I recently completed an article for In-Fisherman that will appear this spring in that magazine's annual Bass Guide. Most of you diehard bass geeks are sure to be familiar with "the Guide," as it introduces new products and, more importantly, delves into the minds of the obsessed. That’s always been my favorite part.
Sometimes it’s a big-bass specialist from California, other times an ice-water smallie guru from the far North. I’ve even contributed to a few stories over the years, usually centering on my refinements for fishing big water.
In any case, this time they’ve given me an assignment I couldn’t be more enthused about. Considering the growing popularity of the business of bass fishing, I was assigned to further investigate sponsorships for the In-Fisherman piece.
In the article, I disclose information on the multiple angles of pro bass sponsorships, including tournament trail packages, pro angler endorsements, even TV contracts. I interviewed Kathy Fennel from FLW, numerous touring pros, and television bass superhero Mark Zona. Each had their own unique insight.
One story that really got my attention, though, was that of Bassmaster Elite Series angler Randy Howell and his unique relationship with major sponsor King’s Home. While I touch on his relationship in the upcoming article, I thought I’d get a little more intricate here, in the home of the hardcore.
To bring everyone up to speed, Howell’s boat wrap/title sponsor is King’s Home. This charitable group operates 19 Christ-centered therapeutic group homes and independent-living facilities in three counties in Alabama. Its purpose is to provide help and hope for women and children who are victims of abuse, neglect, abandonment and homelessness.
Many of you who know Randy, or know of him, can easily understand why this type of operation would interest him, as he’s a real down-to-earth, faith-based person who seems to give everyone around him the same genuine feel. He’s one of bass fishing’s good guys.
And it was for that reason that Howell discovered King’s Home. When a planned “visit with the pros” day went awry due to tournament sponsor conflicts (evidently there was a problem with bass pros helping out the wrong charity), Randy went ahead and offered to help King’s Home on his own. A relationship began.
Over time, Howell dedicated more time to King’s Home, and the group soon expressed its interest to have Randy represent them nationwide on the Bassmaster trail. Just like any other large company, these organizations have dedicated marketing and advertising dollars. Perhaps, however, they choose their advertising mediums a little more carefully than, say, a giant corporation that throws millions at the first trendy characters on YouTube or TMZ. Either way, King’s Home chose Randy.
When I began pressing him on the inside details of his contract, Randy didn’t even want to term it a “sponsorship." Instead, he felt like it was a mutual relationship, from what I could tell. I found that very interesting. He mentioned that it was always a dream of his to make a difference in people's lives, and this allowed him to do so.
It’s interesting to note that, in many cases, I’ve seen the most rewarding sponsorships (both financially and personally) come as a result of an angler simply working with a partner whom he never intended to approach as a sponsor.
The crowning jewel of the Howell/King’s Home program is the publicized boat raffle of Howell’s tournament rig. Since learning more of this program, I was surprised to hear of a few other pros who have looked into a similar path. Howell’s sponsorship has not gone unnoticed by many of his peers, and evidently many are looking into the details of his program as a template for their own.
To sum it all up, Howell’s boat is auctioned off through a raffle, where participants pay $100 per ticket and have about a 1-in-1,000 chance of winning. If that sounds like pretty good odds to win a $70,000 rig, you’re right; it is. Heck, I bought a ticket to this year’s auction, but was, again, sadly defeated.
Last year, tickets were sold in 46 states. As the program grows in popularity, ticket sales are sure to reach higher levels. Oh, and did I mention that the tickets are tax deductible?
Now when you do the math, as I have, it’s easy to see that this program is generating six-figure income for the organization. I never quizzed Randy on the details behind purchasing the boat, but I’d say it’s safe to assume that the price is negotiated with the boat and motor companies, as they also receive considerable recognition.
But this is where things get interesting, by my standards.
Numerous touring pros I spoke with were so frustrated by the apparent lack of current support by major manufacturers, most notably producers of big-ticket items like boat and motor builders, they are considering ways to simply “buy their boats off the lot." In other words, these pros feel the time and energy spent gaining exposure for certain brands is not being matched by their return. A few also mentioned that the logo requirements for these sponsorships alone are hard to handle, as they often require sizable jersey space.
A few mentioned programs similar to Randy’s as an alternative. Imagine NASCAR drivers buying their own cars …
These pros argue that they can generate more exposure, and thus generate more income, from non-endemic sponsors than they can from many large companies on the inside. When asked of his pursuit of a sponsor outside of the circle, Howell himself admitted that many fishing industry companies are simply “tapped out." Perhaps the fishing companies are merely too accustomed to getting cheap labor.
As time goes on, we’re sure to see more “grumblings” of a general decrease in support. But for now, maybe Howell is onto something. While I’m sure neither he nor his sponsor are excited to have competitors in this space, their intended goal of an increase in exposure is certainly working. I had never heard of King’s Home a few years ago – now I’m surfing its website learning more and donating a few bucks each year to try to win a boat. I’ve got buddies who entered the drawing, and they don’t even fish.
It will be interesting to see if this trend expands. As bass professionals continue to come up with ways to keep the dream alive, the sky’s the limit. Pros bring a lot of exposure to their supporting brands; it’s good to see one of those brands be an organization giving hope to those who have to worry about things far greater than catching fish.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)