Pardon the Disruption

By Pete Robbins

Everyone in the world of big business seems to be obsessed with the concept of “disruption.” I’m using that term loosely, not in the narrowly defined academic sense, but rather to mean anything that upends the traditionally accepted business models and norms. For example, Uber has disrupted the taxi business, Tesla has the potential to disrupt the traditional dealer-network model for selling cars. Wikipedia and Google marked the last nail in the coffin of the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman.

Of course, individual people can also be disruptors. You can be innovative and productive without being disruptive, just as I suppose you can be disruptive without being innovative or productive, but to really make a difference one needs to be both.

In the world of tournament fishing, we haven’t had a true disruptor in 20 years, when Irwin Jacobs boosted payouts and made a few enemies when he stepped into what was more or less a BASS-only arena at the highest and most prominent level of the sport and upset the expected order. Think back to when FLW started and raised payouts to $100,000 for first place finishes. At the time a BASS Top 100 winner earned less than half of that, and it wasn’t all cash – typically about half of it came in dollars and the other half in sometimes difficult-to-sell merchandise like boats (as a reminder, in order to win the pro side of a BASS event, you typically already have to have a boat – so they kind of had you over a barrel to sell the thing). Had Irwin not come along, maybe BASS would’ve eventually upped their payouts, but it almost certainly would’ve been a much slower process.

A disruptor need not be liked. I sat in a Minnesota hotel conference room in June of 1997 as several pros argued vehemently against the no-competing-sponsors-on-your-shirt rule that Jacobs imposed on FLW pros. According to Tim Tucker and BassFan, respectively, both Rick Clunn and Jeff Coble had dockside arguments with him at FLW events. Love him or hate him, though, the business model changed across the board because of his influence.

We constantly hear fans and pundits (like myself) talking about how to change the sport or – worse yet – grow the sport, and incrementally it is getting altered. Most notably, websites like BassFan and innovations like live-blogging and BASSTrakk have moved the coverage forward. But if there’s ever going to be a major leap, it’ll have to result from a disruptive business or a disruptive leader. The PAA, which was a fine idea, went the way of the dinosaurs. MLF, which produces a fine product, is not there yet, nor may it ever be. Its progress is still too dependent on the success and infrastructure of the major tours. Someday a disruptive individual may come, but he’ll have to be a force of nature, because the influencers in this sport are too closely knit, and too much of the same background, thought processes and beliefs to easily accept an outsider with trend-bucking ideas. They’ll build a wall and prevent him from succeeding unless by sheer force of personality, the strength of his ideas and the depth of his wallet they have no choice but to accept him – or react to his actions.