It seems the new world order has settled in, as three pro tours are now the norm and the fans are keeping up with their favorites. Live coverage has been a slight hurdle for each, occasionally resulting in choppy streaming, but the overall quantity of material we’re all exposed to is monumentally higher, and for the better.
In all, the fans have benefitted the most from the process and risked the least. After all, what did we have to lose?
The manufacturers and sponsors also seem to be settling in. In fact, I’ve noticed more BPT support from industry companies lately, many that once doubted their position.
Let’s face it, in the end, it’s the anglers' game to win or lose. I wonder if the risk has been worth the reward.
The latest shake-up comes in the form of pro angler restrictions – specifically how and where those anglers can promote their supporting brands. In recent press releases and interviews, it’s apparent that the BPT intends to restrict their pros from being visible at events coordinated by opposing tours, most notably the Bassmaster Classic Expo. One would assume that the FLW Cup event will also be on the blacklist. Personally, I would guess BPT angler competition in other circuits – say the Bassmaster Opens or FLW Series tournaments – will also be restricted in the very near future.
This brings up an immediate question: What happened to the three-year pro angler contract? I wonder, was this restriction mentioned, or was it an add-on?
In any case, this new direction could certainly stir things up. The primary point of contention is the Classic Expo. Once appealing to a small niche market, the show has blossomed into, quite possibly, the best consumer and trade show in the outdoor world. It’s certainly the best game in town for serious bass anglers and an extremely important event for supporting manufacturers.
In fact, many fishing brands, including rod, reel, tackle and even boat and electronic brands, are now waiting until the annual Classic show to introduce new products, trumping the once-sacred ICAST show. Such illustrates the ultimate in importance.
Therefore, it makes perfect sense that those manufacturers would desire large investments and fan interactive tools (namely, their national pro staff) to attend the Classic Expo. I mean, the alternative is unthinkable, in their world.
Here we may see the first large-scale impact related to the big angler shift. Thus far, I’m not sure how much it’s really bothered the fan base that their heroes left B.A.S.S.. Truthfully, as long as there’s strong media, a mega outdoor show, and all the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing” hoopla, fans may not care who’s actually doing the casting.
But the sponsors do. They have to.
Until now, pro anglers have utilized their “star power” to support sponsoring brands. That’s the basic premise; it’s called brand recognition. Both the pro angler and the company are separate brands, each bringing the other more exposure and a larger fan base.
But until now, professional bass fishing has thrown in an additional hurdle in the form of recognition for the tournament trail and its supporting brands.
You see, B.A.S.S. and FLW – those are also brands. In fact, the B.A.S.S. and Bassmaster brand may be the largest in our sport – bigger than any pro or company.
In any case, those brands – the tournament organizations themselves – also have supporters (sponsors) that they share that brand recognition relationship with. They also have media. They also, actually, have fans. Such is the case with the Classic Expo. There, attendance is dominated by the fans of B.A.S.S. more than anything.
Anyway, these tour/sponsor relationships run much deeper, in fact, and are much more valuable, than nearly any relationship with professional anglers. Don’t kill the messenger – I’m just calling it what it is.
So, by restricting pro anglers from associating themselves with these brands (B.A.S.S. or FLW), the BPT may force the sponsoring organizations to choose between their massive, layered relationship with these tournament trails and their one-year contract with their pros. Of course, an alternative may be for those same manufacturers to add additional pro staff, thus keeping visibility at any and all events. In essence, that’s happened a bit in the past.
One things is for sure, however. As things shake out, decisions will need to be made, and cuts may follow.
I would imagine much of this is intentional, as it appears in the most recent interview with BPT spokespeople that the organization is quite front-and-center with its intention to completely change professional fishing as we know it. For that to happen, the boat’s going to have to rock.
I wonder if everyone’s wearing their lifejackets.
(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.)