Sponsors, the good and the bad.

by Ken Nance.  

      Of all relationships you will encounter while trying to pursue a career as a professional tournament angler, sponsors and potential sponsors are quite possibly the most important. I have been blessed with some of the best sponsors in the sport. These sponsors didn’t come easy and they didn’t seek me out and beg me to represent them. I did a lot of hard work, hard “FREE” work for them to prove myself. My father taught me about saving money and said when you save money it would begin to “snowball”. Sponsors will do this as well. What I want to discuss is some sure fire ways to get sponsors, keep them, and make yourself an integral part of their team.

        The first thing you need to realize is that there are 2 distinct sides to the fishing industry. The fishing side, and the business side. The sooner a tournament angler realizes this the better off he will be. Both sides are equally important and both work together, with good time management and organizational skills, they both can exist together in harmony for the competitive tournament angler. This is a huge industry with literally thousands of potential professional anglers willing to work for these companies for free. Lets talk about how to obtain that first sponsor. I suggest you spend some time looking in your boat at your tackle. Look at what products you buy the most of and what you feel your confidence baits are. For an example we will use Sliding Weight Crawfish baits. I love the Sliding Weight Crawfish and use it quite a bit. I am confident it is a bait that the fish have not seen and its life like in its action. I am currently sponsored by this company so for the sake of an example we will assume that I am not. The first thing to do would be to look for a local tackle dealer that does not stock the baits. Approach the dealer and sell him on the bait and once he agrees to order tell him you will try to contact the company and do the legwork for him. Now you have an order for the baits in your pocket and some proof that you can sell the bait. Now you need to contact Sliding Weight and ask to speak with whomever is in charge of their marketing and pro-staff. When you get this person on the phone introduce yourself and ask for a moment of their time and if this is a good time for you to call. If not make an appointment to contact them and make sure you call them back promptly on the agreed time. Once you are on the phone with the correct person, explain to them what your plans, goals, and accomplishments are. Explain to them that you use their baits and have confidence in them, which will allow you to aggressively and confidently sell the products. Now is when you lay your cards out on the table. Tell him you wish to prove yourself to them and that you already have a tackle store set up that you have sold their product to. Even if the company has no pro-staff positions available you can still give them the order and ask them to notify you when they have an open position. For your efforts you have set up a local tackle dealer with a product you use and have proven to yourself that you can do this. Continuing with our example lets imagine that Sliding Weight is impressed with what you have done and agrees to offer you a sponsorship. Most of the time they will offer a large discount on their products and possibly free product. Free product is tough to get sometimes as most companies have been “ripped off” by so many pro-staffers who take all the free product and do nothing in return for the company. Once you have your foot in the door here is where the real work begins. You need to realize that this is quite possibly the most important sponsor you will ever have. You have just begun to form your reputation as a professional angler and the image you present will stick with you for a long time. You need to really work hard at setting up stores for this company and promoting them as much as possible. Tournament shirts, stickers, patches, and tow-vehicle stickers are advertising tools that allow you to promote your sponsors product, if they don’t offer them ask for their digitized logo and spend the 50 dollars and make them yourself.

      Now that you have your first sponsor lets fast forward your tournament career some. Its now 6 months or a year later and you have set up 14 stores for your sponsor and sold a lot of product to individual fisherman. Sliding Weight has sent you a couple of tournament shirts with your name embroidered on the pocket right above “Pro-Staff”, you have hats, stickers, and are receiving free product. Life is good. Now you realize that you want to help promote another product and decide to contact another company. When you contact this company things will be a little different. You have a proven track record with Sliding Weight and Sliding Weight will give you a positive reference for your potential new sponsor. You contact this company and follow the same steps, they contact Sliding Weight and POOF, you now have another sponsor. When you contact the dealers that you set up with Sliding Weight to check on how much product they need you can tell them about this new product you have to offer. Another great thing companies do is offer their pro-staffers the ability to set up dealers with their products at a cheaper price than they can get from a middle man. Basically you can set up a dealer with a wholesale, factory direct price, without them having to go through a middleman which means more profit for the dealer. Do you see the snowball effect here we talked about earlier? The next product you want to promote will have 2 positive references and so on and so on. Eventually your reputation will get out and your sponsors will start recommending you for other sponsorships.

       One thing a person being sponsored by a company needs to realize is that they don’t only represent the company and its product. As someone who is sponsored by a company you represent the company, product, that companies employees, their families, and everything that company stands for. You need to remember this when you are dealing with the public and remain the professional you are. Avoid confrontations and putting yourself in less than ideal environments. Once you have proven yourself to these companies you can expect to do more things with these companies and actually become an integral part of that company. They will contact you and ask your advice on company related topics, new product development, field testing, as well as ask you to do seminars and promotional events for them. This is where the sponsorship really starts to pay off. When you do promotional events for them, either by going to shows or doing videos etc., you will be gaining exposure for yourself. This is the level where the company that is sponsoring you realizes what an asset you are to them and will begin to help you with tournament expenses and entry fees. It’s a give give situation and you have to give first.

      Once you get to this level you may wish to start looking for a boat sponsor. Boat sponsors are totally different from tackle sponsors. The stakes are much higher and the sponsorships are much more difficult to get and keep. You need a proven tournament record as well as a proven sponsor record most of the time to get a boat sponsorship. Don’t plan on getting a free boat. Unless your name is Kevin Van Dam, Rick Clunn, or Bill Chapman (my friend that fishes FLW gets a free boat every year), you will be buying a new boat as your first sponsorship. Don’t get me wrong, the deal is still phenomenal. There are several forms of boat sponsorships which include, memo boats, demonstrators, factory level sponsorships, and dealer level sponsorships. There may be some additional types but these are the ones I am familiar with. The most common deal that is offered is the dealer level sponsorship. With a dealer level sponsorship you get a large discount on the boat, motor and trailer, dealer support, and free tournament clothes. This is the foot in the door to the next level and again one that needs your full attention. Offer to go to boat shows and watch how the boat dealership’s sales people sell boats and learn from watching them. When you are ready to sell boats ask your dealer to instruct you how he wants you to sell the boats and then go at it. Selling a boat you believe in is easy. Be knowledgeable and truthful about the boat. Study how the boat is built and manufactured. Know the warranty and how to break in the boat. More times than not the customer you are talking to about the boat knows just as much if not more about the boat than you do. The most common misconception I see boat salesman do is misrepresent the speed of the boat.  If the boat will run 65mph gps then tell them the gps speed. Remember, your reputation is everything and you don’t want customers walking around telling other customers and salesmen at other boat dealerships that your 18-foot boat will run 90 mph. Memo boats are deals that are also common. Some people may call memo boats by a different name other than what I do but this is how I interpret them. Once you have been sponsored by a boat dealer he turns in a credit application to the boat manufacturer. The boat company many have their own finance company or use a financial company they work close with to finance their team members. The large discount on the boat puts you well below dealer cost of the boat. Once the finance company approves your loan you will sign a 1-year contract with payments of $0.00. You use the boat, insure the boat, and maintain it. When the year is getting close to being up you sell the boat for about what you paid for it and then order a new one. The down side to this is if you don’t sell the boat, the interest rate is higher than a normal loan, which is a bad thing. What most guys do is finance the boat at a lower interest rate for 15 years, which also gives the a really low monthly payment, and then sell the boat leisurely. With the deal that you receive on the boat it is usually fairly easy to sell the boat. The third form of sponsorship is a demonstrator. This is actually a rare occurrence as the dealer assumes liability for the boat and its occupants. They carry the insurance thru the dealer on the pro-staff and insure them on the events they fish. With today’s society of sue happy people this deal is about extinct. The last and possibly most rare form of boat sponsorship is the factory level sponsorship. This is when you get a free boat from the factory. It doesn’t cost you a penny and if you tear it up they fix it free or give you another boat. Like I stated earlier, these deals are usually reserved for the elite top names of the sport. There is another sponsorship out there that is quite a bit better than a factory level sponsorship. This is a marketing sponsorship. The deal is phenomenal and I know several guys on this plan. This plan is possibly the best deal going but it is tough to get and even harder to keep. You have to be a proven producer and a people person. This plan requires you to do out of town promotions for several weeks a year. You receive a boat, tow vehicle, salary, expense account, and a few bonuses like having your entry fees paid. You have events that are mandatory to attend, sales routes for you to do publicity stunts on, product promotions, and pretty much anything else they want you to do. They make provisions for you to be able to pre-fish your tournament and have plenty of family time but you may be gone for long periods of time when you are working. I am currently working on a deal like this and hope to hear something back from the firm soon.

       An angler can make himself more desirable to a sponsor when competing for a pro-staff position by covering all the bases of the sport. He can be a public speaker, free-lance outdoor writer, and do things that other potential sponsors don’t do like put on charity tournaments, scuba dive, and teach safety courses etc. Anything an angler can do to make himself stand out in a crowd is a good thing.

       There are some down sides and warnings that one must heed when dealing with sponsors also. One of them being to make sure you don’t over-sponsor yourself. If you have too many sponsors with similar products you are not doing yourself or your sponsor justice. It is ok to have several different soft plastic sponsors as long as they are different products. If one sponsor has a crawfish bait, one has a tube bait, one has finesse and hand pour baits, the difference between the products is different and there shouldn’t be a conflict. The last thing you want is to have 4 sponsors that all sell the same thing. One last bit of advice is you need to keep an eye on your sponsor. I call this checking the sponsors pulse. If you feel that they are neglecting customers, pro-staffers, or advertising then this may be the first sign of problems. You need to talk to the company and discuss how you can help to make things better. You have to remember that a lot of good companies just go out of business and there is nothing you can do about it. Keep in contact with your sponsors on at least a monthly basis. If the time comes that you feel it benefits both you and your sponsor to go separate ways then do it in a professional way and don’t burn your bridges. Ship back any un-used product that you can so they may pass it to other pro-staffers or customers as sample packs. All in all if you are honest, hard working, and motivated you can make it far in the world of professional tournament angling. Feel free to contact me at anytime with questions or comments. Tight lines, Ken Nance.  

    Ken Nance is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mason Dixon Marine and Polaris, Sliding Weight Company, Kick'n Bass® Fish Attractants, Silverbuddy, Eat-em-up Bait Company, J.R.s Custom Rods, Caps Tackle, Susky Bugs, Bonzai Bait Company, Cabin Creek Bait Company and Nichols Bait Company.

All articles are re-printed with permission from Ken Nance