SBJ/August 16 - 22, 2004/SBJ In Depth

Rival FLW Outdoors tour doesn’t mind sharing the pond

FLW Outdoors isn’t the oldest bass fishing organization, nor does it have the built-in advantage of being owned by the most popular sports television network in the world.

David Dudley cashes in after winning the 2003 FLW Tour Championship.
What it does have, though, is a list of non-endemic sponsors as long as your arm and, consequently, bigger paydays than the other guys.

While BASS’ Bassmaster Classic pays $700,000 in prize money, with $200,000 going to the winner, the FLW Tour Championship is a $1.5 million event, with $500,000 going to the winner. In fact, FLW — formed in 1979 and named after Ranger Boats founder Forrest L. Wood, then bought in 1997 by Irwin Jacobs — has two regular-season events that pay their winners as much as BASS’ season-ending championship.

Even the last-place angler in the FLW championship gets $15,000, which, noted FLW Outdoors communications director Dave Washburn, is enough to cover entry fees for an entire season. Last place in the Bassmaster Classic pays $2,000.

All of that money makes it important to many professional anglers to try to fish events on both tours, and, a few scheduling skirmishes notwithstanding, both tours are fine with that. Nine of the 48 anglers competing in the FLW Tour Championship also qualified for the Bassmaster Classic, including the Classic winner, Takahiro Omori, who now has the chance to unify the two championships for the first time.

“The competitive fishing market is so big, there’s plenty of room for two players,” Washburn said. “[BASS does] a fine job, and obviously we do a fine job, and there’s still more competitive anglers out there, people trying to get into the sport, that neither of us can accommodate.”

That means that, for now at least, both sides genuinely seem to think that the presence of the other organization benefits the industry.

“I think competition is good in any field,” said ESPN/ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer. “It makes you sharper, keeps you on your toes and makes you innovate.”

FLW Outdoors won’t talk about how much its sponsors pay. Washburn credits the organization’s lengthy list of sponsors (see chart) both to the attractiveness of reaching 50 million anglers in the United States and to FLW’s care at making sure that its sponsors have an open field to play in.

“We have sponsors that we turn away, that we just can’t accommodate, because we have premier sponsors in that spot and we won’t sign a competing sponsor,” Washburn said. “That was part of the great idea for the whole FLW Outdoors setup. To establish a premier circuit, provide an avenue for companies to reach 50 million anglers and avoid the clutter that is so often associated with other sponsorship opportunities.”

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