As we all know by now, Major League Fishing has announced the formation of a new professional bass fishing circuit, the Bass Pro Tour (BPT). As of this writing, very little is known regarding the anglers invited, potential qualification and payout structure, sponsor exposure, or anything of substance. Yet still, the industry is in a whirlwind.
Me being me (an admitted gossip), I decided to check in with several pros on my call list and try to get an inside angle. From what I can tell, the majority of the initial “interviewees” are being taken from the B.A.S.S. competitor list, as only a handful of FLW anglers can confirm being contacted. I wonder why …
In any case, what’s really known about this new circuit is extremely limited. Almost all the information coming forward is speculation based on rumors, with the exception of the printed press release seen on BassFan earlier this week.
Anyway, the general gist – again, mostly gossip – is as follows:
It’s believed the new circuit will have several qualifying events that lead up to a handful of championship-style tournaments, dubbed “Cup” events. It’s also rumored that, in order to participate, an angler will be effectively prohibited from fishing either of the existing national tournament leagues, the Bassmaster Elite trail or FLW Tour, due to scheduling conflicts.
That’s right. According to the general consensus, those anglers participating in the new MLF format will be unable to fish any other national trials. A quick check of the initial “who’s who” in MLF shows that nearly all of the anglers are top performers on the Elite tour, as well, at this time.
Personally, I find it nearly impossible to believe that the new circuit will pull all of those big names away from B.A.S.S., the very platform responsible for the majority of their success. What could BPT offer that would lead the stars in that direction?
It would be irresponsible to speculate further, as facts are lacking regarding this new venture. But, in the event that this “third league” fully commits its players, it could mean a catastrophic fallout for the other tours.
More gossip brings a potential reason: money. It’s believed the new circuit will offer payouts upwards of three times that of the current national trials. I’ve heard rumors from 300% payouts, to million-dollar checks for champions. Could this all be true?
Again, highly unlikely. While the backroom conversations always lead fans of fishing to compare it to other big-time sports, the fact remains: it’s not. Professional bass fishing is nowhere near as popular as football, baseball, basketball, golf or a handful of other sports I can name, nor is it ever likely to be. It’s not that I – and many others – don’t fantasize about that becoming a reality, it’s simply a complicated matter of overall “taste” in our culture.
Is there room for growth? Yes. And Major League Fishing has already accelerated that growth faster than any entity in bass fishing since the formation of the FLW Tour in the mid-'90s. But that doesn’t mean we’re on track to take down NASCAR.
True, the new BPT will potentially have financial backing greater than any fishing circuit in history, with support from BassPro Shops and the Outdoor Sportsman Group. Such could lead to mega-paydays for its top anglers.
But, as a skeptic, lifelong participant and fan, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Regardless, it may very well take a drastic uptick in payout to convince the best anglers to jump ship, if that’s the idea. Money, I feel, may be the only viable incentive.
At one time, the concept alone of Major League Fishing brought many top-tier anglers knocking. To back up a bit, readers should note that the original platform of MLF required many anglers to pay to get in, regardless of competing for little or nothing in prize money. The idea was that the MLF platform was so fresh and unique, and reached so many television viewers, that many pros felt it was an “investment” to grow their personal brand. In essence, they, or their sponsors, were paying for TV exposure, even with strict rules that often prohibited those sponsors from receiving air time.
Today, however, it’s understood that MLF is, and will continue to be, paying its performers, and offering them more visibility of their sponsoring brands. Good call.
You see, the competition has caught up. The original mystique of MLF – exposure and viewership of the anglers – has also been harnessed by B.A.S.S. and FLW live programming; an equally fast-growing platform. Numbers are numbers to the advertising world, whether they be in the form of television or online views.
So, looking at the potential for this league from all sides, I wonder what the true selling point will be. Is there potential for the BPT to take over the world of professional bass fishing as we know it? Possibly.
However, it will take far more incentive that what we currently know to be fact at this point.
In any case, the outcome may be good for the sport, as the two accepted platforms seem to be resting on their laurels a bit lately, content that they’re the only game in town. In a few short days, we’ll know more. Exciting times, for sure.
(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.)