Each October, I serve as emcee for the Central Basin Bass Benefit Tournament in Akron, Ohio. It’s a great event, benefiting kids in need at Cleveland MetroHealth Hospital. Over the years, the buddy-style, grassroots tourney has generated tens of thousands of dollars for kids involved in serious medical procedures. It feels good to help.
But before I get too involved in patting my own back, I have to bring you up to speed on another event that has become nothing short of heroic, thanks in part to an ingenious format.
A recent press release carried the news: for the 17th consecutive year, a group of bass fishermen were making a difference by participating in a charity tournament to benefit St. Jude Hospital. This year, they had reached a milestone in their fundraising efforts. The donated sum is nothing short of amazing.
How much, you ask? Ten thousand … a hundred? Try $2 million.
Even more miraculous is the fact that, although the grand-total has been spread out over a period of nearly two decades, this year’s event generated over $300,000 alone. Who knows what lies ahead?
I felt the need to learn more about the Dick Hiley St. Jude Bass Classic, uncover its secret to success, and report here.
To get the scoop, I contacted George Liddle, the Ranger Boats sales representative for the north-central U.S. Just about anybody who’s been involved in any organized fishing events in this area has dealt with Liddle; he’s been active in nearly everything “bass” in the Upper Midwest for decades.
Not surprisingly, Liddle serves as a board member for the St. Jude Classic, and has been involved in one facet or another since the event’s inception.
Liddle keyed me in on one of the key variables to the event’s success: the fishermen do the bulk of the fundraising. This differs from every similar benefit function I’ve been involved in, where the tournament organization or organizing body does most of the legwork. It’s brilliant, as it puts more boots on the ground in the name of the cause.
Immediately, this opens up infinite possibilities for support. While grassroots tournament anglers all share a passion for fishing, they come from all walks of life, and thus can gain support from non-endemic donors much easier than the tournament organization ever could. The fishermen are already in the trenches in their local communities and businesses.
For instance, using the event I participate in as an example, some of the biggest supporters are auto repair shops, roofing contractors and retail stores, because the local bass club putting on the event includes the owners or largest clients in their roster.
The St. Jude’s event goes one step further with its business model. Everyone involved is a fund-raiser, including the competitors themselves.
All year long, the anglers are hustling dollars. There are garage sales, fishing flea markets, spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts. The pre-tournament dinner includes numerous other last-minute fundraisers to feed the kitty even more. For instance, competitors can purchase better blast-off positions. Liddle mentioned that the evening function has turned into a charity gala in its own right.
But the St. Jude’s event doesn’t stop there. In order to even qualify to fish the event, the anglers must raise a certain threshold of donations. Then, the more they raise, the more they can win. And, while Liddle admits that the core group of participants at this event are what make all the difference, I feel the format certainly helps the cause, and has potential to be groundbreaking.
The more you earn, the more you win. Think about it. Anglers raise, for example, $1,200, win the event, and take home $5,000. But,had they raised $1,500, their prize money would have jumped to $7.500.
What drives tournament bass fishermen likely more than anything else?
So why not play into that for a good cause.
Raising the payout for these events as a direct reflection of charitable contributions generated by the anglers is brilliant. And, from the fisherman’ standpoint, it almost becomes a lesson in risk/reward. If a team of anglers is within a short reach of a payout threshold, as in our example, they can simply chip in the extra bucks. Win-win, right?
I love the idea, and hope our publicity here of the system helps generate more interest for this type of format. It’s for a great cause and it helps spread a few of our tournament dollars to events that are far more life-changing than trophies and cardboard checks will ever be.
The Central Basin Bass Benefit Tournament takes place each fall on the Portage Chain of Lakes in northern Ohio. For more information, click here to visit the event's Facebook page.
The Dick Hiley St. Jude Bass Classic is held each May in Wabasha, Minn. More information can be found by clicking here.
(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.)