This week we've heard of some serious shake-ups in pro bass. FLW confirmed to BassFan that there will be changes to its team angler program, and an overall reduction of the organization's sponsorship appears likely. This comes following announcements of smaller field sizes, reduced participation for co-anglers at the Tour level and a loosening of advertising restrictions for pros.
Throughout this period, many fans have expressed opinions ranging from minor worries to doom and gloom. I called a few affected touring pros and grabbed a calculator.
First off, to clear up any rumors started by those too lazy to run the numbers, letís look at payout. Yes, the FLW Tour did recently announce that its overall payout will remain unchanged despite an increase in entry fees. However, many failed to consider the overall reduction in field size from 180 to 150. This actually equates to less money coming in to FLW, with equal payback.
Last season the FLW Tour extended small payouts to 61st through 80th place that look to be omitted for this year, but even with that considered, the Tour is paying a higher percentage than last year. So stop the silliness.
The real news is that of reduced sponsorships, and how that will likely impact the Tour's most dominant players as well as some real household names in fishing. BassFanís recent interview with Trisha Blake was very straightforward and shed some light on the situation. I called some buddies and got the other side. In an attempt to bring it all forward that will likely clear up nothing, Iíll take a look at each side.
After several lengthy conversations, itís apparent that many FLW team anglers were notified very recently that their contracts would not be renewed with sponsors of the FLW Tour and they would not have ďa deal."
To bring some of the mystery out in the open, most of the ďteamĒ sponsorship packages include the use of a vehicle, a discounted price on a boat that can be later sold for a small profit, and paid entry fees into the Tour and possibly select other events. Also, from what Iíve heard for years, most team pros have no interaction with the sponsors themselves, despite what we may be led to believe.
Therefore, these anglers are a month away from the deposit deadline, without a title sponsor, possibly no tow vehicle (most will likely retain their boat sponsorships) and most importantly, less about $26,000 in entry-fee money.
The anglers I spoke with seemed furious about the timing of the notification, and I understand their frustration. However, to be fair, consider that these programs are simply a phase of a marketing contract between the Tour and its sponsors. Those same contracts likely get renewed in December, and rarely are marketing departments all wrapped up with agreements ahead of time. Itís business, and those are the breaks Ė the rest of us deal with it every year.
Also, I think itís important to point out the two opposing viewpoints on team fishermen and what they ďdeserve." Many argue that itís not FLWís responsibility to take care of these anglers. After all, thereís no one brokering deals for the B.A.S.S. pros.
However, the FLW team pros perform many roles outside of competitive fishing, directly for FLW. They work Fun Zones. They charter celebrity and business clients. They work with kids, veterans, the elderly and those who are ill. Believe me, their jobs can be very trying at times, as they need to conform to a given mold not unlike many in corporate America, and do so with a smile on their face.
The result is often one of discontent toward their employer. Countless times Iíve heard prominent FLW Tour pros complain about the direction and management of FLW Outdoors. Many seem to forget, however, how that same company launched their careers as professional fishermen. For some, the team program was a real-world example of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
In a ďgrass is always greenerĒ move, many of these same pros are now eyeing the Elite Series or have moved their careers over completely. A few have tried to fish both and not play favorites, but even that mentality seems to be fading as the tours frequently schedule events on top of each other. FLW often facilitates toward the direction of B.A.S.S., as both know the Elite Series has the upper hand among most of the sport's true professionals.
Itís for that reason, I think, that we are seeing all of these changes within FLW. And, rather than get a well-thought, rehearsed statement, letís just continue to indulge in our fixation with gossip.
First off, FLW is not hurting, nor will it ever be, for interest and entrants into its tournaments. Without question, it is the worldís leading organization in tournament bass fishing Ė it does it the most often and it's the best at it. As long as there is bass fishing, there will be bass tournaments, and there will need to be someone to hold the hat with the money in it.
What does seem to be a problem, however, is the trend of the best anglers in the world moving to B.A.S.S.. I think this stems from the overall business model through the previous two decades. The absence of co-anglers, ESPNís involvement, television production, networks Ė these all come into play.
Possibly the greatest limiting factor, however, were the stipulations placed on the anglers themselves. Competitors could not give exposure to products outside of the FLW sponsor umbrella, therefore, the Tour was simply not taken seriously by many in the industry. Despite being a dominant tournament competitor on the FLW Tour, an angler simply could not coordinate the types of deals that a B.A.S.S. pro could due to advertising restrictions. That hurt the pros, and is now hurting the FLW Tour.
It appears FLW is now trying to dump this and other limiting factors of its business. With such change comes a bump in the road, but I think weíll see a change for the better in years to come.
In my opinion, FLW trumps B.A.S.S. in one major category: the grassroots level with its BFL program. Also, its Rayovac league, complete with very lucrative payouts and a championship, will likely grow. That, combined with fewer stipulations on pro and sponsor exposure, may very well increase interest in the Tour over time.
For nearly two decades, these organizations have jockeyed back and forth to see which can lay claim to being the best game in town. Now it appears FLW is taking a new approach Ė at the expense of those once part of a different plan. But donít be fooled: itís simply business. Itís not a lack of interest and itís certainly not the economy, complete with its record stock market and low gas prices.
Itís business, and itís unfortunate, as change often is. But, in our good olí boy world where no one gets hurt, we often forget that thereís a real world out there. Lately, it seems, weíre being reminded more often.
(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.)