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The dos and don’ts of being a good Brownlee Brothers sponsor

The Brownlee Brothers at Engine HQ.

Alistair and Jonny Brownlee might begrudge being famous for a brotherly moment they both would rather forget but the two realise the fame it has brought them can propel their niche sport to a bigger audience.

The triathletes shot to international acclaim when Alistair helped an exhausted Jonny over the finish line at the Triathlon World Series in Cozumel. It took barely a few hours for the image of the brothers in arms to become a sport classic, sparking news reports, shares and messages of support for the pair.

Yet for all the praise heaped on the athletes, neither is comfortable with the image’s true meaning as the moment Jonny’s heat stroke meant he missed out on being world champion. As annoyed as Jonny is, both he and his brother are grateful it has given them a larger profile to take the sport they love to more people. What they want now is to work with brands that are going to respect that wish and allow them to talk about what matters to them – healthy eating and being active.

“It [the heat stroke at Cozumel] sits rather uncomfortably with me in the sense that I don’t really want to be known as the guy who struggled across the finish line,” Jonny told The Drum at an event hosted by Engine. “I’d prefer to be known for my achievements. But then I keep telling myself that it’s good for the sport and it’s good for us [me and my brother] to take triathlon to a new audience because if people know more about you and your sport then that has to be a good thing.”

Alistair echoed the sentiment, adding that since it happened last September there’s been a noticeable jump in attention both from fans and sponsors.

“There’s been a definite shift of interest in brands [in us] that attract not just people who are into the sport but a wider audience too,” he said. “I think that was the big thing about Mexico: rather than just people who knew about triathlon being interested, all of a sudden there were other people who got to know more about us and our story. I don’t want to stereotype but it was like the old lady who’s not really interested in sport or the mum who’s never heard of triathlon suddenly became acquainted with our story.”

While some athletes would rather bask in the spotlight and cash in on sponsors, the Brownlee brothers are loath to let their image usurp their ability. Both are picky about what they put their name too, believing that the best partnerships are those where they’re able to work with a sponsor to develop an idea they’re fully behind.

“Dealing with brands we’ve tried to do things that are true to ourselves like healthly eating and being active. The things that we find easier to promote and talk about rather than trying to be something we’re not. We want to stay true to our values and that makes it far easier,” said Alistair.

“We’ve always believed that performance comes first in that if I don’t compete and train well then I’m letting myself down and won’t be able to win a medal, which is what I do the sport for. At the same time, we appreciate that you have to do things [with sponsors] but we have a good manager and a team around us where we come down and do things for a couple of days and then we go away and train for two weeks.”

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