Sport-show season can be a bore, but it often leads to interesting conversation. As industry insiders have extra time on their hands while standing around, any topic is fair game. Certain issues are re-hashed time and again, like the strength of the outdoor industry, politics or weather. And, around the bass circles, one subject comes up over and over: jerseys.
To back up a bit, sometime in the not too distant past, companies like Gemini Sport Marketing brought the world of custom jerseys to bass fishing. Prior to this, pro anglers showed off their sponsors in itchy, embroidered “tournament shirts," often costing hundreds of dollars and considerable time to create.
However, once the dye-sublimation process took hold in other clothing arenas, it was a natural fit, so to speak, to bring to bass fishing. The new technology allowed custom jerseys to be quickly printed by the boxful, at a fraction of the cost of embroidery.
Initially, such clothing was embraced by the country’s top professional anglers. Then, naturally, this trend in apparel trickled down through the ranks, to all levels of competitive bass fishing. While the big-nam pros were likely mopping up considerable endorsement dollars for advertising on their shirts, that didn’t stop recreational anglers from getting in on the game. They, too, wanted to be part of the scene, and enjoyed being associated with fishing-related brands.
Such brings us to our current topic.
At a recent sport show, a bass fishing fan browsed along, wearing a custom jersey. One of the many logos on his shirt was that of the manufacturer who’s booth I was in. There, a marketing executive – the person who makes decisions on pro-staff choices for that company – chimed in: “I have no idea who that is. I wish guys like that wouldn’t wear jerseys."
But then, the exec's co-worker countered: “Hey, it’s free advertising. Why should we care?”
Therein, in that quick, casual conversation, is the basis of this age-old debate.
Should fans of professional fishing, or those who compete for recreation rather than employment, refrain from wearing jerseys? Are they adding to the overall exposure of bass fishing, or diluting the advertising effectiveness of the pros?
Such conversation brings up another issue. Not long ago, a few marketing-minded professional fishermen decided to re-create their jerseys and offer them as give-aways, or for sale, to the public. This, of course, was the first time we witnessed fans being true fans – in the same category as obsessed football junkies gobbling down chicken wings at the local bar, all the while wearing a Packers jersey. In the case of our sport, it was a subtle but interesting shift.
Anyway, perhaps the fans' fascination with jerseys is not unlike the “clique” behavior of other lifestyles. Recently, here in northeast Florida, I survived my first full-time exposure to “Bike Week” at Daytona Beach. During that 10-day period, over a half-million bikers rain down on this part of the world to take part in the festivities.
A number of friends and relatives came into town and stayed with us during the carnage. And, while in everyday life these people dress like normal, hard-working Americans, during their time in Florida, they dressed in nothing but black T-shirts and leather vests; straight out of the pages of Easy Rider Magazine. While at the big event, they were surrounded by others wearing the same; some weekend riders, others lifelong road warriors. I doubt anyone really cared.
So what’s so different about bass fishing? Does Harley Davidson really care who wears their jackets?
What about other companies that have become a lifestyle rage, but are a little closer to home, like Realtree or Under Armor? How are they so different than bass brands?
Perhaps, rather than fearing the immediate effects of fan adoration, and the interference it may cause professional anglers, we can look beyond such confusion and embrace this overall passion for bass fishing.
Yesterday, I saw a guy at a highway rest stop wearing a NASCAR jacket, adorned with all the sponsors of a popular race team. At no time did I get confused and think he was Kyle Busch. Instead, I just assumed he was a racing junkie, ravished by passion for his sport.
His wife joined him outside at a picnic table, wearing a Toyota T-shirt. Subtly, I took note.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)