During some downtime at ICAST, I got into a conversation with fellow pro, Davy Hite — the context of which had nothing to do with the show. It was about how the sport of professional bass fishing was evolving and more specifically, how we, the anglers, present ourselves.
Davy asked how I felt pro fishing was perceived by the general public, and if our character or mannerisms — even the way we dress — had a negative impact on that perception. As I thought about it, he added, "What sport do you think ours should be patterned after most?"
Without hesitation, I said golf. He smiled, nodded, and said, "That's right!"
He continued by expressing a concern that too many bass pros were becoming overly animated on camera and in front of the fans — embarrassing, we agreed.
Referencing golf again, he asked, "Have you ever seen a PGA pro act like a fool after making a great shot or winning a major championship?" Before I could acknowledge, he said, "No, you haven't!" And he was right.
There is no question that our sport encourages animated behavior. Where or whom it started with, who's to say? Television has played a role. When the cameras are running, you can count on someone in the field to make the most of the opportunity … whether they're catching fish or not.
With so much radical programming these days, it's no wonder it reached our arena. Most of the so called "reality" TV shows are anything but real. They're simply platforms for ridiculous or outrageous behavior. Certain X-style sports promote the same. And it stands to reason; they're targeted mostly toward young people.
But is it right for fishing?
A Fork in the Road
At some point along the way, our sport made a conscious decision to pattern pro fishing after NASCAR. Their numbers were strong, and the audience was a close fit demographically.
NASCAR was also on a roll. In addition to support from the automotive industry, alcohol and tobacco companies were pouring money into the till. Even better, savvy marketers realized women liked car racing too, and by targeting housewives and families, they could expand their audience while increasing the bottom line. Suddenly, manufacturers of common, everyday household goods were in the mix. Brands like Tide, Cheerios and Maxwell House.
During this time, ESPN was the main platform for NASCAR. But when their contract ran out, a heated bidding war ensued and they lost their grip to FOX-Sports.
Then ESPN purchased B.A.S.S. — believing they could build our sport like they had NASCAR. Which brings me back to the players in our arena. With ESPN controlling things at that time, the emphasis wasn't just on growing the sport, they wanted to promote its personalities.
Under the direction of Irwin Jacobs, the FLW Tour did likewise. By aligning with Walmart, they gained access to a slew of household brands and that signage adorned the boats and tournament apparel of FLW's key anglers.
With the advent of the Bassmaster Elite Series, our boats, too, became billboards for sponsors. Tow vehicles and apparel are also covered in signage, which further links us to the NASCAR template. In fact, we have guidelines that dictate the size and placement of certain logos … just like NASCAR.
In retrospect, I wonder how it would have gone had professional bass fishing patterned itself more after the PGA. Think about it. There would be considerably less signage and a whole lot less theatrics from the players.
Would this be good? It depends on who you ask.
I'm not knocking the decision makers for the direction they took. I just wonder where we might be today had we taken a different approach.