FLW-Walleye Tour

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Survivor Man

By Dave LandahlESPNOutdoors.com

In this time of economic strife and confusion, it's not surprising that many tournament anglers at all levels are dropping out or lessening their involvement with our sport. In particular, the anglers who fish pro level walleye circuits, and have been attempting to make a living at the sport, are dropping out faster than Oprah changes diets.

Courtesy WalleyeCentral.com/Julia DavisWalleye pro Eric Olson So how does anybody survive in this dog-eat-dog world of professional tournament fishing? Well, the reality is that few do. However, in the world of pro walleye fishing, there is one guy who keeps the sponsor train rolling, Eric Olson.

Olson fishes the FLW Walleye Tour, the premier professional tour in the world of walleye fishing. Sure, payouts have dropped terribly in pro walleye fishing, but Olson continues to chug along and not focus on the payouts. Instead he focuses on the promotional side of the game.

Olson has not won a major pro-am event, but he is a former team tournament championship winner at the MWC (Masters Walleye Circuit). He works for Evinrude, so he is heavily tied into the sport both on the participant and manufacturer sides.
To understand how this angler keeps the money train rolling, you need to know where he came from.

"I know it's hard to believe," Olson said, "but skiing is what led me into competitive fishing.
"I wanted to be the best at it. I eventually started in Blizzard ski school, started racing, joined the high srace team and was sponsored by several ski companies and ended up working as a rep in the ski industry for a while.

"I was teaching skiing, going to college, coaching high school racing, USSA Racing, ski patrolling, plus more and was still sponsored, as I was doing a pretty good job at helping promote the products that I used
"I think this is where I kind 'figured out' the sponsor thing; under-promise and over-deliver and companies will want you around. Promoting and selling something you have a passion for really doesn't feel like a job at all."

Passion isn't the only thing keeping Olson alive in the ever-shrinking pro walleye field.
"I love the sport and most everything involved with it," Olson said. "It's always changing, never boring. I'm a people person, so I really get to talk to and meet great people that share the passion of fishing, boating and the outdoors.

"I'm fortunate to have a job within the industry with Evinrude. They afford me the opportunity to pursue my sport, as well as contribute my knowledge to the brand that's been around for over a hundred years. Heck, I was on my dad's lap driving an Evinrude when I was 4 years old, so it's kind of destiny really."

According to Olson, the industry is in trouble, but the future of tournament fishing is still bright, just temporarily dimmed.

"Right now I think the endemics are tapped out for the most part," he said. "The recreational marine/fishing business has taken a pretty solid hit and although it's coming back slowly, it's not really a bright spot to consider for sponsorships right now other than some product.
"To start, you have to look at what you're willing to do for a sponsor, provide fishing trips, appearances, speaking engagements, shows, open houses, etc. In most cases if you say, 'I don't have time to do any of that,' then you may want to scale back the dreams of the Pot-O'-Gold sponsors, since commitment is the key to getting a sponsor."

Olson feels the potential sponsor also wants to know about you, the person they're letting represent them in the field. Do you know about their products, their history, their needs, and do you see ways that they may not in which you can help them?

"Why would a company want to sponsor anyone?" Olson said. "To pay you money or give you discounted or free product? No. Maybe it's because you're a nice guy? No. Maybe they see an opportunity to sell more product and you can help them get exposure and extend their reach to another market? Yes."

Olson says there are three S's of sponsorship, what they really want.
"Sell more product, sell more product, and sell more product," he said. "I remember when I was a pro staff director for a marine products company and an angler called me looking for a sponsorship (free product). I never talked to the guy, never saw a resume, nothing. I told him I could work with him on a discount, as he was fishing a national circuit, but he had never been with our company before and that's the way we started with guys. At that point he said, 'If I don't get the product for free, I won't say anything good about it.' Guess who didn't get a sponsorship?"

Will the tournament walleye world survive?
"I feel the state of competitive walleye fishing right now is more of a state of mind than anything else," he said. "It's tough with lower paybacks, no full fields, and really tough decisions to make as far as what to fish and how much to fish.

"The funny thing is I hear anglers bitching about the payouts and 'why aren't we getting what we used to' and 'this sucks, we should be getting more.' Well the unfortunate thing about the comments is that most anglers aren't looking at the base businesses that support the tournament business such as marine, boat and motor companies.

"Has anyone read or watched the news lately? These businesses have taken as much as 60 percent cuts in sales. Doesn't that mean we are going to take a hit as well? Of course we are. Are tournaments over and done for? Not a chance. Will they be reduced or scaled back? Yes, they have to be. Taking time off work is a tough decision alone, not to mention laying out thousands of dollars for an entry fee and costs to compete.

"We need to understand several things; the number of anglers looking at a full-time career in walleye fishing alone is minute and right now, shrinking. The amount of money it takes to play the game compounds the stress it places on those same families or folks that tourney fished as a part-time job. That said, we need to address and keep the anglers that can afford the time and money to fish, but also look at the folks that want to fish competitively, but either can't afford the time or the money it has cost in the past.

"Let's face it, its time to circle the wagons and hang on until things come back around. Does that mean we'll lose some anglers? We already have. Does it mean that there aren't people wanting to start tourney angling? No. There are always some new guys wanting to throw their hat in the ring and see if they can compete with the anglers they've watched on TV or seen in magazines. We as anglers need to be aware of the fact that payouts will be down, it's the economy. Numbers will be down, it's the job market. Let's keep a positive attitude on the whole thing, analyze the money and time you can afford, and fish.

"Right now the tourney business is in a down cycle, I think it's going to recover but bottom line is this, encourage friends to fish, learn about it, fish some fun tourneys to get your feet wet. Tourney fishing is about the competition, credibility, and fun. Use tourney fishing to build your personal fishing credibility, don't depend on it to make millions. If you do, you'll be a one and done angler, rather than one that could've been a contender."

Dave and Kristin Landahl host The Fishing Fanatics, http://www.thefishingfanatics.com/, radio show on ESPN radio affiliate AM 1360 WLBK in northern Illinois Thursday evenings from 6-7 PM Central time. You can also tune in to hear The Fishing Fanatics at http://www.1360wlbk.com/ and check them out at http://www.1360wlbk.com/

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