Last week’s installment of “Ken’s Corner” was entitled “The Plight of the Bass Pro,” and it was written in response to a young bass tournament pro who posted a couple of videos on YouTube in which he expressed his frustration about the chasm between the role he wanted to play as a bass pro and the role that the industry demands of a sponsored angler.
In a nutshell, he wanted to catch fish and to be paid by sponsors for doing so. It seems he was taken by surprise to learn that being a sponsored angler is more about helping your sponsor sell product than it is about catching fish.
Now, I’m not sure how an aspiring tournament pro could have been so misguided, but he was, and he paid a price for sharing that shortcoming. Several of his sponsors terminated the relationship.
To his way of thinking, he was “fired for telling the truth.” I assure you that was not the case. He was fired for not doing the job he had been hired to do — promote and sell product.
Was it entirely his fault? Maybe not. Some of the blame may belong to his sponsors.
Whereas the young angler wasn’t doing the job, I’m willing to bet that his sponsors could have done more to explain what he was supposed to be doing. It’s the only way I can see things unraveling so badly that he ended up on YouTube taking careful aim at both feet.
I’ve spent a couple of decades working with tackle companies and their pro staff anglers. As a result of that experience, I feel more than just competent to talk about the relationship, and I can assure you that few companies get what they should out of their anglers. I can also assure you that anglers could get more out of sponsors if they had a better understanding of their role and how to accomplish it.
It’s frustrating, and to some meaningful degree it boils down to a basic misunderstanding that starts with terminology.
When an angler puts on a logo-laden jersey and steps into his $100,000 boat, he calls himself a “pro” and believes that “pro” stands for “professional” because he’s competing to win cash.
When a company signs that angler to a sponsorship contract, they very likely call him a “pro,” also, but in that case, “pro” stands for “promotional,” not “professional.” They are hiring the angler to promote their products or services and to drive sales.
If the company is on their game (many are not), they don’t care if the angler catches a lot of fish, wins a lot of tournaments, or has a big trophy case. That does not matter. As long as the angler moves the sales needle, he has job security because he’s doing exactly what he was hired to do.
A good “professional” angler wins tournaments, cashes checks, and has a huge trophy case.
A good “promotional” angler moves product.
A savvy company is looking for a strong “promotional” angler. If that company has a lot of money to spend on marketing, they can turn a talented “professional” angler’s competitive success into good marketing … but that’s expensive.
Let’s compartmentalize these anglers for a little more clarity.
In Quadrant I, we have the anglers who are great in competition and great in sales. They are superstars. They are household names. They win on the water and in the marketplace. We call them Bill Dance, Hank Parker, Kevin VanDam, Mike Iaconelli.
In Quadrant II, we have the anglers who are strong in competition but not in sales. They’re not good on camera. They don’t engage well with fans. They’re a solid choice for the promotional staff of big companies that know how to leverage their success and turn it into sales … but those relationships will only last as long as they are winning. When they stop winning, the sponsorships will dry up because they don’t move product without a trophy in their hands. I bet you can think of several anglers that fit into this quadrant. They were big stars a decade ago or more, but now they struggle to be competitive, and their biggest sponsor is their buddy’s taxidermy business.
In Quadrant III, we have the anglers who are lackluster tournament performers but who understand the industry and their role in it. They “get” it, and their efforts move product. They can stay in the industry just as long as they like because they do a great job for their sponsors, and they maintain those relationships like a marriage. If you can think of some anglers who have been around for decades without ever winning or qualifying for a lot of championships, you’ve spotted some of the people in this quadrant … either that, or they’re independently wealthy.
Finally, in Quadrant IV, we have the anglers who do not “catch ’em” and never have and who are too lazy or clueless to move the sales needle. These anglers are either independently wealthy or will soon be out of the game. It’s that simple.
After many years of informally advising companies regarding their pro staff strategies, recommending anglers who “get” it, and generally trying to elevate the “game” within our industry, I’m proud to say that these services and more are a part of what Fish Insider does.
For sponsoring companies and pro staff managers, we have the training, the consulting, the contracts, the coursework, and even the angler recommendations that will get you a lot more value out of your promotion dollar.
And if you’re a tournament pro looking for sponsorships, we have the savvy, training, and relationships you need to have a real career on the tournament trail.
If you’d like to learn more, reach out to me at email@example.com.