For several years the two largest tournament organizations have usually worked with each other trying not to develop conflicting tournament dates, thus allowing anglers to fish both circuits. There have been a few conflicts between BASS and FLW but most of them have been handled fairly well.
That was then.
The FLW Tour announced the dates for their championship last April, stating they would continue to hold their championship in September, at least until last week. On September 26, the FLW announced that they were changing the dates of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship and Outdoor Show from Sept. 8-11 2004, to July 28-3, 2004. FLW says they changed the dates to become more “family-friendly.”
FLW Outdoors Chairman Irwin Jacobs said the idea of holding a summer championship has been under consideration for some time, “From the very beginning, the foundation of FLW Outdoors has been firmly rooted in the ideals of family,” Jacobs said. “Families play an important role in FLW Tour events and are essential to the future well being of the sport of fishing. Moving the FLW Tour Championship and Outdoor Show to July, when most schools are out of session and entire families can experience the thrill of championship fishing, makes sense and is the right thing to do.”
The announcement sent shock waves through BASS.
BASS will announce the dates and location of the 2004 Bassmasters Classic on Sept. 30, but have been known to consistently hold the Classic at approximately the same time each year, while the dates have not been officially announced, the new FLW Championship schedule apparently conflicts with the Classic dates.
Dean Kessel, Vice President and General Manager of BASS held a teleconference with outdoor writers on Sept. 28. “We were shocked and disappointed,” said Kessel. “The FLW tour did a great disservice to the angling community by changing their dates.”
Kessel also stated that in the past decade the Classic has always been held in during the last week of July or the first week of August, and it is common knowledge to everyone in the fishing community. “It is clear to BASS that the FLW is not focused on what is best for anglers,” said Kessel. “The FLW Tour is forcing anglers to make a choice.” Kessel doesn’t believe this is positive for the industry because it puts anglers in a tough, decision making position and creates conflicts for many industry sponsors.
One person asked Kessel that if BASS head-to-head with FLW which tour did he think would win. “ BASS has a heritage and history in the industry. We have resources available such as our publications (Bass Times, Bassmaster, Fishing Tackle Retailer), television and other avenues. There is no question who would come out on top,” said Kessel. If there becomes a war between the two organizations Kessel said, “We will continue to work for what is best for the angler.”
To the question of whether BASS thinks this is an attempt to undercut them and force vendors to make choices, Kessel said, “The FLW knows, and knew what they were doing. They should have called BASS to discuss the dates with us. We have called them in the past and have changed dates so we wouldn’t conflict with them, but they refuse to do the same.”
Kessel said the reason it has taken so long for BASS to announce the date and location of the 2004 Classic event was because, “This is a huge event. It takes a lot of time to put it all together. We didn’t think someone would do this.” Kessel feels that since BASS has been so consistent about the dates of the Classic, FLW knew they would be stepping on their toes.
Is this a declaration of war?
Dean Kessel said that BASS will remain “steadfast” to the anglers and the fishing community.
In the last couple of years, the FLW Tour has been providing bigger pay-outs, causing more than one angler to attempt fishing both tours. Now, with the conflicting championship dates, some wondered if BASS would alter their pay-out. Kessel said clearly that BASS would not be changing their pay-outs, feeling the publicity afforded anglers who fish the Classic provides a much bigger opportunity to earn money than by fishing the FLW Tour.
BASS doesn’t believe there will be a defection of bass fishing super stars to the FLW because, as Kessel stated, “Winning the Classic makes careers. We are confident in what we have.”
Could this bring a championship of anglers from both tours to meet head-to-head in a true superbowl of bass fishing? Kessel doesn’t see that happening. “The situation we have here is that most competitors fish both tours,” he said. Trying to develop two tournament ciruits, each with high-caliber anglers, could be difficult at this time.
When asked how angry he was at the news, Kessel repeated himself. “We were very shocked and disappointed,” he said. “This has a lot of ramifications.”
FLW’s owner, Irwin Jacobs, president of Genmar, owns several boat companies, including Ranger, Stratos, Champion and more. These companies are large contributors to BASS. They spend truck loads of money advertising with BASS. When asked if this war could hit the pocketbook of BASS, Kessel said, “We have the best magazine and television shows around and we reach the anglers. If you want to continue reaching your core market, BASS is the best avenue.”
So the battle begins. Which side do you take? Some Western anglers feel BASS hasn’t treated them well, while others believe, if you truly want to make it in the industry, you have to fish and support BASS. FLW offers great payouts on their pro-level tournaments but, can you really make a name in the industry fishing FLW and not BASS?
These questions are about to be answered. It’s high noon and the two biggest guns in the nation are facing each other. The winner will be the fastest to react, the most accurate, and will never, never, underestimate their opponent. ESPN and Irwin Jacobs, these are the real gunslingers in this shoot-out. Apparently, Jacobs has called the old gunslinger out to the street. But, unlike the ‘Old Guys’ in the movies, the old gunslinger has a lot of new blood.