Well, we’re off and running on all cylinders in the world of pro bass. The early tournaments brought us results surprisingly like those of recent years. One man is dominating and stealing headlines with multiple wins on both major circuits, and a man named Lane caught a 10-pounder and won again in Florida. Everything’s right on track.
While we concern ourselves primarily with the two major tours here on Bass War, occasionally, as you all know, I like to look into a few alternatives. I see Ultimate Match Fishing is coming back; I’m pumped about that. I love that, as it puts some humility into our heroes. But the big announcement recently was from “the Third Tour”, Major League Fishing.
Recently, MLF announced that it would release its Scoretracker Live system to the public. I feel this is great news, as I’m a big fan of immediate, on-the-water weigh-ins for many reasons. I have to say, I really saw this coming. What I didn’t see was the fact that MLF would charge a fee, although minimal, for the system.
After hearing the news, I couldn’t understand why in the world MLF would want to require users, fans really, to pay to use this new, innovative tournament format. I thought the whole premise behind professional fishing organizations was to gain exposure for tournament sponsors through a large fan base. In other words, give the fans everything under the sun, so more fans follow, and thus increase the value of the advertising campaign.
But from what I saw, MLF was simply taking its increasingly popular idea (in this case its tournament format), offering that to the public, and then charging them 5 bucks to use it. To me, it looked greedy.
So I called them out.
I was very surprised to get a follow-up phone call from Don Rucks, former GM at B.A.S.S. and now MLF commissioner. Rucks, all business as usual, immediately pointed out the difference between MLF and the other large tournament circuits. “Our whole business model is different,” he said. “How we generate revenue … payouts … everything is all different. Scoretracker Live was developed as a revenue source."
Stop the press. Developed as a revenue source? So they’ve been eyeing up my wallet this whole time?
Rucks went on to explain that the Scoretracker Live system has been very popular since the inception of MLF, and it was one thing that fans asked for immediately. He also explained that it has taken in excess of a year to roll it out to the public. He went further, noting that the system requires the MLF servers to operate, that it’s quite costly, and that such money must be recouped. But he quickly assured me that it won’t be the only thing we see from MLF in the near future.
“Our total business model is to generate revenue other than sponsor money,” Rucks added. He mentioned that MLF sponsor dollars and awareness “are not a problem," but MLF can only derive so much income from that source. Since the beginning, MLF has looked into ways to incorporate the fans, and generate income that way.
Early on, the MLF Extended Cast was put in place for just this reason. It offers fans a pay service to get just what they need: more from each MLF event. Fans want to get in the boat with the biggest pros in the heat of battle. They want to see one man dominate by finding the hidden piece to the puzzle, while another disintegrates his rod on the gunnel after a broken line.
They need the back-and-forth banter between pros sharing water. The fans want it all, and many will pay for it. Extended Cast offers viewing that is never seen on the television broadcast of MLF.
Since it’s inception, Rucks explained that fans have purchased over 80,000 hours of Extended Cast. And beginning this season, that number should jump significantly. MLF will shortly announce that Extended Cast will be offered prior to the newest tournaments being aired on television, meaning the paying fans will be the first to see the outcome of the events. In addition, this pay-per-view thinking is available on a per-view basis or with a very cost-friendly annual subscription that gives the paying fan “their money’s worth” with just a few views.
Throughout our conversation, Rucks also pointed out that MLF is looking into other ideas that “will also involve the everyday angler” and that a “much larger expansion” is in the works that will be incorporated through the Scoretracker Live system.
Rucks further explained that he doesn’t expect the release of Scoretracker to “turn everything upside down” in the world of club-level fishing. He said most clubs may incorporate the format once throughout the year, then go back to normal weigh-ins for other events. But I think he may be selling himself short.
In my vision, clubs may very well become MLF formatted completely. Although there would be initial set-up costs to consider, mainly with scales for each boat, there’s quite a few perks. Clubs would no longer have to carry elaborate weigh-in scales, holding tanks, pumps and chemical additives. Boat owners really wouldn't even need working livewells, possibly making it easier for more people to compete. In many markets, tournament permits are required to host events; possibly that would no longer apply. And, most importantly in my eyes, the MLF system is drastically better for the fish.
Each year, I watch in horror as fish come to the scales barely alive in big-water events and are accepted for weigh-in. There is no way those fish live another day once released. Scientific data suggests that significant delayed mortality may also be attributed to holding fish in bags, and most club-level events simply do not have the technology to prevent this, as FLW and B.A.S.S. do, with oxygen lines in tubs, mesh bags, huge amounts of ice and the like.
And don’t even get me started about culling fish on the dry floor of a bass boat.
Unfortunately, many anglers are more concerned about dead-fish penalties than the dead fish themselves. The MLF format practically eliminates this concern.
The one fact I’ve never liked, however, in the MLF format is the “all fish count” idea. But I’m assuming, if it hasn't yet, MLF will tailor the Scoretracker program to allow anglers to “cull” already-released fish when larger bass are caught. Living in a region where 12-inch fish can be endlessly caught on Snoopy Poles, I can assure you that many anglers will feel the need to judge ability in the standard five-fish format. But, all in due time.
Maybe Scoretracker Live isn’t the answer, but it was nice to hear Rucks give us the reasoning behind why he’s reaching into our pockets. MLF is new and unique, and with that will come some adjustments. But it seems it's always searching for a one-of-a-kind product for us all – the part-time participants and full-time fans.
(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.)