Sponsorship equates to marketing. To making sales. In competitive fishing, sponsorship makes the world go ‘round, from the fishermen to the organization to the town hosting the event and so on and so on. It is the fuel to our sport. The tragedy is that many people think only the best finishers deserve sponsorships, and those who are fishing poorly should not be sponsored. Cue the haters, but that assumption is part of our current problem. Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m writing this due to a less than stellar season personally in 2013, hear me out.
When a company gives a sponsorship, it needs that relationship to equate to brand recognition and sales. If it does not associate to sales, it is costing the company money.
People hate me (yes, hate me) for admiring Danica Patrick. They say I’m on this beauty queen and no skill campaign. Those people are clueless. My admiration for Danica stems from the synonymous relationship she built with her sponsor GoDaddy. People knock her finishes but her track record does not hurt her sponsorship and that is what needs to be understood. She marketed GoDaddy and in turn, helped spotlight its brand. Though she continues to endure criticism for not winning races, GoDaddy’s name continues to flourish. She’s doing her job without winning. When she does win, do you think it is going to equate to more GoDaddy sales? No. Do you think her current detractors will change their view point and suddenly love her? Probably not. People who wanted to jump on the GoDaddy bandwagon were going to do so regardless of how she did on the oval. Consumers needed domain-related services and Danica’s campaign got GoDaddy’s product line in front of those people, and they bit. That’s sponsorship gold.
Yes, when you win tournaments, you get more media attention and your bass fishing fan following grows which expands your platform. You also legitimize your position as an angler. To endemic sponsors, this tends to be seen as necessary to effectively market their fishing products.
Brandon Palaniuk almost winning a tournament on the soon-to-be released Arashi? Yes, that was probably big for the product launch. What was real marketing gold? When he was disqualified for an unfortunate reason then bounced back to win the next tournament.
Chris Lane winning the last Elite event this year, with his back against the wall, to qualify for the Classic that is taking place on his home lake? Yup, that’s marketing gold. The win itself isn’t really the gold, the fight within them, that’s gold. Their story. Their battle. Who they are as people. There are only 8 Elite Series winners a year, but there are a lot more anglers who are going through powerful situations and have conquered unthinkable obstacles, and though they did not win one this year, they’ve got a story people can relate to and could be translated into marketing gold.
Fishing companies are so spread out financially; the majority of sponsorships from within our industry are not going to float your fees and expenses. It is going to take non-endemic sponsorship, and that type of company does not make sales from how you are catching your fish or solely on your tournament performance. It makes sales because it has a great product that people need, and it is the angler’s job to provide a platform for that company to get its brand, services and product in front of the public. So if the only way for you to grow your platform and get your name out there is through on the water performance, then you better get to making Top 12s, and moreover, you better get to winning major tournaments.
But, realistically, you are going to have bad stretches with only 8 tournaments a year, so how can you justify a sponsorship if you are not winning? Easy, you do the job the sponsor hired you for; you find a way to get your name out there and your sponsor’s name out there. Give people your story and your sponsor’s story. If you genuinely believe in the product you represent and you are passionate about fishing, people will take notice. If you do not genuinely believe in the product, you are in it for the wrong reasons and the sponsorship will never work; the public will see straight through you.
You cannot be successful on the water without being successful off the water. If you don’t like it, then I suggest not trying to make a career out of tournament fishing. It’s business, and that is why so many great fishermen have not found success. I’m not saying don’t put your tournament fishing first. If you are not trying to do the best you can on the water and be competitive, why the heck are you involved in competitive tournament fishing? I’m saying you are not always going to be on top of the game, and if you want to stay around in the industry, you are going to have to find a way to continue to get paid when you are struggling to make a tournament check. Even if you are cashing tournament checks, you still won’t stay afloat without sponsorship money in the long run. You quickly learn, to competitively fish full-time you have to have paying sponsors. And those sponsors are going to need a lot out of you. It’s part of the job and blessing of being on the water full-time.
And to the people who say the whole concept of sponsorship and money being the driving force of our sport is what is wrong with the industry? Our industry would not survive without money. There is no way around it. If you cannot understand that fact, you are not willing to accept that competitive bass fishing is a professional sports business.
Sponsorship dollars are how anglers are paid, not just off the water, but it is how the tournament checks are written. And if you don’t want the Elite anglers paying $40,000+ in fees in the future, then it is our job as an industry to do what it takes to get non-endemic sponsors to want to pour cash into B.A.S.S. and the anglers. And, in order for companies to want to send big money our way, we as anglers have to show that competitive bass fishing can equate to sales, that we can continue to grow our fan base and demographics, and that we as bass fishermen understand and accept the aspects of how business works. We are not close-minded and we are willing and ready to expand to new frontiers to share our story.
In saying all of this, sponsors are not remotely without fault here. You cannot expect the angler to do all of the marketing. You have to market the angler and the sport, as well. GoDaddy didn’t expect logo placement on Danica’s jersey and car to equate to record breaking sales. No, GoDaddy put her name & brand in its own marketing campaign. GoDaddy invested more marketing dollars on top of what it wrote her sponsorship checks for. It developed commercials and a campaign that got who Danica was out there to an arena that was not solely a NASCAR fan base, to a group that did not know who Danica was. They chose not to limit the Danica campaign to the racing world (that somewhat already knew her) but to expand the campaign to a bigger audience. Without what GoDaddy did, the Danica Patrick explosion would not have happened on the level that it did. GoDaddy advertisements brought people into NASCAR that were not already fans. I can say that with confidence, because I am one of those people who started watching NASCAR because of GoDaddy’s Danica campaign. GoDaddy did not wait for Danica to win a NASCAR event. The company saw her drive, her passion, her story. When it’s genuine, consumers connect and wins don’t matter.
Companies that come into this sport and swoop up anglers should take this same approach if they want to find real success. The truck commercial using the story of the farmer? Marketing gold. We anglers have a story, too. Genuine stories. Survivors. Fighters. Our industry is made up of some of the greatest and toughest people to walk earth, yet the world barely knows we exist?
All-in-all, real success will be a two-way street. Are you in?