A LOOK BACK AT THE BASS TOURNAMENT REVOLUTION OF 2019
There are approximately 60 million anglers in the United States. I am one of them and I am also a bass tournament junkie, have been since I first discovered competitive fishing at age 15. I approached iBass360 about doing an opinion piece on the 2019 tournament year, given the upheavals it brought, both at the beginning of the season, and at the end. As a guide on Lake St. Clair, a tournament angler with ELITE SERIES experience, a college fishing coach, and high school fishing tutor, I share a boat and talk with a lot of people at all levels of the bass fishing world. I have heard opinions and certainly formulated my own. So consider this my view of the current state of tournament bass fishing.
We have all read about the plans for FLW post their recent acquisition by MLF, but in the end, no
one is sure exactly what the trail will look like. We will see how it evolves. In the past, FLW’s model was based on the fact that anytime you offer up a $100,000 top prize, live streaming internet exposure, a national stage, and a championship worth $300,000, you are going to find enough tour veterans, ambitious upstarts, and guys who are simply wealthy enough to pony up the entry fees, to fill a field. FLW was ok with that. Based strictly on the numbers, qualifying for their championship was actually the hardest of the majors, and the fact that it attracted Larry Nixon and Bryan Thrift contributed to its legitimacy.
Just prior to the 2019 season, an official FLW press release firmly stated that they had no intention to change anything just to compete with BASS or MLF’s Bass Pro Tour. Perhaps they already had a deal with MLF in the works, maybe not, but since we don’t really know what 2020 will look like, for true side-by-side comparison, I am just going to compare BASS and the BPT, keeping in mind that many of the things that historically and currently make BASS successful, also made FLW successful.
B.A.S.S.- What They Did Right in 2019
My lead is in two words, TENSION and CLIMAX. While I believe the BPT is doing some great things (keep reading), I believe the number one thing that separates the BASS product from the BPT is tension for the viewer and a climactic finish. For me, and many of the folks I talk to, that tension and climax simply makes a BASS Elite event more entertaining from start to finish. BASS tournaments are like a good book, the tension drives investment on the part of the viewer. From Day One, minute one, of a BASS Elite event the viewer begins to feel the tension. Day One sets the chess table and the pieces start moving and every day counts. Every day affects the outcome of the event, as well as the Angler of the Year standings, in a significant way.
In the BPT, the first two days essentially mean nothing for the viewer. On Days Three and Four all
we really care about is who takes 20th place to make the cut. We don’t really care who is leading the two brackets because all weights are zeroed. Day five sets the final but even there the weights are zeroed.
The BPT touts the motto “Every fish counts.” For BASS tournaments, it’s “Every hookset counts” because we don’t know if what’s on the other end is going to affect the outcome or not. There is nervous tension until that fish is in the boat, measured, and weighed. Sometimes the fish helps, sometimes not. The uncertainty creates the tension and viewer excitement. The competitors are targeting the five biggest fish, and there are times we have to wait, making anticipation and tension build. Waiting is okay. BassTrakk exists, but it is far from perfect. I would argue that the imperfection just allows the tension to build!
At the end of each day, and especially on “Championship Sunday”, there is a climax with BASS. The fish are bagged, we get to see the great beasts again, and we learn the real results. Positions jockey, the crowd is there, the daily winner is revealed, and there is a celebration-
especially when the ultimate winner is crowned. When we get to the end of a BPT event, the winning angler stands alone in his boat and smiles, maybe gives a fist pump to the marshal, and it’s over. Yes, there is a trophy presentation later on, but who really watches that? There is no reason. The viewer knows who won and needs to get his lawn cut or start the burgers.
If you listen to the BPT pro anglers, they talk about how tense it is for them- even more so than BASS. I can accept that for the anglers- especially when it comes to making the various cuts. However, the tournament is a media product for viewers, not for the anglers. The viewers are the ones buying the products on the jersey and boat wrap. To keep viewers tuned in, the tension has to be palpable. For the majority of those I have talked to, it simply is not. They want to be invested and they can’t bring themselves to it.
Let’s talk about the size of the fish. I am sure the BPT guys are tired of hearing this, but this was the chief complaint I heard throughout the season. Did they catch some big bass? Of course, they are the best in the world, fishing world class waters. Did 1 lb. score-able bass dominate the season? Unfortunately, YES. Is that going to get old quick? I think so. Long-term, invested viewers want to see big fish- just as they want to see aerial touch downs, Home Run bombs,
slam dunks and wrap-around goals. How many times has a low scoring, field goal only, football game lost your attention? Let’s face it, the first question a lot of us get when they hear we fish is, “What’s your biggest fish?” People tune in to pro fishing for the same reason they watch other pro sports- to see the best in the world do their best, catch the biggest, achieve something never before achieved.
BASS could not have scripted a better start to their season than having legendary fisherman Rick Clunn reeling in giants on the St. Johns River. Big bass heroics also were key at Winyah Bay and Ten Killer, with Scott Canterbury nearly taking the title at the former, and Carl Jocumsen being able to pull away from the field in the latter. Then there was Lake St. Clair for the Angler of the Year event- anglers challenging for the tournament win and the AOY were culling four pound fish! Big bass were absolutely the story of the BASS season.
Event Coverage & Angler Exposure
With decades of experience, including input from ESPN and the genius of the late Jerry McKinnis, BASS covered their events in 2019 like no other in the history of pro fishing. I think it is generally accepted that they have the best broadcasters in terms of in-depth reporting, stats, experience, and color commentary. Their data is well researched, they bring the viewer interesting details,