Some thoughts on corporate sponsorship for the development of the HEMA community

Sparring Gloves and an Albion Meyer
Sparring Gloves and an Albion Meyer. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2015.

Recently there was a Facebook discussion about corporate sponsorship for individuals in the HEMA community, which was quite an interesting topic. James Conlon posted the following question:

“Inside the world of Longsword Fighting” by The New York Times was posted on YouTube over 3 1/2 years ago. To quote Jake Norwood “We need about a million dollars, is what we need. To actually pay for staff… hey Red Bull, right?”

With the exponential growth seen in HEMA over the last couple years is corporate sponsorship a reasonable expectation at present or within the upcoming years? Is corporate sponsorship something that HEMA as a community even wants or needs? What would the foreseeable pros and cons of corporate sponsorship entail? Could corporate sponsorship lead to more of a sportification of HEMA or would HEMA potentially lose its close knit aesthetic that so many of us have come to love?

My thought is that any funding or corporate sponsorship that leads to general development and improvement of the community is a good thing, whereas any funding that leads towards polarisation or isolation of communities, clubs, events, activities, etc, is probably best avoided.

Massive sponsorship or local sponsorship

Although the phrase “corporate sponsorship” may bring to mind images of large companies like Red Bull or Carlsberg, not all sponsorship needs to be of such lofty variety.

There are many events around the world that already receive sponsorship of some kind from HEMA companies. A well-known example is SPES, who seem to sponsor almost every tournament! A less well-known example might be Fallen Rook Publishing, who sometimes sponsor tournaments, but also put sponsorship towards scholars, teachers, and event organisers.

There are also many events that receive sponsorship from local businesses. I have personally organised run events with sponsorship from a local council or local chamber of commerce, who were happy to put some money towards my events to achieve the goals they had set for their local communities. I have attended events that received sponsorship from a local pub (in terms of discounted drinks, free food, free space, and suchlike). I have attended events that received sponsorship from a local supermarket (in terms of providing food, water and juice to participants for the duration of the event).

Of course, local businesses are not always in a place to offer money towards an event, and may prefer to offer some goods or services instead. And of course, not all local businesses are able to afford sponsorship. But some may look favourably upon the idea of doing something to help their local community, and this may be worth investigating if you are running an event.

Sponsorship for introductory events

If someone could receive corporate funding to run a series of introductory events across the breadth of their country, with a focus on “getting more people into HEMA, sponsored by ThisCompany”, then this would be beneficial for the community.

More people coming into HEMA can only be a good thing! And more people coming into HEMA, through events sponsored by ThisCompany, with plenty of adverts for ThisCompany throughout the process, could also be good return on investment for the sponsoring company.

Sponsorship for good quality videos

Similarly, if a good quality instructor could receive corporate funding to acquire/hire the necessary equipment/expertise and pay for their own time to make a series of really good quality videos showing the hows and whys of their system(s), with a focus on “making good quality information on ThisSystem available to the public, sponsored by ThisCompany”, then this would also be beneficial for the community.

There are many enthusiastic people posting videos to YouTube and to Facebook, showcasing this interpretation or that, but there are relatively few comprehensive videos series, and certainly not with a professional level of production. This kind of sponsorship would allow a good instructor to reach a huge number of people and offer good quality advice and instruction even when people do not have a club nearby.

Furthermore, with the sponsoring company receiving acknowledgements in the video series, they would naturally become associated with good quality teaching and with good quality community resources – an enviable position for any company, and potentially a very good return on investment.

Sponsorship for individuals to travel

However, if someone receives corporate funding for themselves, just to buy new gear and fly to a bunch of events every year for competition, then are they really doing anything to build the community? Potentially yes, potentially no.

If the person just goes, competes, goes home with a medal, done with it all, then the community doesn’t grow or develop as a result, and it is a lost opportunity – for the individual, for the community, and for the sponsoring company.

If the person goes, competes, teaches while they are there, creates solidarity and ties between clubs and events and regional/national scenes, opening new lines of communication and friendship, and breaking down barriers, then this is quite beneficial for the community.

A good example of the latter kind of community-building behaviour would be when several years ago the Polish scene began to integrate with the rest of the European scene, driven largely by personal contacts and individuals acting as ambassadors between the scenes. Similarly with the Italian scene beginning to integrate with the rest of the European scene a few years later, driven largely by personal contacts and individuals acting as ambassadors.

In these (and doubtless many other) cases, individuals put their own money, effort, and time towards developing their regional, national, and international communities, and corporate funding to “bring ThisCountry’s HEMA to the world, sponsored by ThisCompany” would have sped up the process and allowed wider integration more easily.

It’s not all about tournaments…

Not all corporate sponsorship has to go towards tournament competitors, and to be honest, not all attention needs to go towards tournaments and competitors either.

The community as a whole is still incredibly small in the grand scheme of things; although it is growing quickly, it would be good for the community to grow in a healthy fashion, and that still requires community-building efforts. Some of this can be done by running and attending competitions, sure; such events do have their place in the development of the community! But there are a lot more activities that could take place that might have equal benefit, and that may even lead to a greater result when used alongside existing tournaments and events.

When to say no?

I believe quite firmly that having personal integrity is of immense importance. I have written previously about the value of doing HEMA in the modern world, and one of the great things that practising a martial art can do for us is to build and develop our character.

If a sponsor makes demands that go against your sense of integrity, then it would be best to draw the lines firmly and say “thanks but no thanks”. If the requests would be damaging to the community, then I believe quite firmly that any role model in the community should take a stand and say thanks but no thanks, and put the good of the community before their own personal desire for money towards new gear.

If the sponsoring company requests that you display their banner during the event, and that you make an announcement on Facebook that they are giving sponsorship, then this is perfectly fine. They need to get a return on their investment after all! A good sponsorship deal should be beneficial to both parties, and ideally, should also be good for the community. If any of this is missing, then perhaps it is best to say “thanks but no thanks” and move on.

Conclusion

I do think that the HEMA community can grow and develop in a healthy fashion with or without sponsorship. I also think that by receiving sponsorship, the HEMA community can grow in tandem with the local area and local community, and everyone can benefit from more events of a higher quality. The ability to produce better quality resources (or to access better quality resources) cannot be understated.

Sponsorship does not have to be given by big companies, and nor does it need to be for individuals to compete in tournaments. There can be all kinds of sponsorship, from all kinds of companies and organisations, to achieve all kinds of goals and objectives. Often, the more creative you can be with pitching a project, the more interesting it will be to a potential sponsor, as the return on their investment may be quite a lot higher from something that breaks the mould.

Needless to say, if anyone would like to sponsor me to travel and teach, to organise events that would be beneficial to your local community, or to create useful teaching and learning resources for the international HEMA community, please do get in touch and I will be more than happy to discuss potential projects with you!

Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.