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The Business of Obtaining and Retaining Sponsorship 
By: Chad Morgenthaler

 If there was one question that I get asked as much as “What did you catch them on?” it’s, “How do I go about obtaining sponsors?”  That one question can lead into an hour conversation on sponsorship dos and don’ts. These days it’s the million dollar question from anglers who want to make a move to the next tournament level. Unfortunately trying to obtain sponsorship can be extremely intimidating and overwhelming, and unfortunately there isn’t just one magical answer. In my opinion I believe it’s a frame of mind, and all anglers looking for sponsorship need to view it as a business arrangement.  Always remember that nothing happens overnight, and building long standing relationships takes a lot of time and hard work.

The first thing any angler has to do before cold calling potential sponsors is achieve tournament success at least on the local level, or better yet a tournament trail.  Tournament success will assure one thing, press! It is vital that anglers striving to reach the next level understand the value of press. Get out there and make a name for yourself and work at making sure people know about you. Build relationships with your local sports writers.  Believe me, sponsors certainly understand the value of press and they want to know how much you receive.  Remember, the more you promote yourself, the more likely you are to catch a potential sponsor’s attention.

Networking is also a vital part of obtaining sponsors.  Join your local bass clubs and meet new people.  Volunteer to help your community or even a youth organization.  Brush up on your presentation skills and take the time to speak to groups or organizations about what you do.  Find a nitch for yourself and capitalize on it. It’s amazing the amount of people who know “somebody” who works for “company X” who could potentially help you make a connection. 

Once you’ve built a reputation and received some notoriety it’s time to start approaching sponsors.  I would start with your local marine dealership.  Most boat dealers sponsor fishing teams.  Research your local dealer and find out how to become part of their team.  Benefits vary from dealer to dealer, but as a member of their fishing team most offer a really good discount on a boat and motor.  Some even offer to pay entry fees for certain tournament trails. Needless to say, it’s also a great way to network.

I can’t stress this point enough; take the time and money to compile a great resume and business card.  At the very minimum it has to include the basics like what you’ve done and where you want to go.  Include your tournament trails, accomplishments, press and current sponsors.  Be for warned, you will be judged on the content and appearance of your resume. Be creative and make it stand out, sponsors will remember you when you call.  

The industry of sport fishing is huge and growing daily, so make a list of the companies you would like to represent. Find out everything you can about each business and practice what you want to say before placing a call.  Most businesses in the industry have a pro staff. Find out who’s on their staff and be prepared to answer questions regarding why they should include you. Be ready to give a testimony regarding their product and why you find it superior.  Tell them how you will help the company sell more rods, reels, or baits.  If they’re interested, they’ll always ask for your resume. 

Cold calling potential sponsors can be extremely frustrating.  Keep in mind that most of these companies receive hundreds of requests each month from anglers just like you wanting the same thing...sponsorship.  I’ve found that most companies are relatively small with few employees.  Usually the employees wear multiple hats, so the pro staff rep. is usually handling several duties.  Naturally you are not high on their priority list.  Be persistent but respectful, and always be considerate of their time.

Most businesses in the industry offer product only to their pro staff members.  Be prepared to start with product only. Remember, it takes a long time to build relationships and prove that you’re essential and have contributed to the company’s sales. It’s even hard at my level to move beyond product only and onto incentives and monthly retainers.  Each business has an advertising budget and a fiscal year to work within.  Find out this information for each sponsor you represent.  Once you’ve proven your worth, start working on presenting proposals for cash in addition to product.  

Obtaining and retain sponsors is a tremendous amount of work and is also a vital part of being a professional angler.  It takes time and ability to know the companies you’re working with in order to meet their marketing needs.  Over the years my opinion of sponsorship has changed.  I view myself as an enhancement to their current marketing plan and a representative of their company.  I make sure and stay in constant contact with the companies I represent though phone calls and quarterly reports.  I’m always professional and courteous.  I give suggestions on products and marketing strategies and I also make a great effort to educate other anglers on their products.  These are the tools that build long standing relationships.  When marketing dollars are low and a company is looking to cut pro staff, I want to make sure that I’m not one of the names on their list.  

Make sure and log onto my web site and register for my fan club.  E-newsletters are forwarded monthly and one lucky winner each month receives a prize.  Tournament summaries are posted after each tournament, and pro tips are updated every two weeks.  It’s a great source of bass fishing information.

A special “Thanks” to all of my sponsors: Jasper Engines and Transmissions, Yamaha Motors, Ranger Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Svanda GM Motor Group, Reaction Innovations, Maxima Line, Kistler Rods, Minn Kota, Plano , Nameoki Village Marine and Solar Bat.