Like many of you, I was overwhelmed. After hearing all the hubbub about Major League Fishing’s purchase of FLW and the resulting overhaul of the FLW Tour, I could hardly believe what I was reading. Yet there in black and white was the announcement of yet another professional fishing circuit, labeled the National Professional Fishing League (NPFL).
The press release seemed simple enough, the idea legit. Six events with a $5,000 entry fee, paying back about a third of the field. The organizers claimed to have significant interest from anglers, but whom, I wondered? There was a contract involved, and hopeful participants were required to submit a résumé for consideration, according to what I read.
Submit a résumé to pay five-grand to fish? What the heck was going on here?
I needed more answers and, after briefly introducing myself via text, I was surprised to immediately hear back from NPFL frontman Al McCulloch. I figured McCulloch must not read this column.
In any case, I aimed to give him the benefit of the doubt and have him explain to me the ideas behind the NPFL. I must admit, explain he did.
From what I gathered, it seems the organizers of the NPFL believe the needs of tournament anglers are simply not being met. At least, not all tournament anglers.
McCulloch and his partners believe there is a significant number of serious tournament fishermen without a place to call home. “I think there’s 300 to 400 anglers out there with the financial means and time to fish a pro trail (who don’t),” he stated. The reason? “The other three tours are already full.”
McCulloch’s viewpoint was not one to which I had given much thought. Perhaps there are, indeed, a number of anglers looking to fish for big bucks that haven’t qualified for the Elite Series or the FLW Tour and weren’t selected for the BPT.
“There’s guys on the outside looking in that are just as good of fishermen, yet there’s no room on the other three leagues for them,” McCulloch added. He mentioned a few repeat All-American qualifiers as examples, and a former Classic champ who struggled to gain sponsorship and now competes at the triple-A level.
Come to think of it, there’s more of these guys than I first imagined. And, with plans for stringent qualification processes in the future for the other established tours, the result might be more high-rollers looking for a game.
But what about the selection process? I mean, send in a résumé? Come on.
“We want to give them (hopeful participants) an opportunity for us to look at them,” McCulloch stated. “There’s a lot of people out there we don’t know about. We’re looking for guys that are driven, rather than picking (all) guys that have (strong) past performance.”
I thought that was interesting. While McCulloch admits that tournament success is an important consideration, finding eager participants seemed just as vital to the NPFL.
It’s apparent that the business model is one being developed in a transparent way, with an emphasis on enthusiasm. Anglers who sign up will be required to sign a two-year commitment, with an option for a third. This will not restrict the anglers from fishing other tours, just commit them to all the NPFL offers.
As a bonus for signing, McCulloch said that the participants can then sell themselves to potential sponsors more easily, as re-qualification won’t be a factor. In reality, we’re only talking one additional year (possibly two, for anglers who sign a three-year deal), but it can’t hurt.
McCulloch also mentioned that participating anglers will receive a media pack after signing, to again aid in marketability. The platform is based solely on live-broadcast media at this time.
There, I had to wonder, is this a limiting factor? What about the standard television-show model?
“Bass fishing is about live streaming … that is where we are concentrating” McCulloch said. A 15-year veteran of the tournament world and the primary sponsor negotiator for a major series of big bass and team tournaments, I’m sure McCulloch knows what his clients are looking for. But will it be enough to attract the dollars?
In any case, the business model calls for an additional 16 months of planning and construction. A state of the art weigh-in trailer, complete with stage, sound system, professional lighting and more, is in the works. The concept there is a drive-up weigh-in for every angler at each event, allowing “60 to 75 seconds” for wrapped vehicles and boats to gain brand awareness for sponsors on a worldwide platform. “Optics and exposure” are key principles of the plan, according to McCulloch.
Obviously, another key principle is simplicity. The entry and payout model are black-and-white, the tournament length the same for all players. Events will be spread across the season to allow anglers the ability to fish other circuits. McCulloch stressed an importance to avoid scheduling on top of Bassmaster Open events, but admitted conflicts with FLW, BPT and Elite Series events would likely be unavoidable. His take on format was obvious: “In the scheme of things, weighing five fish and having fan involvement is crucial.”
So where did all of this come from? “It’s been a 10-year research project,” McCulloch said, with considerable time spent at tour-level events gathering opinions from the pros. However, with the recent developments in tournament fishing, McCulloch felt the time was right to bring his product to market.
So far, he claims “90 non-disclosure agreements” were solicited and sent to “Elite and FLW Tour pros” who expressed interest. In addition, he received “more résumés than I ever thought I would have” that numbered “in the hundreds. Double the field size.”
And while it’s a lot easier to send a résumé than a deposit, it still shows support from interested anglers.
I must admit, I came into the conversation skeptical; a bit tentative to hit McCulloch with my normal, tough questions. But he didn’t falter, or even flinch.
“I don’t mind tough questions,” he concluded. “It’s fair, and the public deserves it.”
(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.)