3 steps to choosing potential sponsors

Success on the tournament trail is essentially impossible without the support of sponsors. They can provide the rods, reels, lines, lures, boats, motors, electronics, tow vehicles, fuel, clothing, food and finances necessary to compete. For most top pros, no sponsors means no career, and only a couple of anglers will earn enough in prize money each season to cover their expenses and support their lifestyle. More problematic, it’s rarely the same anglers who do it in consecutive years.

Bernie Schultz

Your relationship with sponsors is all about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

As you begin your career as a pro angler or work to take the next step, a few key terms will help you speak the language of sponsors and the sponsor marketplace. Two of the most important terms are “endemic” and “non-endemic.” An endemic company is directly involved in the fishing industry. Maybe they make rods, reels, lines, lures or boats. Shimano and Strike King are classic examples of endemic companies.

Non-endemic companies are not involved in the fishing industry … at least not directly, though they often provide goods and services that are regularly used by anglers. Holiday Inn, Waffle House and Gatorade are examples of non-endemic companies.

Because many non-endemic companies have deeper pockets than the companies in the fishing industry, they’re aggressively pursued by lots of pro anglers. The challenge is to show them that the fishing demographic is big enough and targeted enough to make a difference to their bottom line and that you are the right person to move that needle in a positive way.

Remember, unless you can help a sponsor make more money (many multiples of your sponsorship contract value), you are of no use to them. It is all about sales, and you are one of their salesmen.

Step 1: Believe

When searching for sponsors, the best place to start is to approach the companies that make the products you’re already using and believe in. This makes sense on a lot of levels. First, you probably know their product line and can speak intelligently about it (if not, you better fix that fast). Second, if you believe in and use the product, you’ll speak about it with more confidence and authority. That’s going to be more impressive and will help sell the product for the potential sponsor. Third, if you’re already using the product you have less to learn and fewer hurdles when it comes to getting up to speed in promoting them.

There’s also a moral grounding in creating a sponsor relationship with a company making products you already use. If you’ve been paying for the product before the sponsorship, you obviously believe in it, and every sponsor wants a true believer.

Professional anglers change sponsors for many reasons. Quite often the decisions are financial. Other times, there are personal reasons for the change. Sometimes personnel changes within the sponsor company lead to pro staff changes. Occasionally, an angler leaves a sponsor because he’s decided to support a different product that he believes in. Whatever the reason, these changes impact both parties and send a message to the audience (fans). By seeking sponsorship only from companies making products you believe in, you may be able to minimize any awkward transitions.

Step 2: Evaluate

Just because you love a company’s products doesn’t mean they’ll be a good sponsor or even be a good candidate for sponsorship. They may not have a budget for a pro staff. They may not believe pro staffers can help their bottom line. They may be difficult to work with or incapable of building a quality relationship. A lot of these issues can only be evaluated through personal contact, but there are some shortcuts you can use to weed out the longshot candidates.

How’s their product distribution? When you walk into a well-stocked tackle shop can you find their stuff? If not, maybe they can’t afford you or maybe they need you to be a part-time distributor. Maybe they’ll want to compensate you based on the number of retail shops you can get them in.

And if you go into a tackle store and don’t see their products, ask the retailer about them. Has he heard of them? Did he ever carry their stuff? Why doesn’t he carry their products now? You can learn a lot from retailers; they’re the front line of the tackle business.

What’s the company’s reputation in the angling community? Do a lot of your friends like their products or are you all alone out there? If you’re one of few who see value in what they’re doing or making, it could be a real uphill fight to get sponsorship or to keep it.

What’s the company’s niche? Are they local, regional, national, international, interplanetary? There’s nothing wrong with a local company when you’re just getting started, but keep an eye on potential growth for you and the sponsor. Are they top-shelf or bargain basement? A good sponsor doesn’t have to be the Rolls Royce of fishing gear, but they need to know their position in the industry and you need to be ready to market to that niche.

How much advertising do they do, and where? The more advertising you see from a company, the more aggressive they are about their marketing. It may also mean that they have a lot of money.

Some companies dominate the industry without spending a lot of money on advertising or marketing (e.g., Zoom Bait Co.). Others spend millions to get their market share. Generally, the companies spending a lot of money on advertising and marketing are also spending more on promotional staff. Zoom is an exception; they dominate the soft plastics market without spending a lot on advertising or conventional marketing, but still retain a large pro staff. Know the company you’re approaching and study where their marketing dollars are being spent.

Is the potential sponsor advertising in outlets where you can help? If they’re in Bassmaster Magazine, you probably can’t do much for them unless you’re in the Bassmaster Elite Series. But if they’re in a state or regional publication where you get a lot of ink, you might be a great fit.

Step 3: Execute

Never forget that your relationship with sponsors is all about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. If you can show them that you can help to sell their products in meaningful numbers, you have a chance. If not, you don’t.

Using the tools you’re acquiring here with PAR, get out there and approach the companies that make sense for you. Your best chances are right there.

Yes, it would be great to have Coca-Cola, Google or Apple as a sponsor, but how are you going to move that giant needle?

Start by approaching the companies you’re already supporting and know well. Evaluate your chances by looking into their business and marketing approach. Look for the relationships that fit. You need something that matches who you are and where you are with who they are and where they want to be.

Then identify the best contact person at the company and contact them (more tips on this in future installments).

In the film The Right Stuff, there’s a memorable line that’s apropos to this installment: “No bucks; no Buck Rogers.” It’s like that in professional fishing, too.

No sponsorships; no pro anglers.

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Author: Bernie Schultz and Ken Duke

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