By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - After a 2012 London Olympics when UK Athletics commanded a rare place at the centre of British sporting life, it must now fill a gap left by the exit of long-term sponsor Aviva.
Sophia Warner, new commercial director of UK Athletics, is aiming to recruit a core group of up to six sponsors to replace the insurer, the sport's main backer for the past 13 years.
According to media reports the deal with the insurer was worth around eight million pounds ($12.8 million) per year, a modest sum compared to the kinds of money companies plough into higher profile sports like soccer and Formula One.
Warner, who suffers from cerebral palsy and competed at this year's Paralympics, says that athletics has been slower to sell itself than other sports.
"Athletics is very much in its early stages of sponsorship and development," she explained in a telephone interview.
"It hasn't been exploited, it hasn't been over-utilized, it's still a relatively poor sport with much potential."
Athletes like Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah have won lucrative endorsements on the back of their Olympic gold medals but the sport often struggles for attention outside of major events.
Warner said the new sponsorships were a great opportunity for companies to get involved as Britain seeks to train a new group of top athletes for when London hosts the world championships in 2017.
Sponsors will be able to put their name to various categories such as major meetings, Paralympics, road running and community events.
"We've come to the conclusion that one sponsor couldn't possibly deliver everything," said Warner.
"We're looking at somewhere between four to six main sponsors and then a number of partners as well," she added, comparing the new model to the way the Olympics attracts a raft of sponsors for different product categories.
The aim is to have at least one sponsorship deal in place in time for the start of the indoor athletics season in Glasgow in January.
Despite her new role Warner still has some ambitions on the track after competing in London with a slipped disc in her neck and finishing fourth in her two sprint events.
She plans to run in the Paralympic Athletics world championships in the French city of Lyon in July.
"I'm going to do one more season," the 38-year-old said. "I feel like I have some unfinished business.
"I'm going to aim for the world championships and then I'm definitely retiring. I've got a family, I've now got a full-time job and then I train."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)