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Jordan Lee represents a rarity among college athletes.
After his most recent victory, he happily collected $5,000 along with the keys to a Toyota pick-up truck and a new fishing boat with a 250-horsepower engine attached to the rear. Lee, a senior marketing major in the Harbert College of Business, accepted these prizes without any worries that an NCAA investigator might pay him a visit and force him to return it all.
Unlike his counterparts in football, basketball and baseball, Lee has been free to accept payment for a job well done. His Auburn Tigers jersey offers up a “This space for rent” feel with a variety of logos advertising everything from a big box retailer to an automobile manufacturer.
If this sounds like a fish story, well, it is.
Bass fishing is a club sport, one not subject to the voluminous NCAA rule book, which means Lee has been able to claim prize money and seek individual sponsorships while competing for the Auburn University Bass Fishing Team. There’s a reason why some jokingly refer to the sport as “Basscar.” As is the case with NASCAR drivers, sponsorship support means everything for professional anglers.
“Having the marketing background translates into finding sponsors,” said Lee, a Guntersville, Ala., native. “It’s all about how you market yourself to these companies. You basically have to have a sales pitch for why you should use their brand and work for them, too.”
Lee can expect to have more outdoors companies clamoring for patch space on his jersey after he graduates in December. He won the 2013 Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic on Michigan’s Grand River in September, edging out best friend and fellow Auburn angler Shane Powell and claiming a title earned by his older brother and teammate, Matt Lee, the previous year.
The prizes – including a $5,000 check, as well as a pick-up truck and bass boat tricked out in AU orange and blue – pale in comparison to what he could take home in February. By winning the Carhartt tournament, Lee became the lone collegiate angler to earn a spot in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic – billed as “the Super Bowl of bass fishing” with 56 competitors vying for a $300,000 first-place prize.
The location of the February 21-23 event couldn’t be any better for Lee. The tournament will take place on Lake Guntersville, the lake he has fished since he first picked up a rod and reel.
“It’s a lot of pressure because you’re representing all college anglers,” Lee said. “I’m representing 800 to 1,000 college anglers this year. You want to have a good showing. My brother made it last year. He represented everybody well and that’s what I want to do. From there, I might as well try to win it.
“There are not many people who get to experience that, fishing in the biggest tournament on the lake where you grew up. I’ll be excited more than anything. It’s so close to home.
On the other hand, those guys are the 50 best in the world. They’re going to know what to do.”
Regardless of where Lee finishes on the money list in the Bassmaster Classic, he will already be well-positioned for a successful professional career. He and his brother have been regularly featured in fishing magazines and recently participated in an online chat with fans on bassmaster.com. His photograph graced the pages of Time last June, when the magazine explored the rising popularity of collegiate fishing.
“Telling a girl you fish for Auburn is not a good pickup line,” Lee told the magazine, explaining the sport’s low profile.
That may be the case, but the magazine exposure has opened other matchmaking opportunities.
“The best way to go about getting one of those companies to sponsor you to show them the magazines we’ve been in and the different TV shows we’ve been on,” Lee said. “We use that as an opportunity to get these companies in and to present ourselves. If we have these companies’ names on our shirt and we’re on TV shows … that’s the link we’ve used.”