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The power of crowdfunding

Pledge Sports chief executive officer Richard Pearson believes crowdfunding has the potential to revolutionise sports funding for both athletes and sponsors.

Crowdfunding is a relatively recent phenomenon that involves individuals, fans or businesses helping to fund projects or initiatives by contributing towards them. Those who contribute get the benefit of hopefully seeing the project or initiative succeed and also receiving a reward for their donation, such as a personalised thank-you message or signed gift.

A recent example saw US ski jumper Lindsey Van raise almost $21,000 from crowdfunding to get to the Sochi Olympics. Tennis player James Cluskey was looking to raise a similar amount for his “Road to Wimbledon 2014” campaign when he signed up with Irish crowdfunding website Pledge Sports in March. Cluskey said any funding would go towards “travel costs such as flights and accommodation, training expenses, equipment and competition entries.” It took him just six weeks to raise $17,944 – 30% more than his target.

“I believe this is going to revolutionise funding,” says Pearson. “It makes so much sense for any athlete. What does any athlete need to make themselves attractive commercially? They need a profile and they need a fanbase. They need publicity and any source of funding that can help them travel, bring a coach with them, and that helps their performance on their track, aside from all the commercial aspects as well, so it makes complete sense for me.

“I believe in two or three years’ time this will be the normal for any club, they do fundraising now with a raffle or disco or whatever else, but this is transferring that online and amplifying the fundraising campaign.” Cluskey, who says he would have probably quit tennis if it wasn’t for crowdfunding, is not the only sportsperson to have successfully raised funds through Pledge Sports in its short history. Ireland’s No.1 tennis player Amy Bowtell has seen € 13,785 –137.85% more than her target – pledged towards her “Grand Slam Dream” while runner John Coghlan is closing in on his €7,000 target for “1,500m Gold.”

“The people it really works for it is a complete game changer for them,” adds Pearson. “As well as the publicity and profile, there are other benefits too, such as confidence. I know that Amy was travelling round the world on her own, 20 years old, no government support really, a very lonely life, so the confidence boost of the crowd getting behind her really helped her career.

“Tennis is one of the most expensive sports. If you want to make it in tennis you have to be travelling round in tournaments that matter and there are two tournaments in the UK that really matter, the rest are Europe or Slams, a lot of Asian events are also becoming more prominent. You need to get to those places and if you don’t have money to do it, there is just no money in the Challenger Tour in tennis.”

The benefits, though, are not just for the players, as Pearson explains: “Let’s say you’ve got a tennis player, he’s getting huge support and getting media coverage and all over social media, it’s perfect for grass roots businesses to get behind these guys, whether that is a corporate or a local business. Even a local shop getting behind these guys is good business to be supporting them.

“If somebody has a successful campaign it’s good for business and good for them, it’s great running a business knowing that you are really making a difference to people’s lives. We have probably about 20% of donations coming from commercial entities but that can be anything from small local businesses getting behind athletes to big corporations.”

Since it started in March, Pledge Sports has raised €50,000 from 10 completed campaigns and Pearson now plans to expand into the UK and US. “It’s very important for us to get the word out there that there is an option for these guys,” explained Pearson. “For a lot of people they have to decide and think I can no longer do this, I can no longer afford to do this, I am going to hit 30 and be broke, I need to find a new career. If people know there are options out there it can be very comforting for them.”

For more information visit www.pledgesports.org/uk/ or email Richard richard@pledgesports.org