The new year greets us with a fresh start to big-league bass, as the major tournament trails prepare for the season ahead. As always, my goal here is to inform and discuss topics making the biggest impact on professional bass fishing. Without question, the inclusion of gambling industry giant Bally’s Corporation to our sport tops the list, as Major League Fishing recently announced a partnership that I’m anxious to learn more about.
Details of the agreement are currently vague. This is no surprise, really, as the big leagues of bass fishing often announce “partnerships” with little apparent benefit to anglers other than attaching a corporate name to a tournament or award. But don’t think I’m implying an absent relationship this time.
On the contrary, companies like Bally’s don’t do things for show. Consider that the Bally’s Corporation owns 14 casinos, the fastest-growing fantasy site in North America, a leading on-line gaming operator, a horse track, a first-in-class betting platform, and employs 10,000 people. This is hardly a company throwing its name around.
Again, it’s hard to say where MLF will fit in. For now, there’s been some announcement of a fantasy league, but the sky’s the limit. Immediately, my thoughts travel back to the inception of fantasy bass through the FLW Tour several years ago. At first, it seemed like a home run. Many friends of mine, including those with absolutely no knowledge or interest of professional bass fishing, jumped on board to try their hand in forming a team. A few won prizes. The big appeal, of course, was the six-figure payday offered to the fantasy league’s top finisher.
Unfortunately, fantasy bass burned out as fast as it appeared. I would imagine a lack of funding had much to do with the short shelf life.
Bally’s has no lack of funding; of this I’m sure. So participation will be required for the group to have a successful return on their investment. I admit I have no knowledge of this industry, or even the parameters and regulations that shape it. A big bet to me is purchasing more than one Super Bowl square. I’m an eternal loser in these types of things.
But rest assured, I’ll be playing whatever is offered in the new bass fishing gaming sector, provided I’m eligible. Before we all run off throwing high-fives, though, it’s best we also discuss potential bumps in the road.
Starting with the easiest: bass fishing has never fit into the mold of professional sports gambling. Remember, this is a sport that – just a few short years ago – swore off any advertising allegiance to alcohol, tobacco and other deviant vices. A sport where I was once personally reprimanded for using the word “hellacious” on stage. Where athletes can’t dip on camera. Certainly, this is a sport with no tolerance for gambling, right?
Times have changed, and continue to do so. We see the leagues opening up to the possibility that a few folks like to have a beer on the lake, and life goes on. We certainly now see an acceptance of the advertising dollars being spent by brands once considered taboo. It’s natural to think gaming companies could be included.
But again, I think a major hurdle to cross will be convincing everyone involved that professional bass fishing is, indeed, a professional sport. Such is a necessary component to any gambling platform.
Whether it be the NBA or pro cornhole, a sport must be considered legit for fans to invest money in the form of a wager. For instance, would you fork over a hundred-dollar bet on the outcome of my local Wednesday night wildcat derby down on the river? Neither would I .
My point is this: Pro bass fishing is going to need to get its act together to convince the folks at Bally’s that we’re not a bunch of good ol’ boys just getting together for bragging rights. While the inclusion of this industry giant certainly adds to the validity of the sport, it will be the sport’s job to live up to the new profile.
We’ve discussed this here before; the professional leagues teetering back and forth between professional and club sport, if you will. Are fans like me followers or participants? And what constitutes a professional angler?
I recently read a news release claiming the need to include more anglers in the “pro bracket”. That there were upwards of 100,000 professional anglers in America, and that we, or they, or whoever, should all be considered card-carrying members.
Are you going to bet on that type of sport? Me neither.
Mark my word, we’ll need some clarity here to pull this off. Sure, there’s a chance that further development of professional bass fishing into a sport worth wagering on could advance into a big-time phenomenon. Or it could just be a little hype intended to add interest and offer a few prizes along the way.
Maybe Bally’s is just toying around with a new idea; testing the waters, if you will. Like I said, that seems like a stretch to me.
Or perhaps they view this as an investment in a sport apparently resistant to the cancellations and concerns plaguing other leagues. Looking to the new future.
Or maybe we’re about to learn a lot more.
(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.)