Sponsorship can take on many different faces, not just "cash in hand"
My team has had many different types of sponsors over the years. When we first formed and were cooking only MIM events we had beer sponsorship from the local Miller Distributor. They also hooked us up with the other distributors in different markets when we cooked away from home. That was during our formative years as a competition team, so I don't know how much the money savings on not buying beer helped us. That fizzled out when a distributor got sued after a golf tourney. They all quit giving away beer for advertising as a liability concern.
A few years later we hooked up with a resort developer that was to sponsor us for a full cooking season (6 events + the MIM championship). They also helped us build a two-story gooseneck trailer for our cookers and to help promote their resort. That was a sweet deal, all expenses paid for each event. In turn we cooked at a couple of holiday celebrations for the cost of supplies. In the fall of the season they decided to pull the plug on our sponsorship and hung us out with a couple of contests left. They also had the nerve to ask us to reimburse them for the cost of the trailer that we kept in the divorce. (we didn't pay them a nickel). They even hired us the next summer to cook at a 4th of July party (we made good money that weekend!)
We have since picked up intermittant sponsorship from a buddy that works for a bank as a business developer, they help us from time to time at select contests and purchase our meat in exchange for advertising and left overs.
For the most part our team operates out of our own pockets. We cook where we can, when we can, and anything we might win is put in a team bank account to help expenses at the next event.
We have also scaled back from primarily MIM contests to more KCBS events where a couple or three of us can cook them for no more that a few hundred bucks each.
Big Tom Pigs-R-Us cooking team