Changes in the Works for Major Bass Circuits
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire
B.A.S.S. announced historic changes to the Bassmaster Elite Series last Monday, a move seen by many as triggered by the kickoff of a competing circuit just announced by former Bassmaster Elite Pro Boyd Duckett of Guntersville, Alabama.
According to Bruce Akin, CEO of B.A.S.S., which is headquartered in Birmingham, the 2019 Elite season will see a smaller field, vastly increased payouts, dramatically reduced entry fees and the promise of more exposure through the company’s media platforms.
First, the 2019 Elite Series field size will be based on 80 anglers, down from 110 last year. This reduction in the number of competitors will not only allow the pros to get more exposure through B.A.S.S. media platforms, according to Akin, but also will improve their odds of winning and qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic.
The new format features three no-entry fee events that will payout $1 million each: the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest, the Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship and the Bassmaster Classic, generally recognized as the Superbowl of bass fishing. Additionally, the eight regular-season Elite Series events will now pay the entire field of anglers, a first in the world of professional fishing. First-place prize will remain $100,000, but now the last-place angler will earn $2,500.
Alongside the three no-entry fee events, B.A.S.S. cut regular-season entry fees by $5,375. So, the season entry fee for Elite Series anglers is now $43,000. Because every angler is guaranteed to make at least $23,500, the total out of pocket expense for entry is cut to $19,500.
Akin said B.A.S.S. is also providing a $20,000 credit to anglers who competed in the 2018 Elite Series season and who take advantage of an early entry fee offer, giving these fishermen a $500 surplus above participation fees.
“For the first time in the history of professional bass fishing, anglers are actually being paid by the league to fish,” Akin said.
In total, B.A.S.S. is investing an additional $3 million in payouts and reduced entry fees for the 2019 Elite Series.
The organization also announced an increased investment in exposure opportunities for the pros. Starting with the 2019 season, the popular Bassmaster LIVE show on Bassmaster.com will be produced all four days of Elite Series events. Plus, there will be live-streaming cameras on every boat on semi-final Saturday, as well as Bassmaster LIVE cameras on every angler for Championship Sunday.
The Bassmasters TV show is being revamped with a renewed focus of on-the-water footage featuring more anglers, catching more bass. Other opportunities for Elite Series anglers to get exposure for their sponsors include Bassmaster Magazine, which has a readership of 4.4 million; B.A.S.S. Times, which reaches 100,000 of the nation’s most avid anglers; Bassmaster Radio, which airs on 200 stations on the SB Nation network; and Bassmaster.com, which averages over 1 million unique visitors per month.
“We want the world to know that B.A.S.S. and our stable of sponsors are committed to growing the sport of bass fishing,” Akin said. “Ray Scott launched the sport and industry 50 years ago with the creation of B.A.S.S., and we will continue to push his vision forward for the next 50 years.”
Meantime, Boyd Duckett has announced that the new Major League Fishing (MLF) Tour also has plenty of financial and media muscle behind it. The 80-angler, invitation-only trail is a collaboration between the Professional Bass Tour Anglers Association (MLF anglers) and Outdoor Sportsman Group, which is parent company of the Outdoor Channel and BassFan. Title sponsorship is from the largest player in the industry, Bass Pro Shops.
Regular tour events will pay out more than $700,000 per event, with the championship purse exceeding $1.2 million. Competing anglers will also have a seat at the table for decisions affecting the competitions, according to Duckett.
According to John Johnson at BassFan, the identities of all of the invitees are not presently known, but the list includes many of the top names in the sport and the majority are current Bassmaster Elite Series competitors. It includes the 28 anglers who compete at MLF’s Cup level (Tommy Biffle, Denny Brauer, Brent Chapman, Jason Christie, Mark Davis, Ott DeFoe, Duckett, Brent Ehrler, Edwin Evers, Shaw Grigsby, Greg Hackney, Tim Horton, Mike Iaconelli, Alton Jones, Kelly Jordon, Gary Klein, Jeff Kriet, Bobby Lane, Aaron Martens, Mike McClelland, Ish Monroe, Andy Montgomery, Takahiro Omori, Keith Poche, Skeet Reese, Dean Rojas, Kevin VanDam and Jacob Wheeler).
The made-for-television format will follow an immediate catch-and-release regimen, with all scorable bass weighed and let go on the spot. Anglers will know their place in the standings throughout each tournament day. The anglers will be asked to make a 3-year commitment that will not prohibit them from fishing with any other organization, but will make concurrent participation in the Elite Series or FLW Tour likely impossible due to simple logistics.
If the new circuit succeeds—and it seems possible given the players behind it—the national bass tournament scene may open up added slots for new anglers to become big names, while at the same time pulling away some of the famed fishermen who have built their reputation on B.A.S.S. and FLW events. On the other hand, how much the market will bear in high-entry tournaments requiring expensive gear and extensive travel expenses remains to be seen—2019 should present an interesting tournament scene.