Sponsorship Deals: The Missing Years
I know it's a result of my own quirkiness, but the sponsorship shirts of professional anglers annoy me. Why? Each year, they change like the wind and there's very little consistency. This year Angler X has one hardbait company as a sponsor. The next year he's sponsored by the company's chief rival.
Did he want to be with the second company all along? Or was it a straight economic decision? Likely the latter, but seeing him change so soon has to make some consumers wonder.
My annoyance likely arises out of the knowledge that, unlike just about any other sport, viewers can actually participate in ours. Viewers can fish the same waters with the same equipment. And while I don't think a pro's shirts greatly impacts consumer buying behavior, consumers do notice. And most important, rapid change waters down the message – from the sponsor's perspective.
No one can begrudge an angler for making a decision to switch sponsors for more money. Heck, today, when products are so close in quality, action and price, it's perfectly rational to switch things up, though maybe not from one year to the next. But if I'm a sponsor paying these anglers to represent my products as the best there is, am I really getting my money's worth?
Let's take a closer look.
Say a pro spends several years fishing a company's lures, during which time he appears at sportshows, conducts interviews and films videos – all the time saying the product is the best as compared to others on the market. In time, the pro could become synonymous with the brand and the product itself.
The following year, though, he's not happy with his contract, so he walks when the company refuses to pay up. Months later, he has a competing company's logo on his new tournament shirt, and he's telling everyone how great the new sponsor's products are in relation to his previous sponsor's products. What gives?
Some might fault the angler. I don't. I fault the former company for not protecting itself better. In my opinion, the smart thing for any company to do is sign a multiyear contract instead of those year-to-year deals so common now. That way, when or if a pro does leave, the company: 1. Enjoyed a level of promotional success that covered more than one season, and 2. Allows the parting to appear as something more than simple finances (i.e. insulates the sponsor).
I thought it was just me, at first, who found this whole process odd. But at the Bassmaster Classic in Shreveport a few months back, I had a lengthy conversation with a longtime pro-staff manager who (as in the past) signed some of the biggest names on the tournament trail to sponsorship deals.
While discussing Chris Lane's victory, he offered this up, unprompted, without ever having heard my opinion.
"These guys and their tournament shirts," he said. "They're doing nothing to promote loyalty when they change sponsors from year to year. I get it. I get why. But it's the sponsor's fault. I wouldn't sign a pro to anything less than a 5-year deal. That way, folks are going to associate my brand with loyal anglers, and if the angler does move on, we've both benefitted from the process and I don't look like someone who lost a pro after 1 year to someone who has better products."
Without knowing it, he took the words out of my mouth.