Changing sponsors midstream

Fans know sponsorships change — not only for anglers, but for tournament organizations as well.

If you follow competitive fishing, you know sponsorships change — not only for anglers, but for tournament organizations as well. It’s almost like a revolving door; you never know who’s coming in or going out.

During the good times, sponsorships can grow. In tougher times, they tend to wither. It’s a complex equation based on the goals and success of the sponsoring companies, the demand for individual pro staffers and the dollars (or other resources) that pro staff managers have to work with. Some deals last for years, even decades. Others are short term. Some land in your lap, while others seem impossible to obtain. And the level of compensation doesn’t always correlate to the effort required to get a sponsor. Sometimes the most lucrative deals are the easiest to acquire.

In many cases, it comes down to who you know.

Sure, it’s important to have the credentials to be considered — and promotional skills are always a factor — but it often boils down to your relationship with the person who’s calling the shots for the potential sponsor. And just as it is for the anglers, the people making those decisions spin through their own revolving doors.

When faces change, so too can the terms of the agreement, regardless of how well or how long you may have served a brand. 

Curbed by COVID 

When the Bassmaster Elite Series resumes in February, you’ll notice many changes in sponsorships — not only for the anglers, but possibly for B.A.S.S. as well. It happens every year, but this year will be like no other. 

When COVID-19 hit, it changed our industry dramatically — in some ways for the better, others for the worse.

Countless Americans were forced from their workplaces — some permanently. Children, too, were pushed out of the classroom. As a result, people had more time on their hands. Many turned their focus to the outdoors. Fishing license sales spiked, and those companies poised to take advantage of the boom did well. Others lost out. For them, low inventories and interrupted supply chains brought them to their knees.

When sales plummet, budgets get cut. And all too often the anglers dependent upon those budgets bear the brunt of it. That was the case for many Elite Series anglers this season … including me.

While some of the companies I represent experienced record sales, others suffered. It didn’t matter that I or some of my fellow competitors had productive seasons and were able to gain valuable exposure for the brands we represented. It wasn’t about loyalty either. The simple fact is that when budgets are cut, marketing and advertising dollars disappear. And it’s the guys at the end of that chain that are impacted the most. 

In other cases, it’s not about budget cuts at all. Sponsorships can end simply because of a change in marketing strategy. As new people take the reins on various brands, their approach is often different. They may prefer to work only with the anglers they personally sign, not those who were there before them. Or they may be looking for pros possessing certain qualities or credentials — proven winners, young up-and-comers, anglers who reside in specific regions of the country. While it’s unclear how far these anglers may move the needle on sales, it’s easy to see the logic in these approaches. 

With loss comes opportunity 

Throughout my career, I’ve represented some of the greatest brands in fishing — leaders in their respective categories. And I can proudly say I’ve helped those companies achieve great things. Whether it was lending a hand in product development or promoting them through various media platforms, I always gave my best effort. That’s probably why I’m still here. 

Although I haven’t set any records at the scales, I did help to set records in sales. And that’s worth a lot. Smart marketers and pro staff managers know that. They consider it when building their teams.

I recall losing a major sponsorship earlier in my career and, at the time, it seemed devastating. It wasn’t long after, however, that a new and better opportunity came along. So, to any of my fellow Elite Series pros suffering sponsor losses, I say hang in there. Opportunity will knock again.

Looking ahead

When the Elite Series opens on the St. Johns River, you’ll notice the sponsor changes I’m talking about. Not just mine, but for many others in the field. Some may even shock you. Anglers you have long associated with a particular brand will now be representing another.

Like every pro, I’ll enter this season with high expectations — with the hopes and dreams of achieving great things. And should those dreams be realized, I’ll share them with the companies who have stood behind me, supporting me through thick and thin.

Those are the companies deserving of my endorsement and, one way or another, I will deliver a strong return.

Follow Bernie Schultz on Facebook and through his website.