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Cheers to 20 Years (and 20 More)

Celebrating a milestone (few businesses thrive for this long!) with some of founder Rick Jones' favorite memories:

Twenty years ago, I sat on Jim Host’s porch in Jupiter, FL and we conjured FishBait. I owe Jim a debt of gratitude for both his faith and his clarity about the opportunities ahead. Newly fired as CEO of the GEM Group, my future was unclear. Believe this: getting fired is both humiliating and humbling. But I vowed two things from that painful experience: to never let anyone else determine my future ever again and 2. to get better – as a person, a boss, a consultant, and leader. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can always control how we respond.

Determined to build a great agency, based on integrity, values, and most importantly, great teammates and clients, it was no longer about ME but rather WE.

On February 3, 2003, we incorporated FishBait Marketing, the predecessor to today’s FishBait Solutions.

Fortunately, two other people believed in the vision, too. Jim Haney of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and Beth Bass of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association offered the opportunity of a lifetime to work with the great basketball coaches they represented. Grant Teaff at the American Football Coaches Association soon followed - and we were off and running.

I was so blessed to hire Brittany Harman (now Schiller) as my first associate and she has remained on the team ever since. Brittany does all the things I am not good at and we are grateful for her staying through the journey.

I am again truly blessed to partner with three talented people with great integrity: Ron Cook, Rob Temple and Rusty Reed.

Our other great teammates have also bestowed great things upon the company. We are fortunate to work with amazing clients, and with friends and colleagues who give more than we can ever repay.

While I am proud of all of our work and clients, in honor of our platinum anniversary, here are twenty projects of which I am most proud (in no particular order):

1. The Final Four Coaches Club. I stole this idea from The Master’s past champions’ dinner. The NABC holds a special lunch on semifinals Saturday at the Final Four for coaches who took a team to the Final Four. Each receives a branded sport coat (a la The Masters) when they are inducted into the Final Four Coaches Club. We had several sponsors over the years including ESPNU, Allstate and Spalding.

2. ESPN Events Tailgate Tour. Thanks to sponsors Dollar General and Anheuser Busch, among others, we run a fan activation traveling tour that goes to regular season college football games and select bowl games. Fans enjoy games, prizes, food samples and more each fall. Thanks to Pete Derzis, Scott Pomeroy and Rusty Reed for making this happen.

3. Werner Ladder – the official ladder of NCAA Basketball and cutting down the nets at the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours. We also produced a 75th anniversary ladder and gathered many of the coaches who had won the national championship. I love that Werner treats the Women’s Championship just the same as the Men’s. Thanks to Devron Edwards at CBS for connecting making that match.

4. The Capital One Cup. Now in its 12th year, this rewards excellence across all NCAA sports championships. Proud to have helped create and manage this program with Capital One and ESPN.

5. The TaxAct Texas Bowl and related programming that brought a new sponsor to the ecosystem and a big win for TaxAct and our client ESPN Events.

6. Olde English District. We created a unique brand, marketing, communications and advertising program for one of South Carolina’s best-kept secrets, an area rich in activities for visitors and locals alike.

7. Siemen’s Waterford Crystal Basketballs NABC Coaches Trophy and Avis WBCA Coaches Trophy. In a previous life, I had managed Sears’ sponsorship of said trophies and was thrilled when we sold these to new sponsors. (Plus, we got 100% of Siemen’s broadcast budget!)

8. Northwestern Mutual’s support of Coach to Cure MD through AFCA coaches’ appearances which raised a LOT of money for Duchene’s MD.

9. Reser’s Fine Foods partnership with the CMA Festival and a great activation by my friend Jim Richards of MarketShare Sports.

10. The Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. You’re in “good hands” when you are named to this prestigious program honoring college football players for their community service. Thanks to former IMG executive Mike Murray and Allstate executives Patrick Pierce and Pam Hollander for believing in this ongoing program.

11. Geico Green Room. Geico took advantage of the great country music stars stuck home during COVID to both play the Grand Ole Opry and spend time in the Geico Green Room, a virtual dressing room that provided behind-the-scenes glimpses and stories for country music fans.

12. Lumber Liquidators ACC Football Tour. We partnered with Mike Palisi and the great folks at Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment to take ACC Football on the road in a Lumber Liquidator 18-wheel showroom trailer.

13. Fidelity National Football Foundation partnership. We had Fidelity host new inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame on their respective college campuses with special events that celebrated the Hall of Famer, the NFF and Fidelity alike.

14. The Dasani Coaches Cookoff. Top college basketball coaches joined with Dasani and the NABC in a coach + chef “Iron Chef” style competition at the Final Four. Thanks to my good friends Michele Grech and Vince Thompson for this unique partnership.

15. ChazzFest. We produced an amazing music festival in Charleston modeled after the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

16. Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge. We created a unique college basketball challenge that raised funds for each coach’s designated charity and millions of dollars for the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer program. (Watching Bob Huggins sell Girl Scout cookies in a television commercial was priceless.)

17. Riverfront Revival. Country music’s newest festival owned and headlined by Charleston’s own Darius Rucker was a huge success with corporate sponsor fees exceeding everybody’s projections.

18. T-Mobile SEC sponsorship concerts. FishBait produced two amazing concerts for T-Mobile as they launched their corporate sponsorship of the Southeastern Conference and the SEC Network.

19. SportRadar penetrates college athletics through a comprehensive partnership with NACDA. And more to come.

20. FishBait helped create and launch Scripp’s Sports with help from our friend Scott Guglielmino.

Happy Birthday FishBait! It’s been a great run and here’s to the next twenty years.

Rick with Jim Host.

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