ICAST is always a good place to check the pulse of the fishing industry. This year a strong economy, combined with large-scale technological advancements, had most exhibitors in a cheery mood.
The show also proves to be a productive way for me to gain insight into the hot topics of the day. Inevitably, one or more will rise to the surface as I hob-nob with industry insiders, manufacturers and fans.
Not surprisingly, Mike Long’s name came up quite a bit. I offered my take on that last week, and, yes, I’ve tried unsuccessfully to contact him since.
Another focal point was the splitting of the major bass tours and the formation of the BPT. While we’ve discussed many aspects of that in the past, perhaps now is a good time to dive further, given that a full season is in the books across most of the spectrum of professional bass fishing.
Besides, it seems a lot of fans are thinking the same thing.
To back up, it only seems fair to again express my admiration for the BPT as a whole. The undertaking involved in getting such a production off the ground is awe-inspiring enough. To immediately climb to the level of their competitors and, in effect, rewrite much of the book of professional tournament fishing in such short time is nothing short of staggering.
However, as I continue to chat with all members of the fan community, one overwhelming limiting factor pops up again and again: The BPT is difficult to follow. In fact, when it comes to previous events vs. current tournaments, live broadcasts vs. television and the multiple-Cup formatting, it’s downright confusing.
A friend and industry cohort summed it up the best. “You and I are confused by the whole thing,” he said, “and we do this for a living. How do you think my buddy at the gym feels? He’s a banker who just likes the TV show.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this same argument. Literally, I couldn’t guess.
Now, thankfully, I don’t run bass tournaments; I like to spend at least a portion of my life without conflict. And I realize there’s an army of people better at it, and more involved in the whole process, than me.
But I do keep my nose in the whole affair, especially how it pertains to sponsorship and fan engagement. Many seem to be struggling with the new concept.
I wonder if the new league isn’t trying to do too much. Most of the confusion, it seems, stems from the division between the existing Major League Fishing (MLF) Cups, and the new Bass Pro Tour (BPT). With the BPT broadcasting live, in real time, and MLF utilizing a television delay for its coverage of the Cups, it’s easy to become puzzled. Factor in angler overlap, as well as continued digital coverage of events from 2018, and I’m downright baffled at times.
Now, sure, I’m lazy. I could do more to keep updated and in tune. Maybe a spreadsheet would help.
But the point is, the average sports fan – just like me – doesn’t want to work to follow along. There’s enough confusing things in life to deal with, like cell-phone data plans and insurance co-pays. Pro fishing should be easy.
To be fair, things were simpler back in the good ol’ days. We read tournament results in Bassmaster Magazine and waited a few months to watch the action unfold on TNN. Later, FLW clouded things up a bit, but brought us immediate online weigh-in coverage to follow the same-day action of our heroes.
Live, on-the-water coverage was next, bringing us instant access to the championship chase. But then, with the overwhelming success and importance of the MLF made-for-TV product, it became apparent that the old model was still relevant to the fans. But so is the new.
Now it’s not my job to tell anybody how to run their business. Heck, my favorite tackle shop stills doesn’t have a website. But it is my job to open up conversations about topics in professional fishing that affect us all. And this one sure seems to be popular.
In the past, many of us have recognized shortcomings within the professional fishing organizations that, at first, were met with skepticism and were slow to be addressed. FLW’s logo restrictions immediately come to mind. The “win-and-you’re-in” format for the Bassmaster Classic – specifically in the case of the Opens – may be considered another.
In the case of MLF, perhaps the same could be said of its tournament coverage. While most of the components seem strong on their own, together, they’re simply too complex. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to address this unique challenge and how responsive the parent company is to the needs of the fans.
Because, like I said, everyone seems to be interested.
(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.)