Building the sport: what’s it going to take?

I heard a radio commercial for a luxury car dealer, BMW, I think, thanking the more than 5000 customers who purchased their cars from the SoCal business. I honestly don’t know what such vehicles are going for these days, but clearly, this audience was elite, and thought deserving of a fine automobile as well as a great service department to back the product.

It must have been a resonant message for that body of listeners. But it did raise some thoughts in my mind. One, there are at least 19,000,000 automobiles in California—so just how big is this luxury car contingent? And two, I wondered if this dealer was at all worried about how the Chevy, Ford and Toyota sales were going, or was he only concerned with other competitors in the luxury car market?

When I compare this automobile scenario to the bass boat and tackle businesses, I see some strong similarities. Bass fishermen can spend just about as much as they want on a fishing boat with two seats, and they can also shop from bass specialty stores or, if they choose, hit some of the mass merchandisers.

However, the one thing you don’t hear in the car business that you often hear in the fishing business is, “We need to build the sport.”

Eventually, almost anyone who comes of age will have the opportunity to buy a car—in some price range. But when it comes to bass boats and bass tackle, I’ve seen crankbaits go up 400 percent in price, outboards at least 300 percent and boats double and even triple in price over the last 20 years.

When I look at what 25 and 30 somethings often earn in the early years of their working lives—not the unique individuals, but the general population of those who would likely take up bass fishing—I wonder if those worried about future customers have any clue of what “growing the sport” might entail?

First off, let me say this is not a plea for socialized bass fishing. The reason there are luxury bass boats is there are people who want products with a lot of design, development and expensive materials involved in their construction--whether they’re built one at a time, or 10 at a time.

However, it should be noted that there are also a lot of marketing and promotional costs factored into a retail price. Do you think that somehow Jordache jeans can get a better quality of denim than Wrangler? If one brand is actually better than the other, we suspect it’s due to the technology utilized and the craftsmanship of those involved in the manufacturing process. But also, someone has to pay for planting the idea that you need to wear one brand or the other—and it’s always the consumer.

That’s just business.

When it comes to the marketing of bass tackle, there are some shops that compare favorably to the luxury car dealer. Service and expertise are important to the discriminating car buyer, and the same goes for tackle buyer. In my part of the state, Anglers Marine is the beacon of bass fishing stores, and if you are even close to being serious about the game, you cannot miss the annual Bass-A-Thon. It is the hub for insider information and cutting edge products—from a state that leads the league in both categories. This winter event is so far out in front of the nation, its headlining bass pros often make some of the biggest individual purchases!

However, in considering the more general angling populace, I have also covered the opening of the Bass Pro Shop in Rancho Cucamonga, and have visited their stores in Syracuse, Dallas and Las Vegas, not to mention Springfield, Missouri. In talking with company personnel, the response in the West has actually forced corporate to rethink the possibilities.

I admit, I too was stunned by the thousands of folks who made their way through the turnstiles. They weren’t pros. They weren’t insiders. But they were all smiling; they were all spending money.

So, my only question would be, how do we get more of those guys into the game? We figure that out, and we really will build the sport.