Can you make money as a Powerlifter?


The simple answer to that is no.


I'll even follow that up to say that there's also no money in Strongman, Olympic Weightlifting and no money in Bodybuilding. When it comes to strength sports, at the top level, there's maybe some money but only for the very top, a small percentage where maybe 1% can make a living wage or more from the sport.


I don't want to quote the numbers of what the prize money is in Pro Bodybuilding, but outside of a few competitions, it's nowhere close to what people think. You can do research and figure that out but when you do, don't be surprised. It most cases it costs the professional more to travel to the contest than they could recoup if they won. You ever wonder why you do not see those giant fake checks outside of a few events per year?


To be able to qualify for the Olympia, if you don't win a show, you're going to have to compete and try to earn enough points to qualify which is multiple competitions per year. When that starts to happen, the expenses start to climb significantly because of the travel expenses to compete, not to mention all other expenses. The prize money isn't going to compensate for what those expenses are so there's no money there. Many years ago I was speaking to one men's open pro who had already spent close to 20K on travel expenses trying to qualify for the Olympia. Fortunately, most are not doing it for the money and understand they are not entitled to shit. More on this later.


In powerlifting, there are a few meets that pay prize money but once again, the same dilemma surfaces that happen in Bodybuilding. It will only go to a few. It's probably not even going to be enough to pay for their travel to be able to get to the meet. This is the same for all strength sports. The majority will make nothing and those who do are the minority and from there only a handful (from all sports combined) will win more than a living wage.


Prize money is a cause of debate. I will just leave this here for now as this can be an entire post in itself.


The only place athletes are going to be able to make money is going to be on what they can offer, any sponsor or a company that would be willing to bring them on. The other options are to work for a company that understands the lifters passion or for the lifter to generate their own income. The only money will come from outside the sport itself.


This is where things become a little fuzzy. That athlete has to be able to make that company more money than the company is paying them. Simply put this is a marketing - advertising - branding investment. When business look at this they have to look at it compared to other advertising tools. Will this athlete, who's asking for $2000.00 a month be able to help our company more than a hired employee working 40 hours per week? More than cost per click advertising? More than traditional marketing campaigns?


Most businesses in the strength industry are not operating on the profit margins people think. The example that I've always thrown out there, is a high net profit margin for most wholesale - retail businesses that I know, would be a 10% net profit margin. Net profit is after all expenses. If an athlete is asking for $1,000 per month, that athlete needs to generate $10,000 in sales just to break even. At a 5% net this would be $20,000.


Here is a way to look at this in another way. When speaking to others in the industry, we have all heard the statement "I guarantee if you pay me X dollars (or give me thousands in product), It will be more than worth the money." When I am told this, I like to quantify this by asking if they mean doubling or tripling the invested cost. I will then flip the same deal back to them and say, "How about we do this. You buy the $5000.00 in the products you are asking, and I will set your name up as one of the referral sources on the website and we will track the orders you bring in. When the referral orders hit $100,000, I will personally send you a check for the $5000.00 you are asking for. We need to sell $100,000.00 to make the $5000.00 you are asking for... wait, I'm sorry, you said you guaranteed you could double the investment. When we receive $200,000.00 in sales I will write you a check for the $5000.00".
This is the exact same deal I was presented with except with accountability included. In 17 years I have never had one person, gym or company take me up on this offer. Elitefts has only had two athletes we were able to break even on - financially (out of close to 150).

This isn't to say that a strategic relationship cannot be formed that's beneficial for both the athlete and the company. We've been able to do it for over 15 years. This takes thinking outside the box. Many other companies have done a great job with this while most others don't and they end up sinking their own ship because the amount of money, incentives, products or whatever that they're throwing out to a hundred or so different athletes doesn't generate any return. This may not be the entire reason they tanked but not knowing the return of their investments and expense control are critical to any business.


It can work, but the takeaway from this is no athlete is ever going to make or break any company. Yes, I do know there're exceptions, and I am aware of them, but they are the exceptions. These people are very rare and we may only see one per decade.


The takeaway for the athletes. You got in the sport because you love the sport. Continue to love the sport and compete in the sport. Just because you're a professional doesn't change the dynamics that much. The biggest thing that changes is you are now provided the opportunity to compete against people at your level - the highest level - you get to see how you stack up with the best of the best. That is an honor you can't put a value on. Take that and accept that challenge and embrace it for what it is. Very few ever get the opportunity to do this. Cease that enjoy the shit out of it because you're doing something that very, very few have the opportunity, ability or even work ethic to be able to do. This is a very special thing that means more than money. This is why people almost kill themselves (and some have) to get to where you are. If you think the world owes you anything for being great at your sport you are sadly mistaken. The world owes nobody! Nobody is entitled to shit.


The other thing to the athletes is you have to take control of your own financial situation. If that means writing books, training athletes, setting up a gym, seminars, running meets...


I don't know what your passion or desire is, but you have to look at it from the standpoint of - if you're able to develop any type of name (brand) and want to do something with that name - that name has to mean something in the demographic you represent. What does your name mean now? Drop the ego a minute and ask yourself what it represents? Your name is your brand. Is it authentic? Is it marketable? Do people care? Do you care?


When you begin to take your financial situation in hand, then you won't have to worry if you are one of the fortunate ones that have landed a paid sponsorship that can cover your living expenses. Even with those few that can live off sponsor and prize money, what will they do when they can't win anymore, or the company drops them? When that falls through, what are they going to do? Whatever your answer to that is, I would start working on it now. Don't wait; that support can be gone tomorrow - especially if you cost more than the value you bring in. In the meantime, if you do represent a brand, how can you generate them value / business. It is very hard to let someone go who is making you money. It is very easy to let someone go that is costing you money. Remember this post is about "making money" so I am keeping with that theme. As we all know it doesn't grow on trees or fall from the sky. People work damn hard for it.


Lastly, if you are seeking sponsorship, drop the ego and be realistic on how much value / business you can generate for the company. What do you think this number would be? This is a business relationship. If you can't answer, then the answer would be zero. With this being the case what can you bring to the table that they can't get from someone else?


To the companies that are working with and wanting to do work with these athletes. My advice to you is to make sure that you have some return on investment, at the least a solid way to track it. It may not have to be financial. It may not be a positive financial return... actually, I can almost guarantee it will not be a positive financial return so think outside the box; there are ways to make it work so it becomes a relationship that works for both. First, define what you are looking for and why you want to do this. Then put a value on what that's worth.


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