Barring any unforeseen changes, professional bass fishing will again be under way in about a month, although the look of it all may change. Crowd control, weigh-in gatherings and angler/observer pairings may all need to be addressed in today’s new world. But that’s another story.
What I’m after today is discussion on the newly announced FLW Pro Circuit format, dropping celebrity anglers from MLF in the mix, and how it will affect the players involved.
To recap, FLW announced that the Pro Circuit was cancelling a few previously scheduled events, replacing them with larger tournaments including 56 MLF anglers. The MLF pros will compete for cash, not points, and will not have a bearing on the FLW Pro Circuit TITLE championship event, or Angler of the Year.
From what I see, FLW will be increasing the overall payout of each Pro Circuit event substantially, gaining over 50 percent in the total purse, and bringing the payout well over a million dollars for each tournament. In fact, it appears additional payout will surpass additional entry input at a level of 171percent.
So, is everyone thrilled with the move? Well, not exactly.
Many fans were immediately vocal on the issue, most notably on the spotlight being cast toward the MLF pros and away from the FLW loyalists who signed up in the first place. Such criticism is natural, as MLF has had a way of initially pointing fingers at traditional bass tournament procedures, like holding fish in livewells for later release. In addition, many MLF pros have been very vocal in their support of no-entry-fee events, insinuating such raises the bar in our sport.
Yet, here we are, with 56 of the world's best again paying to play and riding fish around in bass boats. Facebook stock just went up.
On top of all the scrutiny, the MLF pros involved are already capturing most of the press, disappointing hard-working hopefuls trying to do the same. Think about it: You’re an up-and-coming tournament angler, paying big bucks to compete against others like you, and possibly make a run at a full time career in bass fishing. You most likely have another job and paying 5 grand for a tournament entry is no small potatoes. Then, out of nowhere, the league tells you your competition now includes Andy Morgan and Edwin Evers.
From what I gather, there are two opposing sides to the existing FLW Pro Circuit anglers. There are the anglers who welcome more competition, and with it more money in the pot, and there are those who feel they’re getting a raw deal, as a large percentage of those dollars and the accompanying press will undoubtedly go to the professional hitmen.
Make no mistake, the MLF crew will gobble up a bunch of the profits. I, for one, am anxious to see the outcome of these things. For a while, I’ve suspected that the MLF format does, in fact, lend itself to developing better tournament anglers; those forced to make decisions on the fly and function more intuitively. If my suspicions are right, things could get ugly.
Or maybe I’m off base. Maybe, as others have voiced, nearly all tournament anglers are better than ever, and have advanced along with the technology they utilize. In that case, there may be a bunch of guys flying under the radar who are well prepared to kick some MLF butt.
Either way, by including the MLF pros in the mix, MLFLW has indeed made things interesting.
And we can’t cover the topic without making note of the status of the sport and its players. To be sure, regardless of all the hype early on, professional bass fishermen are competitors and gamblers, and they will always find the best game in town. They have to.
The only way for the majority of professional touring anglers to really survive is to compete for prize dollars. Sure, sponsors help, but a vast majority of this crowd depends on regular paychecks at the conclusion of competition.
Their sponsors also depend on it, and here we may have another interesting side note. Many supporting manufacturers have been critical of the large-scale move of their pro staff to MLF. Most have given some leeway to allow things to settle out but, believe me, there’s been a lot of discussion over the best place to spend pro-staff funds.
Sponsors will quickly realize that these high-profile events will put their products in front of a lot of eyes. This will be the biggest game in town, at least temporarily.
And I wonder how that will impact things down the road. Given the amount of publicity the FLW Pro Circuit Super Tournaments will likely generate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the concept carried on in years to come.
Or, perhaps, the public outcry just be too much.
In any case, it will be interesting.
(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.)