Aikido and the lack of sponsorship
A relationship that is about to evolve.
Dictionaries define sponsorship as: Money that is given, usually by a company, to support a person, organisation or activity — The act of sponsoring someone or something or of being sponsored.
Let's be clear, sponsors’ primary goal is to make money: brands hope to gain visibility in return for their sponsorship and thus generate more revenues over the short or long term. So why is Aikido so desperately lacking for sponsors? In 2014, as we were about to establish a partnership with the 5th Aiki Taikai and the 8th Traditional Martial Arts Night (NAMT - France), we used this opportunity to dwell on the subject.
Why a lack of sponsorship?
I can see two very simple reasons to that. Aikido is not a competitive sport, and there are almost no products designed specifically for Aikido. Who’s gonna invest money into events that attract a few dozens people (or a few hundreds, best case scenario), trying to sell gears that can easily be found anywhere?
If Judo, Kendo or Karate equipment (to a lesser extent), can attract big money, Aikido on the other hand is definitely not a very lucrative market. We are talking about small productions with high manufacturing costs. There are very few Aikido equipment specialists and none of them can afford sponsoring Aikido events.
BudoExport / Seido is no exception. To tell you the truth, there is no commercial gain for us in sponsoring Aikido. So, why partnering with the "All Japan Aikido" or the Night of Traditional Martial Arts (NAMT) and its Aiki Taikai satellite event? Because we do not see this as sponsorship.
Why do we invest nonetheless?
BudoExport / Seido has been around for just over four years. It's a small company that runs at a lower cost, but with high quality standards regarding both products and services. Thanks to the relative success of our online shop and because we are all Aikidoka, we are able to focus on creating dedicated Aikido equipment. We not only list products that already existed, but we also endeavour to present new, Aikido-tailored equipment to our community. This approach has a price, but it is now successful considering the large number of practitioners who appreciate our products!
The production capacity of the craftsmen we work with remains, however, limited. Consequently, Seido, no matter how successful, will never reach the sales figures of the major Kendo, Judo or Karate brands. Be that as it may, what’s important for Seido is to focus on the Aikido practitioners’ needs. What you really need and not just what resellers decide to offer.
Sadly, we soon realised that this approach would not be enough: we needed to do more; we needed to devise new strategies. Again, our production capacity is very limited, we hence decided to cut by half our advertising budget, in order to create a donation / sponsorship fund in the hope that we would be able to help events that are sorely lacking support in the Aikido world. We are still committed to that goal to this day.
Events we support
Take the « All Japan Aikido ». This event gathers every year about 7000 practitioners... and a handful of spectators. No television channel broadcasts it, and “sponsors”, modestly relabelled as “donors", are just listed among a hundred of other entries at the end of the booklet distributed to participants ahead of the demonstrations. Of course, Seido has a booth at the event, booth that is rented and paid to the venue’s owner: the Nippon Budokan. The Aikikai Foundation, organiser of the event, does not receive a penny from the Budokan.
Seido can also use the Aikikai logo, for free, a logo which guarantees the Hombu dojo teachers’ confidence in the person who uses it.
Yet, this is not a “sponsoring” relationship stricto sensu, since the Aikikai does not ask for money in return of those privileges. We can use the logo freely and open a booth at the "All Japan Aikido” freely. However, we are at the same time strongly encouraged by the Aikikai to make a “donation” to support its actions... And this is how it is declared to the tax office by the Aikikai.
When it comes to NAMT and its satellite Taikai, things are a little bit different. Léo Tamaki contacted me a few months ago about advertising in a special Aikido edition of Dragon magazine. We know from experience that returns on investment are nowadays very low with this type of media, but we did not hesitate for a second. This magazine is very important to the Aikido world. Both famous teachers and average practitioners who invest time in research and reflection can be published in Dragon, offering to the readers a broader view and understanding of their favourite martial art. Indeed, we get to be featured there with a nicely designed advertisement page, but what we have in mind here is not advertising, but rather offering financial support to a project that is worth helping.
In the same vein, we discussed with Leo a way to support the NAMT / Taikai as well.
In all honesty, we hesitated at first: NAMT is not only about Aikido, it features many martial arts. Moreover, since it is hold in France, I never had the chance to attend one. The Madeleine Theatre is a huge hall, but it has no connections with the sports and martial arts worlds and the audience would be necessarily limited. NAMT is nonetheless a vital event for the French Budoka community. It often highlights disciplines that are little known, in a sober and respectful way, far from the corruptions of a certain martial shows that are in vogue lately in the West. Anyway we decided to go for it and we are now happy and proud to support an event of such quality.
NAMT’s satellite Taikai is also a unique opportunity for Budo practitioners to interact with each-other, in a welcoming yet solemn environment. We could not refuse to support such a rich and important initiative.
Finally, we also support, but to a lesser extent, the "Association francophone d'aïkido (A.F.A)" (Belgium). Like Dragon magazine, the Belgian federation publishes its own gazette for its members, three to four times a year. It features articles, anecdotes, research, interviews of teachers and practitioners... It is a well designed publication, offered for free to all members of the federation. We advertise our products in the gazette, hoping that the money can contribute (even modestly) to the functioning of the federation. The AFA has poured a lot of energy in creating a modern website, and a quality magazine, in organising seminars with many experts, and that despite a membership much lower compared to that of France. The organisation of this Aikido group is an example to draw inspiration from, and we are very happy to work with them.
Can we continue this momentum?
We want these partnerships to be sustainable, so they can generate a virtuous circle. Return on investment is thus the key: it is the only way to guarantee the stability of our sponsorship budget. We want to continue supporting events like NAMT, and we want to go even further. That being said, do not bother contacting us just to sell advertisement space, we will systematically refuse this type of offer.
BudoExport / Seido will only sponsor events which can be significantly valuable to the Budo community.
The relationship between business and martial arts may seem ambiguous... Not for us! At Seido we all practice martial arts. We could all do a different job, certainly more lucrative. But we like what we do. We hope that our contribution will make a difference. We will continue to propose the best products available in Japan, and to give financial support to major Aikido events; events that no one else can or want to sponsor.
At the end, we are just a bridge. A bridge between the practitioners and their favourite martial tradition. Without you, nothing is possible. Therefore, I would like to end this article by thanking you all for the trust you place in BudoExport / Seido. You are here for us. We will be there for you.