In a spirited and far-ranging online discussion about the future of football, writers Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell seemed to agree on one thing: In every major sport, there is a “second conversation,” one that goes far beyond, and may not even intersect with, the activity that occurs on the field of play.
That second conversation may change as time goes on, but at any given snapshot in time there’s often an obviousness to it. Right now, they agreed, in the NFL the second conversation is about concussions. In baseball, it might be the Moneyball revolution. In golf, Simmons suggested, it’s whether Tiger Woods will “ever get his mojo back.”
So what is the second conversation in professional fishing? Is it about the viability of two major tours? About the increasing adaptation of technology? Whether KVD will win another AOY? How Chad Pipkens does his hair?
I’d suggest that it’s none of those, although they all may be somehow related. The second conversation in professional fishing, as it was 10 year ago, and 10 years before that, and 10 years before that, is about sponsorship. That extends to the top pros, who need to figure out a way to sustain their livelihoods when tournament winnings alone can’t possibly pay everybody’s bills and it extends to the lowest level club angler, too, who typically seems more concerned with getting a logo on his shirt than he does with catching fish. It impacts the veracity of everything we write and read about the sport, because information is dictated not by empirical facts, but rather by economics. I guarantee you that if I write an article about sponsorship trends and tactics – of which I admit I’ve written more than a few – it’ll get many more page views than if I write one about pre-spawn techniques for smallmouths.
But what I can’t figure out is whether this second conversation harms the sport. Yes, it’s goofy sometimes to see people who wear their tournament jerseys to a professional event in which they are not participating. Yes, it’s backwards that anglers would rather work 20 hours at a boat show for a discount on worms than on their actual angling skills. In a perfect world, we’d stress the love of fishing over the need for marketing. That said, I’m not quite sure who it’s hurting. In fact, if it keeps people involved and interested in the sport, even for the “wrong” reasons, maybe it’s helping. At least we don’t have to worry about concussions.