Conversations after a few pints of beer can often get interesting. I was down at White Acres a few weeks ago, and a load of us began discussing the all too contentious issue of sponsorship.
I can very much understand why people get heated about it. There are plenty of anglers out there who are awesome, catch loads of fish and win loads of matches who aren’t sponsored – and other anglers who win nothing, and generally catch very little who are sponsored.
But to my mind, it is here that the most common misconception about sponsorship lies. It isn’t just about how good you are, there is so much more to it than that.
I am in a very fortunate position in that I have seen the issue of sponsorship from three different persepectives in my life. In the last 10 years I was first an aspirant teenager, who would have given his left arm to be sponsored, then a fully sponsored angler, and then latterly an angling journalist who isn’t allowed to be sponsored.
I can well remember when I was at a wide-eyed youngster, who would drool at the thought of sponsorship. Looking back I was very misguided though. The biggest misconception that I had, and I think a lot of people have today, was that sponsorship is a status symbol, and that to be a sponsored angler would automatically make people respect me as an angler more. Now I realise that being a sponsored angler, and being a good and respected angler, don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
Soon I found myself writing a piece for the local paper, and to be fair I was getting a few half-decent match results, albeit on a very local level. I decided to approach Mosella and see if they would back me. Fortunately, Vic Bush agreed, and I was soon kitted out in new clothing, with shiny new luggage, with some nice new tackle to boot. To give credit where its due, Vic really looked after me, giving me everything for free, none of the ‘cheap tackle’ discount sponsorship that seems to be en vogue today.
But be in no doubt – I was given this deal because I wrote a two-page piece for the Angling Star every month, not because I was a ‘mover and a shaker’ on the match scene, as I would have liked to believe at the time. To give an honest appraisal of my angling ability back then? I was still on a very steep learning curve.
When I joined DHP to work on Pole Fishing magazine, my sponsorship had to come to an end, as quite rightly, journalists are expected to be impartial. What I didn’t realise though, is that I was effectively beginning the best sponsorship deal in the world – as working ‘in the trade’ you can get tackle from pretty much any company, provided of course that you don’t abuse the privilege.
All of a sudden, I started to get a different view on sponsorship though. I was now spending a lot of time talking to the very best anglers that the country has to offer, watching them fish, taking pictures of them and picking their brains. This made me realise two things. Firstly how terrible I was as an angler compared to the true stars of the sport – but secondly how poor some of the lesser sponsored anglers were, and sadly some of them were totally deluded about their own ability.
What I found even more laughable (and at times, frankly patronising) was just how brand obsessed some of these anglers were. They would go to great lengths to try and explain to me just how great their brands ‘wonder-bait’ or product is. This kind of conversation is generally followed with a feature request, that went something like this:
Them: Can I do a feature then Tom?
Me: What on mate?
Them: I don’t really know. Have you got any ideas?
Me: Shouldn’t you be the one coming up with the ideas?
Them: Maybe something on pellet fishing up to an island?
Me: It will have to be more interesting than that, we have done lots of features on that before.
Them: What about something on fishing maggots on the bottom?
Me: But what are you doing with regard to that method that’s different to everyone else?
Them: Nothing really.
Me: Well how is it going to be interesting to my readers then?
Them: I tell you what, I will have a think and get back to you…
And then you don’t normally hear from them again on the matter.
Of course, some of these guys are lovely, and some of the quirky methods that they come up with really interesting. I have shot some brilliant features with virtually unknown anglers. But you cant help but think that many of them are simply glory hunting, and would be much better directing their energy into improving their fishing.
One perspective that I have never had to take is that of a media manager at a tackle company. I would imagine that the way they look at things has changed significantly with the invent of social media, and anyone who pushes themselves in the right way on social media is a real commodity.
If I was in the shoes of a media manager, I would love anglers who write blogs, do regular status updates, and post pictures of my companies products online. Why wouldn’t you? The publicity these guys give you is worth its weight in gold.
Often, the sponsored anglers who haven’t got quite as much angling ability make up for it by being very proactive on social media, and so earn their keep that way. This is also the reason why a sponsorship deal , in some guise or other is very easy to come by if you are proactive in this way.
But be assured, the deals these guys get from the respective companies can be very modest. Often bait at trade, or a bit less than trade price is all the companies that they work so hard to promote offer in return.
The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if I was thrust back in time to being an earnest teenager with what I know now, I would definitely look at things very differently.
My honest advice to any up coming angler would be to concentrate on one thing and one thing alone – improving your angling ability and getting better at fishing.
Let the sponsors hunt you down, don’t go looking for them, as ultimately you could end up diverting a lot of energy into looking for something that isn’t worth that much to you.