If I were given a dollar for every time I have been asked, "how do I get sponsors?" I would probably make the Forbes top 500 list. Unlike many other things in life, this question has no clear-cut, single-sentence answer. When you start wanting to get paid by a company to fish, the sport takes on a whole new perspective.
From an angler's perspective, sponsors are there to help with the never-ending expenses involved with competitive fishing. Whether it is in the form of free products, discounts on boats, or the ever-popular monthly stipend, sponsorship contracts will ideally help reduce stress.
Companies, however, look at sponsorships from a whole different angle. Their main objectives are to increase market share and generate additional revenue. They are always looking for new and productive ways to get more people to buy their products.
Before you dive off of the cliff into the wonderful world of sponsorships, there are certain things that you need to do. First and foremost, you need to ask yourself why a company would even want to sponsor you. If you answer that you win many local or regional tournaments, you might reconsider your approach. Industry-leading companies do not care that you won the 2nd annual Mayberry Open Buddy Bass Tournament. Frankly, why would they care? Will this make them any money? More likely than not, the answer is no.
You need to establish what value, if any, you can bring to the table. One simple method I use for determining such value is a little trick I learned from Gwen Johnson, one of my college instructors. I doubt that Mrs. Johnson knew she was helping me with sponsorship contracts, but she was. Whenever I have an idea or something that I think could be important, I ask myself the question, "So what?" Then I try to answer the question to determine the actual value of my statement's contents. Here are a couple of examples:
I always win our company bass tournament. "So what?" Because of this, all of the people at work think I am an excellent bass angler.
As you can see, this has no corporate value. However, the following statement will at least draw a second look.
I host my own regional fishing radio show, writing fishing columns for three local newspapers. "So what?" This means that I have the opportunity to introduce product lines to a much more significant portion of the target market. Through both verbal and written communication, I can spread the word about the products that I believe in. I also possess a high level of name and face recognition in my region.
Now, these were just very rough examples. Still, a company might view the second scenario as cost-effective to introduce their goods to more consumers in this region.
Once you can prove that you have some form of value to a company, it is then that you have to determine what your services are worth. As a newcomer, companies will not pay you much, if any, actual money. They will offer you a minimal amount of free or reduced-priced products in most cases. This is fine to an extent, but as Bassmaster Classic qualifier Ish Monroe once told me, "I can't eat a box of crankbaits, and I can't pay my bills with them either." When you think about his statement, it puts it all into perspective. The return received for your work has to be of some benefit to you.
You should not just agree to a sponsor's terms because it will get you a couple of spools of line and a cool logo on your shirt. If you apply for a "regular" job and you request $15 per hour, but the company only wants to pay minimum wage, chances are you will not take the job. Dealing with sponsors should be no different. Applying for sponsorship is no different from applying for a job. You will have specific duties to perform and expectations that you must live up to. You will ultimately be let go if you can not meet these requirements. The bottom line is to attempt to get a level of compensation that you feel is fair and beneficial to both parties. Do not sell yourself short or jeopardize your integrity over a few hundred dollars worth of fishing tackle. Also, do not get arrogant and demanding towards your sponsors unless you can back up the trash talk spewing from your mouth. Even if you can back it up, there is a good chance that you will get shown to the door.
I am confident that most sponsorship seekers do not fully understand what sponsors expect from them. You will not get paid to fish with all sorts of free tackle. There are a lot of responsibilities that go along with being a Pro Staff member. First and foremost, you always have to display a neat and professional appearance anytime you contact the general public. Secondly, you must be a product expert. Your job is to help boost sales, and you can not do that if you have no clue what you are talking about. Your sponsors will request that you work at outdoor shows, in-store seminars, and a wide assortment of promotional activities. One show I worked on was four days in length. I talked to so many people during this time that I nearly lost my voice. These activities are a lot of fun at times, but they are also a great deal of work.
Probably the best bit of advice that I can give you is "Get an Education." Even if you are one of the blessed few who can fish for a living, a degree in Business Management, Marketing, public relations, or Advertising will be beneficial when dealing with sponsors. If your hopes and dreams happen to come up short, the degree will provide you with a well-paying career to fall back on.
Until next time, Fish Hard, Fish Often and Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game.