In December, FLW Tour tournament director Bill Taylor put up the following post on Facebook:
"I've been looking very closely at the 2017 FLW Tour Pro Roster. It amazes me of the talent levels of these pros! I then pulled up the BASS Elite Pro list and see that 80-90% of those anglers started fishing within the FLW family of tournaments. This tells me our programs are perfect for any angler that wants to develop their fishing skills with the best out there! So whether you fish as a beginner at the High School or as a 40 year old beginner we have a place you can fish and gain huge amounts of knowledge."
That is a very magnanimous and honest thing for a representative of an organization to write. It does not explicitly admit that the Elite Series is a “better” trail or that the Elite Series field is “better” than that of FLW – clearly, as long as anglers like Andy Morgan, Bryan Thrift and John Cox are there, they’ll continue to have at least some anglers who can compete against anyone who’s ever fished. Nevertheless, there seems to be at least a tacit admission that when anglers rise to a certain level, many if not most of them would rather fish with B.A.S.S. than with FLW. At least I read it that way.
So if you’re a member of the FLW brass and you recognize that imbalance of power, what do you do about it? If they’re already making bank and they’re satisfied with their product, maybe they sit on their hands and keep on doing what they’re doing. My sense, though, is that no successful business operates that way. To borrow a phrase from a friend, “If you’re coasting, you’re probably going downhill.”
Both entities have Federation-level circuits and college tours, but the one area where FLW seems to clearly be beating the competition is in the arena of weekend angler level events, specifically the BFLs. There are certainly other circuits with similar field sizes and payouts, but none so extensive as the circuit that FLW inherited from Red Man and then maintained. Assuming that it’s profitable, it’s something that they should look to strengthen.
So what other venues are there where FLW can seek to gain a competitive business advantage even if the possibility exists that their flagship product (i.e., the Tour) can’t compete with that of the competition? It seems to me that in an era when information is power the best place to compete would be on the media battlefield. Both circuits have one or more magazines, a television show and a website, and without offering my own opinions as to whose is better in each case, I think it’s possible to stipulate that reasonable fishing fans may disagree on that matter and on how either tour’s product could be improved.
In the interests of full disclosure, I used write for FLW’s magazine and I currently write for the B.A.S.S. publications and I’m friends with some of the folks who prepare the Bassmaster television programming. I’m an unabashed fan of not only Zona and Sanders, but also a lot of the behind the scenes folks. With that established, there’s no reason that FLW couldn’t pour a ton of resources into their media offerings in an effort to distinguish their products. Their magazine has improved markedly in recent years and with an influx of talent, brainstorming and money, it could compete with any other specialty magazine on the newsstand. Unlike the fishing tours, where you’re essentially committed to fishing one or the other, there’s no reason that they couldn’t poach talent from other products, including non-fishing products, to give their media offerings maximum appeal to hardcore anglers, novice anglers and non-anglers alike. That doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to get top programmers from Google to revamp their website. Nor will the Academy Award winning producers line up to produce their shows. Similarly, they probably can’t afford to get the likes of Wright Thompson or Michael Lewis to write for them, but there’s no reason they can’t think in that direction.
An organization that is honest enough with itself to realize where it has ceded ground to the competition doesn’t need to give up. In fact, that’s just a call to push forward in the venues where there’s ground to gain. With the right business plan and the right focus, there’s no reason that FLW’s future shouldn’t be bright, no matter how many pros “defect” to the Elite Series.