The Ultimate Guide on How to Get Fishing Sponsors-Updated June 18, 2020
If you are looking to become a sponsored fisherman, this ultimate guide will help you get started. Learn how to find fishing sponsorship opportunities and make yourself stand for the best chance to be sponsored by your favorite brands. This guide contains expert perspective from people that have spent years managing field staffs and pro staffs for numerous brands in the fishing industry. This ultimate guide will explain all the levels of sponsorships and give you suggestions for getting started and advancing to higher levels with brands you aspire to work with. These suggestions will work for bass, walleye or crappie anglers.
Fishing sponsorships have changed radically in the past three years. Companies used to only measure an angler by the totality of their tournament resume. Top tournament anglers spent decades practicing, competing and learning techniques across the country in order to succeed. Products sold because an angler won a tournament, and everyone wanted to know what that angler was using, which drove product sales. Those write ups came weeks or even months after the event in print magazines. The most successful anglers could also impact sales beyond tournament finishes. Public speaking and working with media to write articles rose in importance and changed the way brands valued anglers. The most valuable anglers were successful in tournaments and equally successful off the water with media. The past five years have seen the largest changes in the fishing industry take place. Globally, media and the consumption of media have changed forever. Information is now available instantly in a much wider range of platforms. The changing landscape of media has seen many traditional print and television platforms erode while the explosion of numerous new platforms have arrived.
The past few years have seen these changes accelerate, as platforms like Instagram and YouTube have given anglers the ability to reach large audiences outside of a tournament finish, television appearance, print or other traditional media outlet. No longer was it required to win or finish high in several tournaments to gain sponsorship with a brand. In some cases, you don’t even need to be a fishing expert any longer to be an influencer and impact sales in today’s world. Long time touring pros are seeing their contracts being cut in some cases and those funds are being re-directed to influencers from Instagram and YouTube. Successful brands like Googan and Tactical Bassin used their popularity with YouTube and social media to influence product sales and even launch their own branded products, racking up impressive sales across the country. Their reach and influence far exceed that of all but a few of the most successful pro anglers or fishing television celebrities.
To start off, let’s first take a basic look at the different levels of sponsorship for a better understanding. Anglers can start at the lower levels and progress up or they may build a successful platform and enter at a high level from the beginning. Different opinions exist as to what defines a “professional angler” and it is often not cut and dry. Traditionally, only anglers fishing Tour level tournaments or those with television programs were making all or considerable parts of their income from the fishing industry. Today, more anglers that have never fished at a Tour level or been on television are gaining considerable income from the industry.
High school/college programs- Many companies offer discount programs to scholastic anglers allowing them to buy products at 30%-50% discount from retail pricing. B.A.S.S., FLW and Collegiate Bass Championship all offer scholastic tournaments and coordinate discount programs for anglers competing in their trails. Student anglers can also reach out to brands directly and ask them if they offer a purchase program for students.
Field Staffer- Often there are two levels of field staffer, the first level involves the angler receiving a discount to purchase product they use. That discount is usually 40%-50% discount from the retail pricing. Ever notice a company that has thousands of anglers on their field staff, it is because they offer a discount to any angler that contacts them about sponsorships. An angler is really just a customer buying at a discount at this level as many companies use this program to launch their brand before they are able to get a lot of retail stores to stock their products. Other companies are selective and pick only a small amount of the applicants for their field staff. They strive to pick out who they feel are the most qualified candidates to help build their brand. The second level at this tier is receiving a budgeted amount of free product for their use. Some anglers may also be receiving unlimited free product.
Regional competitor- Anglers at these levels may be competing across a state or even across multiple states in a region. They can be fishing team tournaments or boater/co-angler tournaments and often times a combination of both. There are a number of great trails for anglers to fish at this level on a regional basis like Alabama Bass Trail, Texas Team Trail, Anglers in Action, Nichols Team Trail team tournaments. Boater/co-angler examples include trails like ABA and BFL . Anglers at this level can be receiving product discounts, free product and cash sponsorships in some cases.
Opens and Toyota Series- Until 2020, these trails were the stepping-stone to the two major tournament organizations B.A.S.S. and FLW. With the acquisition of FLW by Major League Fishing, they have now made the FLW Pro Circuit the entry point for the Bass Pro Tour. Many of the anglers in Opens and Toyota Series expect to start being paid for sponsorships to support their career at the next level. This is typically where paid sponsorships start for an angler to support a brand with his jersey or boat wrap. There are still many anglers at this level that are only receiving product support. The FLW Pro Circuit changing from the top level of FLW to a qualifying series for the Bass Pro Tour, caused many anglers to leave the FLW Pro Circuit to fish other tournaments like the Opens.
FLW Pro Circuit- Anglers at this level expect to have paying sponsors and boat wrap deals. Title sponsorships and boat wraps can garner $30,000+ annual income, but there are still many anglers that do not have paying sponsorships at this level.
Tour Level Pro- The departure of 67 anglers from the Elite Series to the Bass Pro Tour created many opportunities for anglers from the Opens or FLW to move to the Elite Series in 2019. While a third high level competitive trail created more opportunities for anglers it also made it more challenging for anglers to find paying sponsors. Brands in the industry did not increase their annual marketing budgets in many cases, so more anglers were now competing for the same amount of paying sponsors. Most brands focus their sponsorship dollars on the Eltie Series or Bass Pro Tour and many brands have had long term relationships with a number of those anglers. Non-endemics most often come into play at this level and can land anglers up to six figure sponsorship deals. Monthly contracts often range in the $300-$1500 a month level for anglers to promote a specific brand with title deals going much higher. While there are now a combined 167 anglers competing at this level, not all are fishing “full time”. Several anglers at this level still have other jobs or own a business they run when not competing.
With a quick summary of the levels of sponsorship, let’s turn our attention back to you. Start by defining what your goals are? Are you just looking to work with companies to receive free products or discounts or are you looking to advance into a career in professional fishing or influence? Starting with what your goals are is the best place to begin in order to plan your progress. An example is If you are only planning to fish at a local or regional level the odds of you having a high number of paying sponsors are pretty small. There are more anglers than ever before looking for sponsorships and brands are being bombarded with sponsorships requests. In reality, most of them have fixed marketing budgets every year and already have a number of anglers on staff. They are not looking to add a larger number of new anglers every year.
How should you get started? Identify brands you use frequently because you like or believe in their products. It may also be a company you like because of what they stand for. They may support conservation or donate portions of their proceeds to help fisheries. Make a list of those companies that you would want to partner with. It is often better to have a few very good relationships with companies rather than a large number of relationships that are not personal and are just product discounts. An application listing more sponsors than Kevin VanDam can raise red flags to field staff managers and indicate that you are just a person that wants discounts. Now plan to contact them in a way that will make you stand out. The #1 key every company is looking for is local people that can help them sell more product. You need to explain quickly and effectively how you can do that for them.
99% of the people start their search for sponsorship by emailing or applying on the brand website. Emailing the company contact or pro staff page is lazy, unless you want to just be a customer buying at a discount. To increase your chances of getting out of this group of everyone else you are going to have to differentiate yourself. 99% of these emails all say similar things. “I love your products, I have used them for a long time and I am fishing this tournament trail this year. I will promote your products on my social media, my YouTube channel I just started and, on my boat, truck and jersey”. Want to increase your odds of standing out, tell the brand specifically how you can sell products for them. Ask for a personal contact you can reach out to or schedule a call with. There is often a specific person responsible for managing the field staff. These people are generally very busy, so be prepared for that call and tell them very quickly and specifically how you can sell products for them locally where you live. Make a short presentation or video showing them the specific ways you can impact their sales. Don’t just say I will get you lots of exposure with my jersey and social media. Rather than telling them how you will promote, tell them how you will sell their products. Be specific with what you expect in return, state that you would like to start with a discount to purchase products and hopefully move to some free product in the future with good performance. Get started with a brand and show them how much you can help them in your local area. Most anglers apply and don’t hear anything back, so they just stop or email another company. Some brands receive hundreds of this type application every single week. You will need to make yourself stand out to get noticed. Did you know some companies wait for people to apply or contact them multiple times before considering them to make sure they are serious about being part of the team? The best salesman often hears “no” several times before closing the deal, you should expect to hear “no” at first also. Many anglers simply email 20 companies in one night all with the same generic email with only the brand name changed. Many anglers will list their current sponsors on their application to a new company. Make sure your current sponsors do not have competing products to the company you are applying to. If you list a clothing company as a sponsor and are applying to another clothing company it will be an instant “red flag” to the new brand. The clothing brands may be in different markets or segments of the outdoor industry, but it will be an instant concern to the person reviewing the application, unless you fully explain the situation. If you are looking to switch from one company to another company with similar products, then you should sever ties with the current company rather than list them as a current sponsor hoping you can easily switch.
Get even more specific and tell them how you will impact sales at a local store with their products. At the same time, create a relationship with that local store and help them sell those products by offering to help at promotions or sport shows. Provide a local fishing report for the store and highlight products in that store that are catching fish locally including the brand you are wanting to promote. Send them fish pictures or short stories they can use on their website or social media that can help them provide content to their customers. Go a step further and find the local sales rep for that area. These sales reps will really support people that sell products in their areas. They often have direct input into what anglers are on the field staff for a brand. A good relationship with them will go a long way in helping you secure a sponsorship with a brand. A good recommendation from a local dealer and a company sales rep can secure many sponsorships for you. It can be very beneficial to you in the process if a dealer recommends you ahead of your application. If you don’t make it this year and you are passionate about the brand, don’t give up. Thank them for the consideration and tell them you would like to continue to help the brand with their permission in any way possible. Check back frequently and let them you are still interested in the brand and willing to help in any way. A common mistake many anglers often make in their applications when listing their social media accounts is that all their accounts are private, so the manager can not even view what you are posting. If you want to be sponsored your accounts are going to have to be public, one so managers can review your posting history and two, so they know you will have an influence on as large a group of people as possible.
Now that you got accepted by the brand make yourself stand out. Many people at this level, get accepted order their free product and barely talk with the brand the rest of the year. Set a regular communication level with the brand you are working with. Don’t wait a year to send them a summary when you are ready to order product again. If you want to advance communication is the key. No good brand is going to send a lot of product to an angler to start. They are going to expect them to earn it with proven performance. Drop them an email with an update on your activities on a regular schedule. Email them with reports from your area. What is selling well, what is not? Competitor brands or products that may be doing well. A quick picture from a store in that area showing the brand products. Show the brand specific ways you are creating sales in your area for their products. Schedule a training session at a local retailer to teach their staff about the brand’s products and send a report back to your contact or local sales rep with pictures.
Just fishing tournaments is no longer enough to get a brand’s attention. Today’s pro staff managers are looking for anglers that use social media or YouTube effectively. Start your social media or YouTube channel and make content that is interesting or useful. All brands care about social media, video and YouTube. If you are not good at those platforms personally, you can still provide value by being willing to supply lots of pictures and content that can be used on social media. With the capabilities of today’s modern phones, anyone can quickly take good pictures and videos and submit them to a brand in seconds.
Content. Every brand is looking for more content every day. Learn to take good pictures, make short videos, write blogs, make graphics or social posts with the brand products and send to them on a regular basis. If you want to advance to the next level where you could be considered for a paid position, you are going to have to stand out at this level as most anglers never get past here.
Communication and hard work are keys. Most anglers want to be paid a lot first and then claim they will do a lot to help a brand. Take the opposite approach to stand out by doing a lot first. Ask about marketing related projects you can help with. Many of these managers are busy and welcome help.
What skills do you have that would best help you stand out? If you have great speaking skills, look to do seminars. If you prefer social media offer to help companies with social media. Leverage your personal strengths to give you the best chance to reach your goals. Work hard at each level, be consistent and communicate more than you think you should. Continue to work on relationships with the local retailers, sales rep and company staff. When you reach the next level with a brand keep doing the same things and over deliver what you said you would do. The fishing industry is relatively small
One of the most successful television celebrities and decorated anglers of all time recently started a YouTube at age 70. Roland Martin has a television and tournament career that is unmatched, yet he recently started a YouTube channel to reach new audiences and match the way anglers now want to consume fishing information. It is never too late to start a new platform or adjust to the changing media landscape.
You also want to think about the size of the brand you are applying to when planning your sponsor list. A small company may have limited positions available and a limited budget for anglers. Keep that in mind as you apply and tell them specifically how you can help. You may also be dealing with the company owner in many cases, which provides a great chance to stand out quickly. In contrast, when applying to a large company they are probably receiving hundreds of applicants. While they may have larger marketing budgets there will also be many more people competing for those same positions, so making yourself stand out is even more important.
This ultimate guide to sponsorship will help you in the process of obtaining and keeping sponsors within the fishing industry and beyond. Utilize these core principles to define your sponsorship journey and help determine what areas of promotion you can best utilize to show potential sponsors your worth. While there are always exceptions to the rules, following this guide will certainly assist you along the way in your journey to obtain and maintain sponsors.