By Todd Ceisner
Competitive bass anglers could have another option in the tournament game in two years.
The National Professional Fishing League (NPFL) on Monday went public with its plans to launch a new tournament circuit with the debut scheduled for 2021. The organization is planning to offer a six-event schedule with a field capped at 125 anglers.
Each tournament will be three days with the full field competing all three days. The six tournaments will be spaced out on the calendar (two in the spring, two in the summer, two in the fall) so as to avoid conflicts with other trails, notably the Bassmaster Opens, according to a release issued by the NPFL.
Other details that were announced include:
> $5,000 entry fee per event;
> Anglers will be asked to sign a two-year contract with an option for a third year;
> All anglers will be exempt from requalification for the first three years;
> Livestream from the water all three days along with studio commentary;
> Drive-through weigh-in for entire field will be live-streamed as well
In terms of payouts, more than a third of the field will receive a cash prize at each tournament with the winner pocketing $50,000 and the runner-up collecting $30,000. The top 44 finishers will all go home with at least $9,000.
A season-ending championship tournament, featuring the top 25 anglers in points, will also pay $50,000 to win. The release also stated that tournament rules and contract language should be finalized in the next week. The NPFL Facebook page, which went live Monday afternoon, had nearly 2,000 followers a day after launching.
Al McCulloch, a St. Louis, Mo., native with 15 years of experience in tournament organization and promotion mostly in hourly big bass events and team tournaments, is the majority owner of the NPFL along with Brad and Michele Fuller, owners of Omega Custom Tackle. Paul Benson, the national sales manager for Cashion Rods, is a minority owner.
McCulloch, who also co-owns fishing lifestyle apparel company EliteAnglr, said the business plan for the NPFL was outlined a few years ago, but after Major League Fishing’s recent acquisition of FLW, he decided to put it in motion. He’s received positive feedback from a number of anglers and said close to 90 anglers have signed non-disclosure agreements after expressing interest in learning more about the NPFL and/or registering to be part of the initial field.
McCulloch declined to reveal the identity of any of the anglers, but did say, “they are big-time pros from all trails.”
McCulloch said he’s “100 percent” confident the NPFL will launch on schedule.
“The snowball is slowly making its way down the hill and it’s growing,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview.
McCulloch said the timing of the announcement was important to let tournament anglers know another option will be available soon.
“Timing is a big factor,” he said. “It’s not everything, but the timing is right. There is still a lot of stuff out there that’s a gray area, so this is just another option.”
McCulloch hopes to put a schedule together that appeals to anglers across all regions of the country. Initially, though, he expects to utilize venues in the typical bass fishing hot beds with an eye toward branching out in the future.
“We’re also going to look at the logistics of the West Coast,” he said.
Anglers wishing to participate in the 2021 NPFL will submit an application and a fishing résumé for review. If approved, competitors will be asked to sign a two-year contract with an angler option for year 3. The application window will close at the end of November 2019.
“We need to be able to market the talent,” McCulloch said. “That way anglers can go to their sponsors and say, ‘This is going to be my home for the next two, maybe three years.”
Sponsor-wise, McCulloch is hoping endemic and non-endemic companies will take a hard look at the NPFL.
“We understand we’re the new kid of the block, but this is a great opportunity for someone to dip their toes into the outdoor market instead of spending major dollars with other circuits,” he said. “We want to partner with companies that match our culture of conservation and family.”