In the world of Bass Fishing things have progressed rather quickly regarding sponsorship and branding. We see more and more custom jerseys, wrapped boats and wrapped trucks loaded with sponsor logos.. When I work events at Bass Pro Shops, boat shows or at seminars one question that ALWAYS surfaces is “how do I get sponsors”?
I have secured some great sponsors in my fields and am super grateful for them and couldn’t do a lot of things without them. I asked a couple friends of mine, Brad Whatley who is fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series and James Watson who is fishing Major League Fishing to give me some perspective on acquiring sponsors.
James Watson and Brad Whatley are both top level professional tour anglers that have secured sponsorship through a lot of hard work and dedication. I asked them both some of the questions that frequently come up and here is what they said:
Q- What is the biggest mistake aspiring pros and guides make when initially trying to acquire sponsors?
JW- Anglers will ask for things before it is time. They fail to realize they have little to offer at this point and will typically over value themselves.
BW- A lot of anglers will go after sponsors just to say they have sponsors, rather than trying viewing it as a partnership and helping the sponsor get a return on their money or product they invested in you.
Q- How do you place value on yourself?
JW- Your value should come along with things such as a fan base, blogs, articles, websites, seminars, talk radio and camera time. You have to promote your sponsors to sell their products.
BW- Don’t over price yourself in the beginning. You need to be available for negotiations and offers regarding what services you can provide the sponsor and what they will provide to you.
Q- How do you promote without “overselling”?
JW- Use small plugs when mentioning sponsors most of the time. BUT, make sure you dedicate time with articles, social media or other outlets to promote your sponsors with that being the sole intent of the piece.
BW- If you believe and use the products you are selling, you won’t oversell. It will simply come natural during conversation and it’s easy to promote things you truly have confidence in.
Q- Should you accept a sponsorship from a company you don’t use or care for their products?
JW- NO NEVER. I am adamant about this. It will come back to haunt you and then you will look like a hypocrite and lose valuable credibility.
BW- No, not even a little bit. You will quickly gain a bad reputation and will hurt you in the long run. This is a small industry and you can’t afford to burn bridges.
Q- Should I expect to get paid?
JW- You should be compensated for your level of work. Don’t demand cash from sponsors, but let’s say you use your truck to pull boats to and from a boat show, you should be compensated for that. Keep a detailed log of events fished, worked and attended so your sponsors can reimburse you accordingly and it will show that you have your act together.
BW- This will vary depending on your sponsors and at what level you are at with them. Some sponsors will never give you cash, but lots and lots of products. While others may simply cut you a check and no products. These are things that you will need to know as you build your relationship with sponsors.
Q- How do you decide on logo placements on your Jersey, Truck or Boat?
JW- The bigger the sponsorship=the bigger the logo. On your jersey the sponsors that are larger in print and higher up on the torso will be more visible and are for higher level sponsors. The same will go for your truck/boat.
BW- Most of us have a title sponsor that will have the largest logo on our jersey, boat and truck. Your next level sponsors should be slightly smaller and work your way down from there. It is a clear cut case of who pays or helps more gets more exposure.
Q- Should you always stick with sponsors in the fishing industry?
JW- Absolutely NOT. It is far easier to get some local sponsors to work with you and gain a good reputation that can build into other working relationships. But, you still need to acquire some sponsors in the fishing industry as you will be using and promoting their products.
BW- No, you will ABSOLTELY need sponsors outside the industry. The bass fishing sponsor pie is fairly small and there are only so many slices to go around. You need some sponsors that understand the fishing aspect of it and are willing to partner with you.
Q- What is the best piece of advice for a local pro who is trying to take their sponsorship to the Elite/FLW/MLF level?
JW- Try and win at the local/regional level and strive to be visible and professional. Don’t burn bridges that you may need to walk across again one day.
BW- Think of acquiring sponsors at your level as a dating relationship. You will typically start small and things will progress over time. Some working relationships can move rather quickly, while others take years to build up. Not all sponsors will move at the same pace.
Q- How do you develop and grow sponsors?
JW- Sell their products and PROMOTE whenever you can. This could mean more tournaments, more blogs or working a booth at a trade show.
BW- Ultimately you help them sell products and ALWAYS promote their company anytime you can. It is much easier to accomplish this when you are winning or at least making the last day cut and getting some media time.
Q- Can you have too many sponsors?
JW- Yes, when you exceed your ability to properly promote a sponsor. Whether it is due to scheduling conflicts, contract issues or you are stretched too thin, you need to know when enough is enough.
BW- Yes, you can certainly stretch yourself too thin and not give sponsors the time they require or pay for. When you can’t name your sponsors in a sentence, you probably have too many.
James Watson- “You never go into a Casino with more money than you can lose”. It is hard to compete at the top level knowing if you don’t cash a check, you will have to rob a truck stop on the way home from the tournament. Try and avoid saying things like “this product is THE BEST”. Your sponsors may change from time to time and just about everyone out there has legit products. Rather try and tell people WHY it WORKS for you and tell stories of how it has won you money. You HAVE to be a walking/talking salesman for the companies you represent.
Brad Whatley- Don’t take things personal regarding sponsorship. It is a business. Make sure you meet your sponsorship obligations and maintain your end of the deal. Avoid getting a sponsor just to fill up a jersey or to wear a hat to look cool or look the part.
People will want to stop and talk fishing and this could lead to sponsorship deals in the future.
“You go fishing when nobody’s looking and remember where you came from”.
There are NO short cuts or free lunches when it comes to acquiring sponsors, but I hope the insight from these two top level professionals will help you out.