“Civilian aviation authorities reported no confirmed occurrences of cell phones affecting flight safety on aircraft with on-board cellular base stations."
So stated the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines in a recent press release, which confirmed that many commercial airlines were, in fact, considering allowing passengers to use cellular telephones while in flight.
Can you imagine? As if it’s not bad enough listening to the guy talking on his phone in the shuttle from the parking lot, or the lady sitting awkwardly close in the restaurant at the airport chatting away, or the power-trip businessman who's sharing the same lone wall outlet as you, and thinks everyone around him is so impressed.
Like many Americans, I was relieved to find that, for the time being, the FAA is leaving the decision up to the individual airlines, and that most are choosing to continue to ban in-flight conversations. It’s bad enough that I’m sandwiched in with strangers on my trip to Florida; I don’t need to listen to them talk to their grandchildren.
Such a topic is surprisingly similar to one in the pro fishing headlines lately: FLW’s allowance of social media updates by pros during tournaments.
I must admit, when I read the updated rules and noticed this clause; I didn't give it much of a thought. However, after further consideration, and following a briefing of Tour pro Todd Hollowell’s blog on the subject, I’ve become increasing concerned. This rule is exactly what pro fishing, and most importantly pro fishermen, don’t need.
To back up a bit, previously, FLW’s viewpoint on the use of cellular phones in tournaments was pretty cut and dry: other than consulting a smart phone for a map or using the phone for emergency purposes, little else was allowed. Such a plan was understandable, as today’s world of insta-communication could possibly give a competitor an advantage. In addition, FLW’s other concern was that fans were not notified of the day’s outcome prior to the weigh-in, where the rabbit is pulled from the hat before thousands in person and tens of thousands online.
But as tournament organizations continue to dabble in ways to further promote both the sport and their respective athletes, the consideration of the popularity of social media somehow entered the arena.
It’s becoming evident that many of the fishermen involved at the highest level have a following that often exceeds that of the organizations themselves, not surprisingly, and to team up would be the best for both. And besides, it may add a little to the excitement to know if an angler has the potential to make a run at the title prior to the weigh-in, because he landed a giant earlier in the day, or was making a last-minute charge. We’ve seen that at the Classic several times, where exhibitors and fans alike are in a stir at the expo from early reports. I remember several years ago at Toho, where the big-bass record was broken several times over, and everyone knew ahead of time there were big things to come. It really added to the drama of the weigh-in.
But, in this case, FLW is going too far. Sure, it may not really affect the tournament giant other than positively. However, it could negatively affect the fishermen.
A pro angler, fishing for $100,000, should not feel compelled to stop fishing in order to update the fan base. What’s next? Intermission in NASCAR, so the drivers can pull over and Tweet? Major league pitchers taking time out to pose for Instagram photos?
“Peyton Manning is checking in from Mile High Stadium …”
Yeah, I know. I’m watching him.
Now before everyone gets on a soap box about how we need to elevate the sport or bring fans directly to their favorite pros, let me include the following disclaimer: The job of a professional tournament fisherman is to excel in professional tournaments, and thereby influence the buying market based on his choices of equipment used to perform to the highest level.
Yes, it helps to have fans. Yes, he can mingle with them at weigh-ins, sport shows and boat-dealer events. And, yes, that helps to add to the pro’s credibly and overall popularity within his fan base.
But while on the water, competing for a life-changing amount of money, that fisherman’s job is to catch fish. If he wants to yell and scream afterward, or hold the fish up so the camera looks down its throat, or show his hands shaking after depositing it in the livewell, great. And if FLW wants to broadcast the catch throughout the fishing day, or Facebook it, or Tweet it, or whatever, fine – have at it. But it’s not the responsibility of the athletes themselves.
I can hear the general argument already. “Geez, Balog, if they want to tweet, let them tweet. If not, fine. Nobody is making them do it.”
The main reasons that I’m so concerned over this ruling are two-fold:
One, it’s impossible to think that competitors will not be influenced by return tweets and contributions from area guides and local pros. You’re going to try to convince me that no Tour fishermen will consult such banter for information? What if someone does, unintentionally? A winning pro shows up in an area on the final day that a local stick “tweeted” about – but the pro didn’t read that Tweet, right? Boy, I hope FLW has its polygraph machine tuned up.
Secondly, being on the inside of the business of fishing and hunting, I can tell you that most manufacturers hold social media as the Holy Grail of current marketing campaigns. And many really don’t understand it.
Many companies involved in fishing, some of which are primary sponsors of the world’s best fishermen, simply want a flood of content on their respective pages. They see the opportunity of having a competing pro giving live updates to be the best thing that can happen. With such a demand and competition for endorsement dollars, many pros, who would much rather concentrate on fishing than politicking, will have no choice but to conform to such practices in order to keep up. And that’s absurd.
The point of being a fan of pro fishing, or pro anything, for that matter, is to observe athletes performing at abilities above that of the normal participant. It’s like watching a pitcher throw a hundred-mile-an-hour fastball. I want to witness something I could never do, like VanDam magically picking off lunkers behind everyone else with a square-bill, or Tharp’s supernatural ability to know when a fish is tracking his frog. I don’t care if they tweet – that just makes them human. I don’t watch professional sports for the human factor.
FLW and B.A.S.S. have both worked hard recently to elevate their pros to true professional status. They both claim to have the best fishermen in the world. B.A.S.S. continues to use its marshal program, BASSTrakk and other immediate updates that remove this duty from the hands of the fishermen. I think that’s the way to go.
FLW sticks to the co-angler format by choice, and I think that can be very positive. But it's even gone as far as to write into the rules the allowance for co-anglers to help pros with social media posts. Can you imagine listening in on two pros discussing their day: “Oh my co-angler couldn’t net, but he was great at posting my tweets." Come on!
In the case of its Tour events, FLW carries co-anglers over to day 3, then fishes the Top 10 pros solo on day 4. Though I’m not on the inside of the numbers, I’d guess that nearly all of the fan interest comes on that final day. Why not have 10 observers in those boats, who are there solely to assist in social media and impromptu filming of those final 10 pros? I’d sign up for that job right now.
For now, let’s leave social media out of the anglers' day on the water. They’ve got enough to worry about.
(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.)