Angler turns friendship into business

CELEBRATION, Fla. — One CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series angler activated his longstanding relationship with a Fortune 500 company executive to secure a sponsorship deal that made his 2006 career season possible.

Scott Rook, 45, of Little Rock, Ark., is competing this year on the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, an 11-event tour that puts the world's best anglers on the best fisheries in America. In addition to prize money of more than $7.5 million, anglers and their sponsors have the opportunity for unprecedented levels of exposure on ESPN and through other media outlets.

Rook's primary sponsor is Alltel, the owner and operator of the nation's largest wireless network with more than 10 million wireless customers. The company's logo is splashed across Rook's boat and jersey. When he is announced on stage, it is often as the "Alltel angler." And it was these sorts of opportunities that spurred Rook to reactivate relationships he already had with company executives when he was searching for a sponsor.

Rook was friendly with a top Alltel manager he first met several years ago, when he was managing a tackle shop in Little Rock, which also is the corporate headquarters for the wireless communications giant.

The executive was an avid bass angler and the two quickly became friends. Not too long after, Alltel asked Rook to host a young NASCAR driver on a fishing excursion. The driver was Ryan Newman, now one of the top stars on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series who is sponsored by Alltel.

"I had never heard of Ryan at that time because he was just getting started in NASCAR," said Rook. "He was in town for an employee appreciation day at Alltel, and he wanted to go fishing. Turns out that he's very passionate about fishing, and he's a great guy, too."

In 2005, with the new, sponsor-friendly setup of the Elite Series, Rook went back to his friends at Alltel with a sponsorship proposal. Discussions began last October and were finalized with an announcement in early February.

"Alltel sponsors major university athletic programs around the country and several professional teams in the NFL and NASCAR driver Ryan Newman, so this is a natural extension for us," said Randy Wilbourn, senior vice president of corporate communications for Alltel. "Professional bass fishing is a wholesome, family-oriented sport that is growing rapidly. Scott and professional bass fishing are a nice fit to showcase our current and future wireless products and services."

Rook's other sponsors include Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Berkley Trilene, Gulp and Frenzy, Abu Garcia reels, St. Croix rods, MotorGuide trolling motors, Lowrance Electronics, Daiichi hooks and Lucky's Chevrolet of Monticello.

Rook finished 50th in this past weekend's Santee Cooper Showdown presented by Motorguide, where he earned a $10,000 check. He is now ranked 47th in the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index. And, the season is still young with seven events to go. "We've got a lot of tournaments left, and I'll be fishing the Majors too, so I'm maintaining a positive attitude," he said.