The last time we met, I investigated the great debate among BassFans and competitors alike: determining which professional fishing tour features the toughest competition. While the unfair comparison likely resulted in a hung jury, today we’ll look further into the differences among the country’s top two bass circuits, and what competitors on the inside are experiencing.
Again, drawing from our previously mentioned, unnamed list of top pros who recently switched tours, I delve further into the truths behind the rumors. Today, we talk sponsorships, conflicts of interest and exposure given to the fishermen themselves.
For years, we’ve heard speculations that B.A.S.S. Elite anglers receive more lucrative sponsorship contracts, as a whole, than FLW Tour pros. I had to get the scoop on this. My blatant questioning to current Elite pros provided me with the following answers:
“Sponsors like me more where I’m at (Elite Series) now. The sponsorship platforms and exposure is better.”
“When I was at FLW, my sponsors constantly asked: ‘When are you going to fish B.A.S.S.?’”
“When I moved to B.A.S.S., sponsorships went from 25 percent to 85 percent of my income. It was from $15,000 annually to six figures.”
(After moving to BASS) “I added new sponsors and got substantial raises from all (existing sponsors).”
Conversely, those moving from BASS to FLW noted:
“I had no fallout (with sponsors) due to the move. But I tend to rely on non-endemics.”
On moving to FLW: “I took a whipping. It was tens of thousands within weeks.”
“My sponsors that help me are outside the fishing industry. It didn’t affect me.”
While the differences in sponsor gain for anglers on each tour may appear cut and dried, again, we need to consider the variables and be careful not to compare apples to oranges.
For the most part, our panel of Elite pros who made the leap are very well established and have experienced considerable success sine joining the B.A.S.S. tour. That alone likely contributes to an increase in their value to sponsors and an overall pay raise.
Conversely, I’ve spoken with numerous struggling Elite pros in recent years who were underwater, despite cashing several checks a season. There, sponsorship platforms have routinely been criticized as being weighted toward a chosen few; these interviews shed additional light on that.
Numerous times, when speaking with pros on each side of the fence, opinions were expressed that those anglers with sponsorship platforms closely aligning with the Bassmaster Tournament Trail received far more lucrative packages than most. Anglers expressing these views felt that, unless an angler’s jersey closely matched the B.A.S.S. billboard, little face-time would be given regardless of performance. As one competitor blatantly stated: “I finished in the Top 5 at an Elite tournament and got 4 seconds of TV time. With FLW, I got an incredible amount (of television exposure).”
Perhaps we see arguments supporting both sides. Perhaps, overall, FLW pros earn less sponsor dollars at the top tier, but have a better chance of securing entry-level deals across the board. Is there less of the dreaded favoritism?
Our B.A.S.S. pros say no. To them, the reason for higher sponsor contracts is simply a matter of reach:
“More people are looking at B.A.S.S.. I see it in my social media.”
“My first year of fishing B.A.S.S., I was recognized by fans out in the middle of nowhere. When I fished FLW, people in the same town as the tournament lake didn’t know who I was.”
“The smallest crowd we get at an Elite event is bigger than the crowd at the FLW Cup.”
Throughout my interviews, anglers on both sides agreed that B.A.S.S. has done a superior job in recent times promoting its anglers. They recognize that such progress has enabled pro fishermen to reach a different status within the sport.
In fact, many pros see the initial FLW business model as one that prevented anglers from reaching higher status within the industry. One B.A.S.S. Elite angler even offered a low blow: “We’re running our own boats; it’s who we are. We’re not just dressed up to sell dog food at Walmart.”
Another chimed in “Back in the day, FLW was king. They had 35 team guys and that’s who they promoted.”
But therein lies a notable mention. Many of these B.A.S.S. pros – the same ones I interviewed who are reaping the rewards of a successful fishing career – would have never succeeded without the very business model they felt held them back.
Take a look at the FLW-turned-B.A.S.S. standouts who have reached star status. Now ask yourself how many of them you’d ever heard of before they fished FLW. Many, if not most, were given the chance to compete, and later earn million of dollars, because FLW signed them up as team anglers to represent the Tour’s sponsors. Later, these anglers’ skill and personalities took over to make them what they are today. But originally, in a sport where initial investment prevents the vast majority from ever going into business, they were handed the golden ticket.
I’m afraid many forget that.
Finally, one veteran threw caution to the wind when detailing concerns professional anglers face in the future:
“Our fishing industry has not grown, it’s shrunk. Conglomerates take away sponsorships (when buying up multiple smaller companies). Rapala owns a dozen companies, but only sponsors a handful of guys.
“More people want to be bass pros than there’s room for. For years, FLW has gone outside the box for sponsors, but the anglers have not (followed suit, and) been on board. There’s sponsor conflicts there the same way there is at B.A.S.S.
“Neither (FLW nor B.A.S.S.) is a non-profit organization. They are both in the business of making money. And the anglers themselves (sacrifice everything and) allow these organizations to use them to make money.
“Shame on them.”
(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.)