Bellarine Peninsula nine years ago, when the young cyclist was still riding BMX bikes. It wasn't until 2009 – by which time Evans was an international figure in road cycling – that the aspiring champion rang to ask Bakker if he would become his manager.
It wasn't a tough decision for Bakker, a former first-class cricketer who specialises in representing athletes and sports celebrities who do not fit the mould favoured by the sports management heavyweights.
Evans, for example, is a strong supporter of Indigenous education, road safety and greater independence for Tibet, issues which tend to fall outside the corporate branding spotlight. So how does he work around this?
"I don't use a template that I apply to each athlete, I work on individual plans for each of them," Bakker says. "It's the only way to come up with ideas that are right for the athlete and for the brand or product they are being asked to endorse."
Unit co-ordinator Dr Clare Hanlon says bringing industry experts such as Bakker into the lecture theatres to share their wisdom has been well received by students.
"Students understand that the theoretical knowledge that academics impart is valuable, but only if it's presented alongside practical hands-on advice, which is where people like Jason come in," she says.
Bakker says the experience of teaching second and third-year undergraduate students each week has sharpened his approach to his work: "It helps me to analyse what I do at work and prevents me from becoming complacent."
And does he help to fill gaps between theory and practice? "I think so," he says. "Just one example is that students are frequently told how important it is to pitch ideas to marketing people, but the really critical part they don't always mention is how you get in to pitch."
The answer he provides is as much to do with building and maintaining professional relationships as it is about coming up with clever ideas:
"I can't over-emphasise the importance of doing the little things that make you a good person to work with – taking the time to stay in touch with your networks, letting people know what is happening and responding to their requests and invitations. When you maintain relationships you build goodwill."
A jpeg picture of Jason Bakker with some of his students is available on request.
Media inquiries: Jim Buckell, External Communications Manager
Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University
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