A vital part of being a professional bass angler is securing sponsors and cultivating relationships with the companies that support you. Do it well and you’ll develop long-term associations that will benefit you and your sponsors. Do it poorly and you’ll lack sufficient finances to stay afloat and chase your fishing dreams.
Of course, the loss of a sponsor may have nothing to do with how you uphold your end of the bargain. But if you learn what your sponsors need from you and fulfill those needs, you’re likely to be in this game for the long haul.
The reason a company is willing to invest in you is because they believe you can give their products the kind of exposure that generates sales. What I’ve learned is that not all sponsors want you to promote their products the same way. It’s important that you understand what works for each individual sponsor.
How much time you can give to each sponsor is another consideration. There are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a year. Once you subtract the number of days you spend traveling to and from tournaments, practicing for them and actually fishing them, the time that’s left for helping your sponsors is at a premium.
You have no choice but to prioritize how much time you give to each sponsor based on how much support they provide to you. Suzuki Marine deserves a big chunk of my time because they are my title sponsor and have been since 2013. In fact, I was the first professional bass angler Suzuki sponsored.
Sometimes acquiring a new sponsor is almost an act of fate. That’s how it was with Suzuki. I was at a major boat show in Fort Lauderdale after winning the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. Suzuki had a display at the show and they had tossed around the idea of making a move into the bass fishing market. I walked into the booth and met the right person and we struck up a sponsorship deal right then and there. It was perfect timing.
The Suzuki logo is prominently displayed on my boat and truck wrap and jerseys. I also promote their outboards on social media and in videos through direct and indirect marketing.
An example of indirect marketing is when I take a picture of me with a bass or a how-to video for social media. I move to the back of the boat when I do this so the Suzuki outboard is in the background. Direct marketing is when I make a video that directly promotes Suzuki outboards and their advantages.
It’s important to mix it up. If you do too much direct marketing, you’ll lose viewers. It’s a balancing act. You have to keep your fans engaged.
Suzuki really likes what I’m doing with my high school and college tournament. They are big on having an impact on younger anglers.
Of course, Suzuki wants me to run their outboard in tournaments so people see it on the water. Since they are new to bass fishing compared to other motor brands, people stop me wherever I go to ask about the motor. I tell them it’s the most dependable outboard I’ve ever used. Suzuki doesn’t have a service trailer at Elite Series tournaments. I’m going into my seventh year running a Suzuki, and I’ve never needed a service trailer, knock on wood.
Over those years my relationship with Suzuki has evolved. We have an open dialog of what their goals are and what they need me to do to meet those goals.
Yo-Zuri is my next biggest sponsor, and they are completely different. They are not as concerned about logo exposure on my boat and truck. It’s more important to them that I catch fish on their baits while I’m on camera. They recently hired a fulltime videographer to make videos with the Yo-Zuri pros.
Catching fish on a sponsor’s bait in a tournament is a huge plus. When I finished second at Bassmaster BASSfest on Lake Texoma with Yo-Zuri’s 3D Pencil, their sales went way up as a direct result of that.
Yo-Zuri, like all companies now, loves seeing pictures and videos on social media with their products. They know and understand that I have to use lures from other companies sometimes to be competitive in tournaments. They don’t want me to lie if I’m using another brand. They prefer that I speak in generic terms and not mention the exact bait specifically.
My third biggest sponsor is FishSens. They make an underwater video camera that lets you view what the camera is filming beneath the surface directly on your smart phone. The most important thing for them is for me to get underwater video content and post it on social media. I average about one FishSens post a month. Getting good underwater video of fish is similar to making a fishing video. Some days you get awesome footage, other days you struggle.
The number one thing with all your sponsors is to have a relationship with them. I meet up with FishSens owner, Steve Fondriest, several times a year to go fishing, have fun and brainstorm about what’s going on. I consider my sponsors as friends. When you get to that point, you can communicate more freely with them so they get exactly what they need from you.