Veteran Pro Versus Young Pro Fishing Sponsorship

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“Help me make sense of this,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “How is it that   B.A.S.S. and FLW sponsors keep recycling the same pros?”

At this point, I had yet to say a word. The person speaking (loudly) into my ear was doing all of the talking and didn’t appear willing to give up the floor. All I got in was, “What do you mean?” before the fusillade tore into me.

“I just saw that B.A.S.S. signed Diet Mountain Dew as a sponsor, and what do you know? Gerald Swindle’s mug is right there on the page. He’s now one of [Diet Mountain Dew’s] roster of athletes. Give me a break … Hear me out, I have nothing against Gerald personally, but why in the heck would a big sponsor like Diet Dew, who can have whoever they want, recycle him or any of these other guys, like Ike or Skeet, when they have their pick of quality young pros?”

Well, that’s quite a way to enjoy your lunch.

Needless to say, I went to and saw what the caller was making such a ruckus about. Diet Mountain Dew signed a one-year sponsorship for all B.A.S.S tournament circuits, which includes the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series, and Swindle was indeed listed as one of the Diet Dew pros.

I get it: marketable, well-liked, popular pro and good stick seems a good fit for a brand that is synonymous with the young, hip, in-crowd, whether they are skate boarders, bikers, surfers…or anglers. Say what you want about Swindle, he’s anything but stodgy, and by most folks’ standards, he’s, well, hip. Oh, and by the way, last time I checked, he’s good on the water, too, with 13 Classic appearances and more than $1.4 million dollars in winnings from B.A.S.S. alone.

But the caller wasn’t attacking Swindle’s prowess on the water. Neither, mind you, was he attacking Swindle personally. No, his complaint was “Why are these companies choosing established vets, who’ve had their time, over an up-and-comer?”

Ready for this? Because sponsors are smart. That’s why.

“Name me one up-and-comer who’ll give Diet Dew a better bang for their buck,” I shot back, tired of listening to the rant.

[Ed. note: I often get calls from folks who, whether to feel me out for information or because I have a willing ear, gossip or carry on more than they should about a company or pro. This call resonated because (a) it came from a industry person I’m not accustomed to hearing rant and (b) he was flat-out wrong.]

To be sure, this is not exactly what I told the person on the phone, but I’ll give you 3 reasons Diet Dew, or any sponsor for that matter, is wise to consider a vet like Swindle over some of the young guns.

The vets get it. Talk to a grizzled vet for any length of time, and you come away knowing one thing for sure: They know it’s not just about little green fish. They realize that sponsors’ commitments, being an ambassador for the sport and lengthening their career are paramount. They aren’t trying to wow you with their exploits on the water or convince you that they’re better than KVD.

In other words, they see the big picture, which means they know it’s not all about them. They have come to realize that if they can catch “˜em sometimes but are always good to the sport, to sponsors and to fans, karma is good to them. And they reap the rewards, as they should.

I remember asking Swindle, in 2009, what the response was from grizzled vets like Denny Brauer upon hearing the former signing a new sponsor. “You kidding me? Denny is great. He’s happy. He says, “˜Get it while you can. You earned it.'”

The youth need seasoning. I’ve yet to work with most of the latest crop of young anglers, but I’m frequently on the phone with their sponsors, and because of that I can safely attest to what I’m about the write: Many of them are not ready for the big time. Yeah, they can catch “˜em, but the little things are lacking.

Little things like honoring sponsors’ commitments; damning sponsors’ products in public. Let me be clear, I’m not saying all young pros engage in said behavior; I’m also not saying some vets don’t do the same things.

However, as the sponsor for one of the hottest young sticks recently said to me, “It’s like he just doesn’t get the business side of things. The fishing…he’s good there. But things like forgetting””or refusing””to talk about a lure is a problem. And when you’re in contention to win, and a   media member asks what you are using, you can’t say, “˜no comment’ … not when that’s the only chance you might have to help the company.”

I’ve heard this complaint often.

The arrogance is undeniable. I’m guessing I’m not alone here, but the level of arrogance emanating from some of the young, successful pros is beyond comprehension. I see that with my own eyes. I hear it with my own ears. In conversation, it’s all about how “I’m better than KVD”; “I’d have caught 25 pounds today, were it not for [put generic blame-anyone-but-me comment here]”; and “My sponsors need to step it up, or I’m not going to be with these guys next year.”

The one that always””always””gets me is the “I’m better than KVD” fiction. By what standard of measurement I wonder. But it’s nearly always said. The most worrying of all, though, is how some young pros totally look over providing any assistance to sponsors. I’ve heard them say, “I fish for a living. I don’t get paid to work shows.”

Oh, really. Read your contract, Einstein. The worst of all, and the one that I’ve personally been stung by is ignoring the chance to give a sponsor some publicity by refusing to return calls, even if the sponsor himself practically begs them.

I get it. They’re busy, right? Hmm… I’ve had Swindle call me, whispering, from a tree stand in Kansas; Skeet has returned my call on a Sunday, on the way to a World Series game; Pete Ponds has pulled himself away from actual work to listen to me ask dumb questions; and Mike McClelland has never let a voicemail go unanswered.

I can name several young pros who have yet to return more than a dozen calls and texts each, not including those from a (big-name) sponsor.

I, like most of you, would love to see the young pros get it together, as a whole, and take their career to the heights they envision. In the meantime, I’m happy Swindle, Ponds, Ike, Reese and McClelland won’t be making it easy for them any time soon.

Ronell Smith, whose blog can be found here, is widely considered a tackle expert and business insider for the sportfishing industry. Follow him on Twitter and FaceBook to learn more about the business side.


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