We read and hear a lot about the future of our sport. Lately I’ve seen a lot written about it in the context of high school and college angling. There’s no doubt that what’s being written is well-meaning and true but the one thing that’s often lacking is an analysis of exactly what the future of our sport means. This week I’ll give you my thoughts on the subject.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Young men and women going out fishing — anytime, anyplace — add numbers to bass fishing, both recreational and competitive. It also adds some level of support for the activity. That seems to be what a lot of the writers are talking about. But in my thinking there’s a lot more to it, especially on the professional end.
We’re a really young sport. Basically, you can track our professional beginnings to Ray Scott and his early efforts in the late 1960s. That’s about 45 years. Nearly every other professional level sport is older than that. Many are well over 100 years old.
Think about this in the context of salaries, sponsorships, endorsements, equipment, safety and fish care, rules, league organization and governing bodies. The early professionals from other sports probably never dreamed that they would become what they are today. And so it will be with professional bass fishing.
The first anglers to fish Ray Scott’s tournaments didn’t do very well in the sponsorship department, certainly not like we do now, and they didn’t come close to making the money we make today. If the future of professional bass fishing tracks that of other sports, and changes as much in the next 45 years as it has in the past 45 years, we’re in for a serious ride.
The guys who are just getting started will determine much of what that ride looks like and they’ll determine what it will be like on an individual level. Will they fish no entry fee tournaments on a regular basis? Will they be paid to fish, a show up fee of some kind? How will sponsorships work? What about endorsements and advertising contracts?
The bigger picture will change, too. Will we have more than one “league” with a governing body and a type of national championship? Will the rules and organization be determined by some sort of collective bargaining agreement between the “owners” and the anglers? What role will gender play decades from now? Will men and women fish together or will they fish in separate tournaments and organizations?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, and neither does anyone else. What I do know is that the kids who are fishing in our high schools and our colleges right now will determine the answers, or at least a large part of them. There’ll be up and downs, good times and bad, but through it all we’ll grow and change. I’m confident that growth and change will ultimately be for the good.