UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Smith Mountain Lake

Approaching Sponsorship and a Career in Fishing

Approaching Sponsorship and a Career in Fishing
Eric Jackson

Eric Jackson

(The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.)


Most bass fishing professionals have many times the tournament experience that I do. However, I have 30 years of experience at supporting myself in professional kayaking – a sport where prize money can’t pay the expenses of participating, so sponsorship, instruction and other methods of earning money through kayaking are required to survive.

My knowledge, skills and confidence in working with sponsors and generally being able to support my young family and myself was not something that came easily to me. I had to learn the hard way without helpful advice and by going from one failure to the next over many years. 

There was no such thing as a professional kayaker when I was trying to be one. Kayaking events didn’t have much media coverage, and there weren’t really any athletes with any sponsors at the time. When I got started I lived at poverty levels, was evicted out of most of my rentals, saw every car I bought with a loan be repossessed, and had to hock camping equipment and other gear to buy diapers and baby food for my young daughter more than once.    

Times have changed, however, as my desire to kayak full time and my ability to support my family through kayaking increased, and my results increased with them. I have represented some of the biggest consumer brands through my kayaking, and over the years there have been many major brands that have helped me learn the ropes – and learn to represent them in a way that assured that each year it got easier.

What I am about to share below, I would have given my right hand to know 30 years ago. I hope you can put some or all of this information to good use for your own career. Now, running Jackson Kayak, I use sponsored team members to market our products worldwide, so I understand the sponsorship game from both sides of the coin.

 

Be authentic, be yourself, be nice

First off, there is only one person you can act like and be 100 percent of the time, and that is you. Everyone is special in his or her own way and is likable, as long as you’re not concerned about trying to get others to like you by trying to be cool. If you are like many people who try to act a certain way in public, rethink that idea and try acting the same way you would when you are the most comfortable at home with your family and closest friends.   

In the long run if you are not being nice, helpful and caring toward others you will struggle to get anyone to support you unless you are so dominant on the water that you can afford to be a jerk. And even then you are giving up lots of opportunities.   

Humans are conformists, and tournament bass fishermen are an example of that. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is something you better come to terms with if you want to be marketable. If you try to blend in, versus being unique, you hurt your chances of success. Trying to stick out for the sake of sticking out isn’t required, but you would be surprised at how much time you spend trying not to stick out. If you do things differently people will notice, including sponsors, but only if your own way makes sense and isn’t fake.

For example, I come from a different sport, different lifestyle and have years of being myself under my belt. For lack of a better way to put it, I am weird by many people’s standard. Before I entered my first FLW tournament as a co-angler, I looked online and saw that everyone was wearing what I called NASCAR-style jerseys and ball caps. I didn’t know anyone by face, so in every photo I saw of a group of fishermen that looked like they were all the same, and I only could tell the difference by the sponsors on their jerseys.

That is why I decided to create my own brand and look. I am a big fan of Dickies clothing and wanted to have one piece of clothing for fishing that I throw on in the morning and don’t have to think about again. I chose red Dickies coveralls and a Stetson hat. Though my outfit might look odd to some, I was creating my own brand and look – and that is something many sponsors look for.

Two years ago at the FLW Tour season opener at Toho I was known as “the guy in the red jumpsuit.” By the end of the season I was “the kayak guy … you know, the guy in the red jumpsuit.” For better or worse, everyone – including all of the FLW sponsors – knew me right away, and it wasn’t because I won anything. Being unique in some way is one key to success in the long term. It is up to you to come to terms with your uniqueness, which starts with not trying so hard to be like everyone else, and not copying what everyone else is doing – unless it really makes sense.

 

You are not trying to be sponsored, you are asking for a job    

Very few brands are willing to give you money just to sport their logo and say good things about them. Brands need certain deliverables to market their products effectively, and you have the skills to provide some or all of those. Your success in this arena is directly proportional to the variety and quality of deliverables you can provide. If you can’t provide anything of value to a brand, you can’t expect to get anything of value, period.

Everyone has something to offer, but you must both know what that is and find a way to quantify it. There is value in work, and work comes in many forms. It takes work to logo your gear with a sponsor’s name, but the real work comes in how you will help the company beyond that. If you know all the details about your boat, motor, electronics, tackle or other products and love to talk about them then you can help sponsors by working shows. Boat shows, expos, and other consumer or dealer gatherings are great ways to help promote sponsors and your personal brand. And if speaking isn’t your thing, then never pass up an opportunity to write an article or blog for any publication or website that asks.

Another thing to consider is developing your own audience, as your audience is something of great value to any sponsor. There are many ways to do this. Social media is one of the biggest avenues. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the current key ones, but Periscope, Snapchat and others might become more critical in the future. 

You do not have to be working social media to be a sponsored fisherman, but if you are inclined to do so it is a great asset. I am not the biggest guy on any of these platforms, but I have learned how to keep my audience growing and heavily engaged. This isn’t where I will teach you what I know about social media, but I will share a few things I’ve learned from being in the industry.

  • Post regularly – one time per day at a minimum – and try to post at the same time each day.
  • Best times to post are usually the morning when people get to work, at lunch or near the end of the workday.
  • Always post a photo or video. You can recycle relevant photos, but a post with no photo is like a lure with no hook. Don’t bother.  
  • Tag appropriate sponsors, but don’t overdo it.    
  • Don’t brag, be authentic, be nice and don’t be political unless that is more important than being a professional fisherman. Never assume your potential sponsors are aligned with your political affiliations. 

 

Don’t try to force a square peg in a round hole

Select your target sponsors, and know what kind of sponsor you want. Trying to align with a company that doesn’t match who you are isn’t good for you or the company. Forcing a sponsorship deal for the sake of a sponsorship usually results in poor representation, and that in turn could make it harder to get another sponsor later on.

  • Choose the products that you are really excited about and use them. Show that you can put them to good use, that you can talk about them well and that you can add value to those brands. 
  • Choose companies that are comfortable marketing the way you do. If you are strong at shows, talking face-to-face to customers, then you will do best to approach brands that attend boat shows, tournament expos and other customer-facing events. If creating your own marketing content is what you excel at, then brands that don’t attend these events, but want a way to reach the customers directly, would benefit from you.
  • Waiting for the right sponsor is better than just getting any sponsor. Remember that most partnerships won’t start with a big check. There will be a period where you will get to know each other. It is better to wait for the right partner so you can move from dating to marriage. You don’t want to get stuck in a circle of short relationships that never amount to anything.       

 

Have lots of irons in the fire

Timing is everything, and your timing and their timing are rarely the same. Having open conversations with as many different appropriate brands as possible (of different categories) is important if you want to close any deals on your schedule. If you have 10 conversations going, five will keep pushing you off because the timing isn’t right, three will say no, two might close but only one might be very helpful for your budget. If you have only five conversations going you might not get that one good one. Finding 10 appropriate brands worth talking to isn’t easy, and it will often feel like a long, hard road with no light at the end of the tunnel. Be positive and stay persistent and the right things will follow. Never be deterred by hearing the word no.     

I consider being a tournament fisherman to be a worthy purpose, just like being a competitive kayaker has been for the past 30 years. I am happy and successful by pursuing my worthy purpose. The outward trimmings of success (winnings, sponsors, fame) may or may not come later. We’ll see, but I am betting on it. Either way, playing the game brings me happiness, and that constitutes success.   

If you are playing the game you really want to play, it doesn’t matter how successful you are on paper today. You are successful because you have taken the leap and are doing what few others are willing to do because they are afraid.     

See you on the water!

Tags: eric-jackson  blog 

Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, Decisions

Coming into the final Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament event on Lake Erie there were so many things riding on it. Obviously, it was a chance to make a paycheck, but more importantly it was the last chance to earn enough points to qualify for the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota. READ MORE »

Encouraging Youth Fishing

Encouraging Youth Fishing

Not long ago, with support from many sponsors, I had a blast hosting a very successful first-annual Youth Fishing Derby at Green Lane Park in Pennsylvania. READ MORE »

My Mississippi River Game Plan  

My Mississippi River Game Plan  

My plan going into the Mississippi River event is pretty simple. I’m going to have four rods on the deck of my boat: Two flipping sticks and two frog rods. In my experience in western Wisconsin, that’s what will work the best for me to get big bites. READ MORE »

Guiding and Mentoring

Guiding and Mentoring

Now that we are back on track with fishing, and hopefully developing some normalcy to our lives again, I am excited to keep going with what I started talking about at the beginning of the year – mentorship of young anglers. READ MORE »

Super Tournaments: Super Fun and Super Competitive

Super Tournaments: Super Fun and Super Competitive

There’s a big change coming to the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, and I’m really excited to be a part of it. READ MORE »

Fishing with Confidence

Fishing with Confidence

This year, I’ve chosen to home in on trusting my gut, even with tough practices. I’m happy to share that I rarely have a practice that’s worth writing home about. It’s just the way it goes, and I’ve learned to not let the discouragement affect the tournament. READ MORE »

Renewed Excitement for Super Tournaments

Renewed Excitement for Super Tournaments

Like everyone else, I had concerns about when we would be able to resume our 2020 season on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit. Probably a bigger concern was what the rest of the season would look like. READ MORE »

Why I’m Excited to be Back with FLW

Why I’m Excited to be Back with FLW

This year has been an interesting one, to say the least. For the first time in my pro career, I’ve been home for much of the spring, and while it was great to fish local waters and get some projects done around the house, I’m ready to get back to fishing tournaments. READ MORE »

Big Changes for the Pro Circuit

Big Changes for the Pro Circuit

Recently announced changes to the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit have me extremely excited to get the season back under way. Specifically, a good number of the Major League Fishing anglers will be fishing the remaining three Pro Circuit Super Tournament events with increased payouts. This makes these truly the most lucrative five-fish-limit events in the country, with potentially half of the tournament field being paid $10,000 or more. READ MORE »

My Line-Thru Addiction

My Line-Thru Addiction

Pollen is in the air, on the water and covers my boat on a daily basis. When this happens, it means one thing to me – the bass are on the bed. Now, most people are all giddy about sight-fishing, but that’s not my deal. I can count on two hands how many fish I’ve caught truly sight-fishing. What comes to my mind during this time is swimbait fishing, but more specifically, one kind of swimbait in particular – a line-thru swimbait. READ MORE »

Making the Most of Quarantine

Making the Most of Quarantine

At the beginning of this year I was excited about the opportunity to fish the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit and the Bassmaster Elite Series. I was most excited about fishing the spawn in March and April on some of my favorite lakes. When the schedules for both circuits were first released I was feeling very confident about doing some sight-fishing on Santee Cooper, Eufaula and Lake Hartwell. READ MORE »

The Real Reason I love Spring

The Real Reason I love Spring

Fishing for a living is awesome, but when spring comes it can be tough. April is always a busy month for tournaments – and the fishing is usually fantastic – but I really love to turkey hunt and tournaments can put a damper on that. READ MORE »

A Silver Lining

A Silver Lining

From spending some quality time with my wife, Katie, and my dog, Doppler, to organizing my life and fun fishing, there are numerous ways that I have been able to take advantage of our current social responsibility to participate in “social distancing.” READ MORE »

Encouraging the Next Generation

Encouraging the Next Generation

Growing up in the city of Chicago, I didn’t have the outlet to the outdoors that a lot of our youth enjoy while growing up. It often takes hours to travel out of the city due to traffic, and there were no lakes within walking distance from my house. So it’s not like I could swing by the pond after school. READ MORE »

Picking out a New Favorite Rod

Picking out a New Favorite Rod

When selecting a new rod, I consider several elements: action, power, length and components.  Different rods will fit the role, depending on the type of lure, cover and fish species you are targeting. READ MORE »

Always Go Down Swinging

Always Go Down Swinging

Greg Bohannan's late father, Kenny, taught his sons to never take a third strike looking. "If you take the pitch and don't swing, you never give yourself a chance," he'd say. With that lesson in mind, Greg took his cuts at Lake Martin and gave himself a shot to win. Even though it didn't work out, he knows that at least he went down swinging. READ MORE »

How to Catch Your New PB

How to Catch Your New PB

Out of the five biggest fish I have caught in my life, four have come on a ChatterBait, including my personal best – a 9-pounder I caught this year on Sam Rayburn during the first Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit event. READ MORE »

Why You Should Reel with Both Hands

Why You Should Reel with Both Hands

Without a doubt, during a tournament day I always get a question from my Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Marshal about why I have both left- and right-handed Abu Garcia baitcast reels. I get comments about the same thing from multiple social media followers if I post a picture that shows my reels. The remarks originally surprised me, but not any longer because of how frequently I see them. READ MORE »

Carrying Momentum into Florida

Carrying Momentum into Florida

Despite the solid start to the year, and the confidence that comes with overcoming adversity, Miles Burghoff knows very well how a good start to a season can either create positive momentum, or open the door to complacency, which often can result in a loss of motivation and focus. With the Harris Chain event kicking off this week, he's determined to keep that focus and motivation. READ MORE »

New Year, Same Feel

New Year, Same Feel

Ending 2019 on a bad note wasn’t how I pictured last season going. I was in contention to qualify for the FLW Cup going into the last FLW Tour event on Lake Champlain, but after coming in 97th at the finale I finished the season 51st in the Angler of the Year points and missed my chance for the Cup. Not going to lie, it stung a little bit and made for a LONG drive home, but it also made me hungry for 2020. READ MORE »