I attended The Bass University in Columbus, Ohio this past weekend and I found it to be remarkably informative. Despite having written an article or three about every technique under the sun (with the notable exceptions of “tightlining” and the “Damiki Rig”) and generally feeling like a know-it-all, I got great insights and little tidbits of insider information from each of the speakers. The other attendees were similarly captivated, taking notes on pads and laptops and remaining attentive throughout the long sessions.
Despite their desire to learn and become better anglers, I genuinely believe that many of the students were there either partially or primarily to rub elbows with the pros. It’s one reason that so many people sign up to be co-anglers or Marshals, or go to the boat show, or angle for a front row seat at an Elite Series tournament. Not only do they hope that a bit of that greatness will rub off on them, but they want to have some sort of interaction – however small – with their heroes. While the seminars were well-received, the breakout sessions where fans got to ask questions of the pros were where the real action occurred.
I’m not immune to it myself. On Saturday night I sat across the dinner table from Roland Martin. I’ve interviewed or ridden with many of our sport’s legends – Jimmy Houston, Rick Clunn, Hank Parker, Kevin VanDam – but this was my first direct encounter with the Great American Fisherman. Since I didn’t know when the next opportunity would strike, I wanted to make the most of it, but I also didn’t want to come off as a Stage Five Chris-Farley-interviewing-Paul-McCartney level stalker. I quizzed him cautiously and in hindsight wish I had been a little more aggressive about it.
While the fishing media and fan base always wonder if our sport’s popularity has reached its ceiling, one of the nice things about it remaining small is that we still have those opportunities to mix and mingle with the top dogs of the sport. Everyone has a buddy who rode with KVD, or talked to Skeet in a gas station restroom, or caught one of A-Mart’s sun gloves when he tossed it into the crowd. The access is there if you want it. If indeed we’re never going to expand the industry’s footprint, then I believe the next step to expand its revenue will come from the people who can figure out how to better monetize that access. Obviously, the Ikes and KVDs of the world don’t have time for individualized guide trips, and even if they did, that’s not a scalable business model. The Bass U model, however, is something to build upon. I’m not saying that in 30 years us aging bass heads will be crammed into a Carnival Cruise Ship for a buffet breakfast with our favorite pros the way old-school Steelers fans flock to meet an aging Mean Joe Greene or Franco Harris in cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. However, there’s real money to be made for the person or person who best figures out how to commodify access to the pros without cheapening it.