This week brought some truly breakthrough journalism in the world of pro bass fishing, or at least the beginning of it.
While other information sources continue to skirt around the issues facing the worldís best, BassFan delivered with its first Pro Angler Survey, designed to give professional fishermen true anonymity when discussing the biggest issues in the sport.
While I feel the survey could use a few tweaks, and contain less hearsay-type bashing, itís drastically more advanced than any reports weíve seen to date in our often over-politically correct pastime.
Like many of you, I reviewed the survey results with great scrutiny. An overwhelming number of pros want a union, while poor Jimmy Houston was called out for being overrated (Give the guy a break. Heís likely done more to advance the sport as a whole than 99 percent of the pros on Tour. Heís 71 for Godís sake).
Anyway, a few other details of the survey results quickly grabbed my attention. Without question, one of those that I feel needs a little more investigating is the desire for more lucrative sponsorships at the pro level.
Having worked in the fishing industry nearly all of my adult life, and owning one of the few independent, promotional companies operating solely in the fishing and hunting market, I feel justified in offering some insight here. Regardless, even if I didnít, I would.
I think, perhaps, many competitive anglers, or fans of those anglers, are a bit misled as to the purpose of sponsorship, and the ďdutiesĒ of manufacturers sponsoring professional anglers in any facet, or the competitive fishing trails throughout the U.S. Letís back up a bit.
The purpose of sponsorship or endorsements, in our example, is to aid a manufacturer in selling additional product based on the buying influence created by the endorsing figure or entity. That could be Mathew McConaughey selling Lincolns, FLW pushing Rejuvinade, or Kevin VanDam talking up everything Strike King makes. Each is performing their roles quite differently from the other, but the bottom line is the same.
Nowhere does it state, however, that fishing tackle companies must sponsor professional fishermen. Perhaps these companies want to spend their marketing dollars on television commercials, maybe print ads. Heck, maybe they want to endorse a Kardashian Ė itís their call.
In addition, many companies in the outdoor industry donít feel that endorsement of professional bass fishermen really reaches their buying public, based on the products they produce. For example, likely a large percentage of Megabassí marketplace watches the Bassmaster Classic, but not so much for anglers buying Beetle Spins.
Itís these reasons that I find it so absurd that, within the BassFan survey, pros complain that a problem within the industry is a lack of sponsorship support, or that most of the sponsor dollars are awarded to a handful of athletes. Just who, do they think, is supposed to correct this so-called problem?
While there are certainly exceptions, most of the top-sponsored anglers are those that have proven they can best perform what we spoke of earlier: influence the buying public and push up the bottom line.
And nowhere on a national tournament entry form does it state that the winner will be showered with endorsement contracts.
Perhaps what many of the anglers meant is that they would like to receive more help from the sanctioning organizations in the methods needed for publicizing professional bass fishing as a whole, in order to make it more of a justifiable option for manufacturers to spend marketing dollars. But Iíve heard in recent times that B.A.S.S. is aiding Elite pros a bit with that, and certainly few rational people can deny how many pros have really made out with FLW team deals.
While many of you probably feel Iím bashing the poor, vagabond touring pros, letís be clear: Iím always on their side. In the case of endorsements, Iím a firm believer in high-level sponsorships for the best performers on Tour, as Iíve stated here numerous times in the past. If I were the guy with the money at a hardcore fishing company, Iíd go right down the AOY lists with my checkbook. Unfortunately, not everybody sees things the way I do.
Whatís the solution? Thatís a question pondered in many different minds every day, and has been since pro bass fishingís inception in the 1960s. The goal has always been for America to take notice. But weíve had million-dollar payouts, Wheaties boxes, even appearances on Letterman, yet pro bass fishing still lacks legitimacy in many minds.
What will really turn the tide? Perhaps an ingenious bass pro will someday hit the mark, like Duck Commander did. Then, I bet, he wonít be complaining about endorsement dollars.
(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.)