Basic Guidelines for Obtaining and Retaining Sponsorship Agreements
— by Jeremiah T. Bagwell
What most tournament anglers already know and future tournament anglers will quickly learn is sponsors are what can help make an angler a champion. Don't get me wrong, having a sponsor is not going to make you an instantly better angler. They will however make it possible for you to compete in the extremely expensive world of professional bass fishing with less financial stress. An effective sponsorship contract will allow anglers to spend more time focusing on skills needed to succeed, rather than how they are going to pay the rent. Just don't fall into a long term agreement that is going to greatly benefit your sponsor and only enable you to wear a cool looking patch on your shirt and have a few free lures in your box.
Some of you may be wondering what exactly a sponsor is and why they are so important to competitive bass anglers. Sponsors are companies that provide anglers with anything from free or reduced price products all the way up to substantial amounts of money. Before you go and get too excited, they just don't give you this stuff out of the kindness of their hearts. They expect you to go out and promote and often times sell their products in addition to being very successful from a fishing standpoint. Sponsorship contracts are also a very big reason that the payouts on the major tours are so substantial. Big corporations spend several million dollars a year to get their name and logos in front of consumers.
Probably one of the most important steps in the business is determining what you can do for a company to increase their market share. Market Share is the percentage of total consumers a company has in a particular region, state, city, etc. For example if there are 100 total consumers in a town and XYZ Company has 20 of those customers their market share is 20%. Companies are always trying to increase their market share because; an increase typically represents higher earnings for the company. If you can convince a company that you can increase their market share at a relatively low cost, there is a good chance that the company is going to take you up on your offer.
Another useful idea is to develop a skills inventory, which is basically a list of all the attributes you have that may be of value to the company. For example if you are a tournament director, you write a weekly article for your local paper, you have a local outdoors show or just about any other method you can think of that you can use to promote the company. Once you make this list decide how to tell the company the benefits of these attributes. The more you can differentiate yourself from the other ten thousand people asking for the same sponsorship dollar, the more successful you will be.
The next step is evaluating companies to find sponsors that fit your personal style. Do not simply contact every single company in the business directory of your local phone book. It is common knowledge that representatives from various companies communicate regularly with each other. So if you send a proposal letter to Lure Company X and nearly the same letter to Lure Company Y, there is a chance that your name might be mentioned in conversation between the two companies. Essentially this will result in you not getting an agreement from either company.
Begin with companies whose products you use and are very familiar with. It will be a great deal easier to promote a product that you believe in. Product expertise is another highly valuable asset. The more you know about the various product lines available from your sponsors, the more effective your promotional activities will be. I will give you a little advanced notice when contacting large lure manufacturers or any large companies in general, prepare yourself for the word NO. These companies receive thousands of letters per year from people just like you. Do not let this discourage you, keep on soliciting other companies and eventually it will all work out. Approach local companies such as the dealership where you bought your truck or boat. Often times they will pitch in a little cash for an entry fee or two. Before contacting a company and asking them for sponsorship, do your homework. Find out as much information as you can about the company. I have went as far as totaling up the number of retail outlets one company has in each state that I will compete in during the course of the season. My main objective for this was to show that I would be in locations that would allow me to communicate with members of the company's target market. By doing so, I would provide a personal approach to the current marketing activities of the company and in turn increase sales at these retail locations.
Do not attempt to get sponsored by multiple companies that produce similar products. If you are sponsored by a hard bait company, it should be your only hard bait sponsor. First of all most sponsorship contracts prohibit such dealings. It will also reduce your credibility to the public. You can not promote one product one week and another the next week. Consumers have the ability to see right through fictitious sales claims.
Once you have been successful in finalizing a couple of agreements with companies for sponsorship, you have to begin working your butt off. From the moment, you sign a sponsorship contract with a company, you in a sense work for that company. Now when I say "work" for that company, I do not mean that you are a regular employee that punches a time clock, gets a weekly paycheck, and has company health insurance. What I mean is you made a legally binding business agreement with the company to promote their products or services and you better keep your end of the arrangement or you will find yourself losing sponsors in a hurry. It is important that you do everything you promised the company you would do and often times more. Look at these sponsorship agreements as long time partnerships. By doing this you will not have to go through all the proposals and such, every single year. It will be a lot easier to stay with a company if you can show them how they have benefited from your activities as a spokesperson.
Document all of your actions and send frequent updates to the company detailing your activities. If you get an article written about you in the paper or a magazine and you mention your sponsors, send them a copy. You just do not want them to forget who you are. Most companies will require you to send them quarterly updates. Name recognition is a huge benefit for you and your sponsors.
With the tighter corporate budgets and increasing payouts in professional bass fishing, it is important to understand business activities and how to use them to your advantage. I firmly believe that you will be ten steps ahead of the pack if you go to college and get a degree. My degree major was Business Management and Marketing. Although not directly related to the fishing industry, I viewed the material being learned from different angles until it related to fishing. It can also be very helpful to get experience in retail sales. Even if it is simply working part time at your local Wal-Mart in the sporting goods department, you gain a better understanding of customer relations, consumer buying habits and the principles of salesmanship.
This article was designed solely for the purpose of helping individuals gain a better understanding of the business side of bass fishing. The information is intended to be a basic guideline and not the only "right" way to approach potential sponsors. The individual needs and results will vary and your approach should be adjusted to best suit your personal objectives.
Read about Jeremiah T. Bagwell and other writers in our Outdoor Writers section.