Fee Free?


It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that throughout most of the history of professional bass fishing the anglers have been fishing primarily to win their own money. Most fans, and (assumedly) all the anglers thought that this needed to be changed. Now, thanks to a vote by their anglers, the 2019 Bass Pro Tour will not require its field to pay entry fees to participate. This is being hailed as a major shift in the fishing landscape. It may be just that. Or it may not. I’m still trying to figure it out, and the proof will more likely be available in a year or two.

Because the final numbers still don’t seem to be available, I’m confused by what this all means. If you can help me understand it, please comment or send me a message. Hell, if you have firsthand knowledge of the information that I’m missing, I’ll gladly give you space in this column to inform my readers.

In the meantime: Math.

I’m going to dumb this down and round the numbers a bit to make it simpler, even if that means it’s not 100% reflective of the current payouts. If my changes make a material difference, let me know and I’ll admit it.

In the meantime, here’s the math part that I don’t understand:

• BPT will have 80 participants next year

• For the sake of my coffee-addled brain, let’s pretend they’d have 10 events next year.

• To keep it exceptionally simple, let’s pretend that entry fees would have been $5,000 a pop.

That’s 80 x 10 x $5,000, for a total of $4 million in entry fees (the actual numbers were 14 events and $48,375 per angler, for a total of just under $4 million).

Instead, by popular demand, they will have zero in entry fees.

Per BassFan’s November 1 article on this topic, under the proposed entry fees that were voted down, “the total payout would've been nearly $10 million. With no entry fees, it could be closer to $6 million, but no official figures have been released.” [Note: BassFan and BPT share some common ownership, but I don’t know if that quotation represents some insider knowledge or just speculation.]

What’s $6,000,000 minus zero in entry fees?

It’s the same as $10,000,000 minus $4,000,000 in entry fees.

So if the net profit is the same, and BassFan’s assumptions are correct, what’s the difference?

If might be in how that net is distributed. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there are 10 anglers in next year’s BPT field who fail to earn a single check in our hypothetical 10 tournament slate. Under a model with $5,000 entry fees, they’d have a net loss of $50,000 apiece, plus expenses. Under a model with zero entry fees, they’d lose nothing (except their expenses).

How would the remaining 70 fare with those numbers? Under the model with entry fees, they’d split $10,000,000 – an average of just under $143,000 apiece, minus $50k in entry fees, for a net of $93,000 apiece. With no entry fees, they’d split $6,000,000, for an average of just under $86,000. Assuming that the $7,000 haircut is spread evenly among those 70, they’re taking a collective 7.5% pay cut to subsidize the guys at the absolute bottom of the scorecard.

That might be a loss they’re willing to endure, but I doubt that it would be spread so evenly. All circuits like to advertise that their top prizes beat those offered by the competition, so I can’t imagine BPT (or BASS, or FLW), would want to decrease the top ten payout. If those remain the same, then it seems likely that the guys in the middle of the pack, the ones who can catch fish consistently but aren’t in the running for AOY, are going to see their profits squeezed in order to prevent others from losing their shirt.

Maybe there are some facts that I’m missing – if there are, please let me know and I’ll gladly correct my assumptions. Of course, nothing in this model takes into account sponsorship dollars, appearance fees, or the all-powerful-capital-E-Exposure. Even if my other assumptions are correct, those factors could move the needle one way or another. But the bottom line, at least as far as we’ve been told, is that 10 minus 4 is worse than 6.

I recognize that because I write for BASS, and used to write for FLW, and I’m friendly with a number of BPT pros, that no matter what I write about this topic will be perceived as biased in some manner. That’s why I tried to distill it to plain numbers (I went to law school because I suck at math). There may be lies, damn lies and statistics, but I’d like to think that basic arithmetic is relatively agnostic.

Smarter minds than mine might still be working out all of the details, but I think I speak for a lot of the fans of the sport (and a bunch of the anglers) when I say that we’re anxious to see if “no entry fees” translates into a better ability for pros to make a living.