Last Thursday, the New York Times published a lengthy (approximately 3,000 words) feature on the state of bass fishing titled “This Is the Most Lucrative Moment in History to Catch Bass.” The writer, Haley Cohen Gilliland, previously of mega-serious and prestigious publications like The Economist and Vanity Fair, did a fantastic job with what is likely a difficult topic for people outside of our orbit to understand. While I’m sure that some of us within the bubble might find small things to quibble about – like first-year medical students watching E.R. or lawyers watching an episode of Law & Order – she didn’t leave much low-hanging fruit in that regard. The article is comprehensive, clear and seems to be largely free of any pre-judgments about the sport or the people who care deeply about it.
If anything, despite the fact that I consume thousands of words about fishing every week, her piece left me wanting more of her comparatively objective analysis. With that established, here are ten points, in no particular order, that either stuck out to me or that I wondered about. Any discussions of omissions are not criticisms of the author, but rather just additional questions that I have.
· It thrilled me that a top-shelf mainstream publication tackled this topic. While I’ll admit that I’m biased, I think this is more than a fishing story, it’s a sports story in the grandest sense of the word – in an era where the term “disruptive” is used so often that it’s almost passé, this is a story of a business model potentially being turned upside down.
· Building on that last point, I’ve suggested to MBA types that I know that this would provide several perfect case studies for a business school class --either the story of how MLF/BPT jumped into a market that already seemed saturated, or how does a legacy leader respond to a serious plundering of talent by an upstart.
· Pretty sure this is the first time the word “avuncular” has been used in an article about bass tournaments.
· Good reference to a BassFan article by Todd Ceisner, which showed them to be the leading source of information not directly tied to a tour (although they share the same parent company as MLF/BPT).
· Mad props to my friend JD Blackburn. He wasn’t mentioned by name, but his company – Pro Fishing Management – was referenced as a prime example of the modernization of the sport as a business.
· At first I questioned why KVD was the focus of the piece, other than possibly just pure luck that BASS media folks put the writer in the boat with him. Wouldn’t a mid-level pro be a better bellweather for the state of the sport than someone who could retire tomorrow and live comfortably for the rest of his life? On further consideration, though, I think KVD was a wise choice. The decision of the Elite Series GOAT to cut off his quest for more Classic or AOY titles speaks volumes of what he expects in terms of new opportunities. She also included information, quotations and references to Edwin Evers, Casey Ashley, Gerald Swindle and Mike Iaconelli, among others.
· I was surprised that there was no mention of Boyd Duckett, who seems to be some combination of pied piper, visionary, disruptive guru, and heel, depending on where you stand. Not sure if that was just a matter of time/space, or a concerted effort by anyone to keep his name out of the piece.
· I was also surprised that no pro who was offered a BPT invitation but turned it down to return to the Elite Series was quoted on the rationale for that decision. In fairness, though, the author’s deadline might’ve come before those decisions were made.
· While the article includes a reference to Bass Pro Shops as the company that built VanDam’s boat, there’s no mention of Johnny Morris or Stan Kroenke. Why do none of us yet know the ownership division? Might their ownership stakes and personal interest ultimately determine the outcome of the sport?
· More and more it seems to me that the relative success of the three tours may not depend as much on the anglers who compete on them as in their ability to capitalize on technology sooner and better than the others. Is television coverage overrated and live-streaming underrated? Will there be some other platform that eclipses them all?