Should You Sponsor Youth Fishing Teams?

How to extend your customer base with effective outreach to youth fishing teams and clubs.

Should You Sponsor Youth Fishing Teams?

It’s the best of times. It’s the worst of times.

Yes, with a nod to Charles Dickens, independent tackle dealers are living their own Tale of Two Cities amid today’s tumultuous retail backdrop.

Looming big box monoliths can make them feel small. Unseen online rivals put pressure on pricing and bedazzle customers with their range of product. Both are powerful forces siphoning sales you can’t afford to lose.

Still, retailers that walk to the rhythms of local fishermen have a distinct advantage over industry Goliaths.

The Human Connection

Tackle shops rooted with intimate connection to home waters and the angling community can feel like family to fishermen. Businesses buoyed by such connections survive the toughest times.

But how can you extend your “family?” Building loyalty one customer at a time is growth at a tortoise pace in today’s business environment. However, expanding your customer base with service and sales to other fishing families such as youth fishing teams and clubs can build awareness, loyalty and community links with ripple effects that reach anglers beyond.

What’s more, such organizations have mechanisms of communication that can help you spread the word on sales, product availability and special offers.

Here’s how three tackle retailers are nurturing their links to the angling community by extending these organizational connections.

Sponsoring youth anglers is one way to get your store’s name in front of potential customers. Having a discount table at the tournament weigh-in with the lake’s hottest lures also generates buzz among buyers.
Sponsoring youth anglers is one way to get your store’s name in front of potential customers. Having a discount table at the tournament weigh-in with the lake’s hottest lures also generates buzz among buyers.

Those Kids Are Our Future

Jerry Cox began selling bait to anglers in eastern Tennessee in 1974. He built that business steadily before setting up Jerry’s Bait Shop at his current location in Rockwood in 1992.

Cox views his support of local fishing teams an investment, one that pays dividends now and, even more importantly, for generations to come.

“We do support our fishing team out of Kingston, Tennessee,” Cox said with pride. Members of that Roane County High School bass team receive percentage discounts off of all tackle purchases.

“We also give extra help to some kids with sponsorship and tackle discounts as they travel to tournaments state to state,” Cox said. “We help cover travel expenses.”

Jerry’s Bait Shop is the often center of tournament activity on nearby Watts Bar Lake. “We support local Wildcat tournaments and BFL events,” Cox said. “The Morristown Marine tournament (at Watts Bar) draws 300 boats, and the event sets up at our store. We provide complimentary drinks, pizza and coffee for tournament anglers and allow the organizations to set up and sign up here. When weather is bad, our shop gives them a dry warm place off the water.”

“Any Wildcat who comes in and says he is holding a tournament gets four $25 gift cards to use at a drawing after the event,” said Cox’s wife, Donna. “We stay in contact with all the tournament heads and follow them on social media as well.”

Cox’s bait shop hosts some tournaments directly and helps with high school tournaments in Dayton and Kingston. It handles registration fees for the Watts Bar Open at the store during the week, and serves refreshments during that event.

High school bass team members take frequent advantage of the 10 percent discount the shop offers them. Cox enjoys the satisfaction of helping young anglers succeed and has confidence he is grooming customers for years, even generations, to come.

“It helps the store, sure,” he said. “But those kids are our future. We have to stay on top of our game to compete with the big box stores. This is one way we do it.”

Club Clout

Mike Smith’s father, Dick, established not just a family business but a Wisconsin institution when he founded Dick Smith’s Live Bait & Tackle in Delafield. The grinning face painted on the barn-like storefront sets a tone of friendliness and “come on in” welcome.

“We sponsor organizations like Walleyes for Tomorrow, Wisconsin Alliance of Bass Tournament Anglers (WABTA) clubs, local high school teams, ice fishing teams and others in our area,” said Mike Smith.

Smith has no formal requirements for clubs and teams, and his guidelines are loose and flexible. “Basically, if they support us on social media and persevere in the fishing ranks, we’ll work with them,” he said.

Dick Smith’s Live Bait & Tackle sits within a short radius of varied multi-species waters that includes Lake Michigan and an abundance of fertile lakes and streams in southeastern Wisconsin. The clubs and teams the shop works with range as widely as the shop’s product offerings, which span bass and walleye tackle, panfish gear, Lake Michigan trout and salmon tackle and more.

Support reaches beyond angler clubs and teams, too. Smith is proud of the store’s work with the Pewaukee chapter of Walleyes for Tomorrow, a project-oriented organization committed to boosting walleye populations in waters with suitable habitat projects underway. The store’s support has assisted with Pewaukee Lake walleye stocking efforts.

“Pewaukee Lake’s walleye population has definitely expanded,” Smith said.

Straight discounts are the norm for club affiliates. Members of fishing clubs such as the Okauchee Fishing Club and local Walleyes Unlimited chapter get 10 percent off bait and tackle purchases. Smith also supports a pro staff that includes both local sticks and pros of national renown such as Eric Haataja.

“We have to be selective with the guys we choose to work with,” said Smith, who offers pro staff members 15 percent off on tackle and 25 percent off on live bait along with some complimentary clothing and hats representing the store. “Everyone wants to be a pro staff member, so it can be frustrating.”

The return to the store is difficult to measure, but the tackle shop does get broad exposure through cascading posts on social media.

Smith has instituted a store club membership program to boost customer loyalty, too. “A $10 discount card gives members 10 percent off bait and tackle purchases,” Smith said.

Tournament organizations require anglers to wear jerseys during competitions, increasing exposure for sponsors and supporters while maintaining a uniform appearance.
Tournament organizations require anglers to wear jerseys during competitions, increasing exposure for sponsors and supporters while maintaining a uniform appearance.

Paying It Forward

At Lake Fork Trophy Bait & Tackle in Emory, Texas, Ronnie and Anne Parker run not only their tackle shop on the trophy bass fishery of the same name, but a tackle-making arm offering hard baits, terminal tackle, fishing line and soft-plastic lures as well. Both businesses benefit from the reach and good will of team affiliation.

Lake Fork’s double-digit bass draw anglers from across America and around the world. The Parkers’ companies maintain comparable outreach, sponsoring high school and college bass fishing teams across the country. Its college connection includes bass teams at Penn State, Purdue, Virginia Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State University and more.

“We will sponsor any high school or college team if members will wear our logo,” Anne said. “Working with teams is a very good connection. The people we support are our future. We get to ‘pay it forward,’ helping them with deep discounts on tackle. And when they wear our logo, our name brand gets around.”

The Parkers sometimes support tournaments outside the Lake Fork area. Anne cites sponsorship of a recent Indiana Slab Masters crappie tournament.

The Parkers have added a “club” dimension all their own as well, playing off the lure-pack membership model. Their Hooked Up Fishing monthly subscription lure program provides a kit of lures, hooks and other tackle for a monthly fee. Select lures are drawn from the Lake Fork Trophy Lures catalog along with lures from some of their other vendor partners.

“Each month we send members a hardbait, three full packs of plastic lures and Hayabusa hooks matched to those lures,” Anne said. “We make our own lures on site, so we can give members much better value with our kits. Other monthly membership programs can’t make the margins that we can.”

School team sponsorships deliver particular satisfaction. Anne references two teens who posted a victory in national competition using Lake Fork swimbaits behind bladed jigs.

“Working with the teams has been a very positive experience, one that’s been well worth our effort,” she said. “Fishing is expensive. We know that. If we can help, we will. And if we can get high school and college guys to use our product, chances are good they will continue to use our products after they are out of school.”

Sidebar: How to Locate Bass Teams and Clubs

  • Bass Resource (www.bassresource.com) provides an extensive online club catalog, offering a mix of Bassmaster (B.A.S.S. Nation) club affiliates, FLW (The Bass Federation/TBF) club affiliates, and independent bass club links.
  • B.A.S.S. Nation — The Bassmaster website (www.bassmaster.com) is a convenient resource for contacting the state presidents of the B.A.S.S. Nation clubs. Many states host Team Series tournaments, high school events and even Jr. Bassmaster events for young anglers. 
  • The Bass Federation (TBF) — Learn about the Federation’s events, state presidents, latest news and more at its site (www.bassfederation.com).


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