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If you sponsor an athlete they normally endorse your product or establishment so yes, that is advertising or marketing costs. You can deduct that.
The IRS defines advertising as any sponsor recognition or message that includes the following: qualitative or comparative language; price information or indications of saving or value; or a call to purchase, sell or use the sponsor’s products or services.
Any amount you pay the person (even free shopping in your store) is payment to him and deductible for your business.
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