The excitement reached a fever pitch across the professional bass industry this week as more anglers came forward with the announcement of their decision to leave the B.A.S.S. Elite tour and join the recently formed Bass Pro Tour. Sure, the first few players weren’t very surprising; mostly composed of pros we knew all along held allegiance to the Major League Fishing business. However, as time went on, names including Hackney, Ehrler, Swindle and even VanDam were attached to the roster.
Now many of you may recall my hiccup in earlier reports of BPT business, and my recent reluctance to discuss BPT vs. B.A.S.S. matters until we had clear, decisive rules, rosters and schedules.
Continuing on the same path – and with no desire to cause any more controversy than has already been created – I’m going to stick to my guns and base any and all opinions solely on the reported facts of the matter. At this point, a very basic summary of the reported BPT bullet points - as I see them – includes:
> The new BPT tour announced massive payouts far beyond those currently awarded in professional bass fishing. In addition, the advertised television and online coverage of their events will greatly surpass the current model.
> At this time, the BPT is advertising an entry-fee requirement for participants exceeding $48,000. Currently, payouts are advertised for the entire field in all events except the initial Bass Pro Tour, in which case half of the anglers will receive a check. Therefore, at this time, it is theoretically possible for an angler to walk away after a year on tour with no return on his investment.
> Anglers fishing the initial BPT events will be allowed to use their own boats and wear their personal jerseys (therefore fully supporting their sponsor brands in competition). Major League Fishing Cup qualifiers, however, will fish from MLF boats and wear MLF jerseys (that include MLF sponsor logos.)
> It has been advertised that much of the league’s direction and decision-making will be based highly on angler input.
In response, B.A.S.S. issued a newly structured Elite Series, meeting the following criteria – again, in basic terms, according to the material provided to the public:
> Overall payouts will be far greater than previous Elite Series campaigns, with a total gross payout over $7.8 million (compared to a reported gross payout for the BPT exceeding $9.8 million).
> Elite Series field size will be reduced to 80 anglers (same as BPT.)
> Entry fees will be $43,000, with a minimum of $23,000 being returned to any angler competing in all the events. In addition, $20,000 more will be discounted off entry fees for returning Elite Series anglers, although the exact criteria for eligibility is unknown. Therefore, returning anglers meeting criteria are guaranteed a 100-percent return on entry-fee investment.
> Sponsor restrictions are unknown, although no restrictions have been the norm.
> In the past, an angler advisory panel has been considered when making important decisions affecting the anglers.
Therein lie the facts to average Joes like us. Again, I cannot overstate how important it is for me to remain impartial to the direction of either tour, and ensure to you that I base my opinion solely on these facts, rather than the endless volumes of rumors being reported by everyone involved in pro bass fishing. Additional questions are too numerous to define.
With that in mind, we learned that nearly all of the top B.A.S.S. Elite players have decided to join the BPT. And that fact makes me wonder what we don’t know.
You see, speaking frankly, for many of the anglers, I get it.
For the original group of MLF pros, many of whom invested considerable time and their own finances to get the league off the ground, I get it.
And for the veteran tour pros whose performance may have slipped a bit recently, and who have watched the majority of their notoriety and exposure shift to the younger generation that B.A.S.S. so enthusiastically embraces … I get it.
To the handful of anglers who’ve immersed their careers in a relationship with Bass Pro Shops, and all of those formerly fishing FLW, I totally get it.
Heck, even to the mega-stars, including the names we mentioned at the beginning the piece, who really have nothing to lose, I get it.
But, to a large group of recently successful anglers highly popularized by B.A.S.S., those who seemed to be at the peak of their careers, garnering all the attention and accolades presented by the organization (the last couple Anglers of the Year and Classic champ immediately come to mind): I do not, in any way, get it.
In fact, for the anglers who feel they may fit into this bracket, I have but one very serious, question: Have you lost your freakin’ minds?
You were given the opportunity to compete for greatly increased prizes within a recognized, solid platform, with extremely limited competition, and likely a chance to dominate the trail’s media attention, like none ever offered in fishing. The door to the vault was open.
And, instead, you chose to go fish against Kevin VanDam and Andy Morgan?
That, folks, is proof that there’s something in the cards that we’re not all aware of. Perhaps the general consensus among tour pros is that the B.A.S.S. Elite tour is going to fold, and anyone choosing to stay and compete there is going down with the ship. Or maybe behind-the-scenes talks have led to sponsorship pressure we have yet to hear of.
Possibly the glorified brotherhood among professional anglers has finally emerged, and the pros are all sticking to their guns in a measure to better the sport through a unified front. Heck, maybe peer pressure even got to some of them.
But something more is at play; it has to be. In the upcoming weeks, we’re sure to know more.
(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.)