April 2, 2001 by Rob Newell
Patience, preparation and professionalism are what the sponsorship game is all about
"How long does it take to get a sponsor?" That is one of the most commonly asked questions in the tournament bass fishing business. One reason that the timing of sponsorships is such an issue is because there is not an industry standard in which sponsorship attainment is guaranteed.
Apprenticeships or intern periods, which put careers on tangible time tracks in other professions, are simply not applicable to the bass fishing industry. As a consequence, there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to the timing of landing sponsors.
Randy Blaukat, of Lamar, Mo., has been a successful professional angler for fifteen years. As a full-time professional angler, he boasts a credible fishing performance record and has been successful at soliciting solid sponsorships. However, Blaukat is quick to point out that there is far more to acquiring sponsors than calling up a company, telling them you are a great bass fisherman and collecting a check.
The Missouri pro attributes his sponsorship deals to three important factors: a belief in the product he is representing, a commitment to the fishing industry in general and plenty of patience. He says that an angler must think "long term" when it comes to courting sponsors. He has found that spending time pursuing a few companies that are interested in providing a long-term commitment to an angler works better than mass marketing to dozens of companies interested only in a short-term deals.
"The first thing I would tell anybody looking for sponsors is that it can be a cruel world," cautions Blaukat. "You have your work cut out for you when you are soliciting sponsors."
Blaukat admits that the quest for sponsorship is extremely competitive. Companies in the fishing industry get letters and phone calls from anglers looking for sponsors on a daily basis.
However, despite the intense competition, Blaukat contends there are ways to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
"I think many newcomers to the sport make the mistake of trying to mass market themselves to too many companies. And they want a deal today," says Blaukat. "The fishing industry is very leery of guys who just have their hand out for a deal."
Blaukat recommends a different marketing approach to anglers who are new to the sponsorship business.
"First and foremost, know a company's product and believe in it before you go knocking on the door. Many guys could not even tell you the product line of the company they are soliciting."
Proving that you know something about the product is the first thing that will help separate yourself from the others. Next, Blaukat advises anglers to send a company correspondence that only communicates who you are, not what you want.
"In the beginning you should simply let the company know who you are and what your intentions are in the fishing industry. Do not ask for anything," says Blaukat. "Over time, as you correspond with the company, prove to them your commitment, desire, and enthusiasm for the sport by reporting your progress. Get to know the local retailer who sells the product, the regional representative of the company, as well as the national people. Check in with all of these people on a monthly basis and let them know what you are doing."
"Hopefully, as you continue to cultivate the relationship, your fishing performance will improve," continues Blaukat. "Only after you know the product inside and out, have a solid relationship with the company, and have an improving fishing record, should you begin to ask about a money paying sponsorship."
How long does courting a sponsor take? "Realistically, you are looking at about five years," says Blaukat. "From my experience, that is how long it takes to develop a solid, sincere relationship with a company."
While a previous long-standing relationship with a company, or multiple national tournament victories will expedite the process, Blaukat says many anglers do not have those luxuries. They must start from square one, as he did.
"Five years may seem like a long time, but companies want a long-term commitment. They want a professional with staying power," he says. "For a fresh face, it takes at least that long to prove yourself."
As a final note of encouragement, Blaukat adds that the sponsors that are hardest to win over are usually the ones who stay with you the longest.
"There is somewhat of a proportional relationship between how long it takes to get a sponsor and how long the sponsorship lasts," he says. "The sponsors that take five to eight years to cultivate are the relationships that will last."
Rob Newell is a freelance outdoor writer from Tallahassee, Fla. He has been actively involved in tournament bass fishing and the professional bass fishing industry, both as participant and a writer, for more than 10 years. He currently fishes as a co-angler on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and contributes to OperationBass.com, Bass Fishing and other fishing publications.