Things look good for Jacob Powroznik. Currently atop the points standings on the Bassmaster Opens circuit, Powroznik is well on his way to qualifying for the 2022 Elite Series. A recent win at the Central Open on Smith Lake locked up Powroznik’s Classic spot. The guy’s right on course.
Since early this year, Powroznik has been vocal about his desire to again be fully vested in B.A.S.S. competition. His recent statements to the press point out that, to him, fan interaction is everything. Powroznik’s brief stint on the Bass Pro Tour hadn’t provided the cheering section he craves.
Powroznik’s honesty is rare. In a sport where everything revolves around sponsorship, political correctness and selling the story, it’s uncommon for the pros to make waves.
Well, I take that back. We all remember just a few short years ago, when many of the top players in the game became vocal critics of B.A.S.S., forming an alliance and moving away to the newly formed BPT. Since then, a few have trickled back to B.A.S.S., although somewhat quietly.
But Powroznik comes back more pronounced. “Screaming fans are what drives me,” he told me recently. “There’s nothing wrong with MLF (and the BPT trail), other than there are no fans.”
Before we go any further, it should be recognized that “fans” is a relative word. Sure, there are on-site fans – those attending a sporting event. Of course, there are also fans following a sport through other mediums. Take the NFL, for example. While a staggering 16 million fans attend NFL games throughout the course of the season, over 100 million will watch the Super Bowl – a single game – through television broadcasting.
In professional fishing terms, a few thousand fans often attend a weigh-in, whereas tens, even hundreds of thousands watch the action on television and, more so than ever, online.
So, regarding professional tournament anglers “reaching the fans”, far more impact is made through broadcast than in person. Sort of.
Powroznik was wildly successful on the BPT, winning twice and qualifying for the REDCREST Championship. But he expressed a shortcoming in his ability to transfer those wins into exposure for his sponsors, primarily equipment brands. The business of a pro, according to Powroznik, relies on face-to-face interaction and sponsor plugs, and on-site fans have been mainly absent from BPT events thus far. And, as Powroznik mentioned, “I want to mingle with fans. It may not be for everybody, but that’s just me.”
During our conversation, Powroznik mentioned his dream of competing in – and winning – the Bassmaster Classic. “That’s the biggest deal there is; people go bananas for that.” I have to agree, there is simply nothing in our sport like the arena-style weigh-in of the Classic. I questioned, however, how long weigh-ins would continue in professional fishing.
“B.A.S.S. will never end the weigh-in,” Powroznik stated. He may very well be right, given the contrasting business models of the two major tournament organizations.
What I see, however, is a general trend away from the weigh-in format. Public opinion and conservation get the most ink on the subject, but technology is the real player. Everything in our world is phasing toward technological advancement. I just ordered lunch on an app. It’s that same technology that is changing competitive fishing. In fact, I continue to hear of wheels turning to bring immediate weigh-release competition throughout numerous levels of the sport.
In any case, the BPT format wasn’t meshing with Powroznik, including the delayed broadcast. “I get calls from people wanting to congratulate me on a win from two years ago,” he mentioned.
I have to agree that the BPT format can be tough to follow, given the number of working parts. Then again, I’m not producing television shows. But I hear this more than any other criticism of the Bass Pro Tour – the inability for fans to follow along from the start of the season to the end.
For Powroznik, though, the biggest component of being a bass pro is fan interaction. “It’s about being around people and kids. That’s the future of our sport.”
I wondered, doesn’t it take away from the status of being a pro? I mean, I can’t mingle with Rory McIlroy or Kyle Busch.
“That’s the nature of the (professional bass fishing) sport,” Powroznik insisted. “That’s how the sport gets bigger. There has to be interaction.”
I also learned of Powroznik’s acceptance from sponsors. Going out on a limb and fishing the Bassmaster Opens in order to qualify for the Elite Series may seem like a tough pill to swallow. However, the biggest sacrifice was made by Powroznik himself, in terms of tournament earnings. Sponsors still receive a wealth of press, as publicity of the Opens is always strong within the B.A.S.S. organization. And, while it’s an uphill climb for just about any angler to qualify for the Elites this way, Powroznik has one major advantage: he’s an incredible performer.
Fans will remember Powroznik’s stint on the Elites, when he took down two events in his Rookie of the Year campaign. He’s a Toyota Series and Open winner, too. It’s natural to assume Powroznik would get right back to business.
So, next season, Powroznik will likely join Greg Hackney, Jason Christie, Brandon Palaniuk and Gerald Swindle as former BPT anglers who've returned to the Elites.
I often wonder where we’re headed on the professional side of bass fishing. Is it possible that there will forever be two tours?
A few guys, it seems, are glad there still are.
(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.)