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The advent of Major League Fishing can't be described with one story from one group of people. It's actually interwoven stories within two professional groups of people, each with a similar goal: Present the sport of competitive professional bass fishing in a way that the viewing public has never seen it.
The two groups with the common vision are:
- 24 of the world's best professional bass anglers
- Outdoor Channel
The anglers and Outdoor Channel, independently, had similar ideas and a likeminded goal of televising competitive bass fishing at its highest level in a new and compelling format. The new made-for-television tournament series had to be more exciting, more dramatic and highlight the fierce competition found in professional bass fishing.
Outdoor Channel, in the beginning, was specifically looking for opportunities and ideas to broaden its programming to include considerably more fishing. The network also was open to ideas that were new, fresh, groundbreaking … something split off from the beaten path.
The anglers provided both the idea and the talent to help turn the opportunity into reality.
While Outdoor Channel was seeking options to carve a share in the competitive professional fishing market, a group of anglers were in the early stages of developing something truly innovative. They wanted fishing fans - and sports fans overall - to view professional competitive fishing in the same manner that they see in other sport organizations, such as the NFL, MLB, PGA, NASCAR, etc. The anglers wanted fans to see the difficult, very real challenges that exist when pros try to outwit and outlast other competitors. They wanted to create a whole new game.
The Anglers Got It Started
Accomplished professional bass angler Boyd Duckett and a few of his fellow competitors toyed for years with many concepts and ideas. However, the idea to create a new television product didn't surface until the summer of 2009. That's when a coalition of the world's best anglers came together to discuss the future of their sport.
The anglers' initial meeting started with a group of 14. Along with Duckett, the angler focus group included bass fishing household names such as Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Gary Klein, Alton Jones, Denny Brauer and many more. Every recent Bassmaster Classic champion and Bassmaster Angler of the Year was among this group.
The group first selected two fellow anglers to lead their effort: Gary Klein, one of the top anglers in the business for the past three decades, and 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion Boyd Duckett, owner and mastermind behind several successful businesses.
After some lengthy discussions, the angler group came to a few conclusions. They agreed the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) and FLW Outdoors have created many positive outlets for competitive bass fishing. These organizations provide anglers with a place to compete and bring recognition to themselves and their sport. There would be no reason to compete with either of the well-established organizations. The formation of Major League Fishing should be geared to only strengthen the sport by playing a complementary role to B.A.S.S., FLW and more importantly, the anglers.
The angler group felt the sport of professional bass fishing needed to be enhanced, since the fan base didn't seem to be growing. The anglers also determined the fans do not always get to witness the competitors' intelligence and diverse personalities. And, they rarely get to see the behind-the-scenes drama and off-the-water competitiveness that usually play a part in determining the champion for each event. This needed to change in order to appeal to a broader audience and grow the fan base.
Based on the conclusions, the anglers conceived the idea that the tournament format needed to be specialized and something very different. A new tournament format was needed that would capture the imagination of fishing fans and sports fans in general. Among other exciting aspects of their format, the anglers envisioned:
- Surprise venues
- No practice days
- Real-time leader board in each boat
- No limits on the number of fish weighed
- Implement time-based deadlines and weight-based cut lines
The second phase of the anglers' vision was focused about the way fans would view the competition. The group was looking for less emphasis on the fish caught, with more emphasis on personalities, the struggles, the strategies, the conflicts and the emotions of the anglers.
In short, the anglers decided they want to take fans inside competitor boats for an up-close examination of how a professional bass tournament truly looks and feels.
Outdoor Channel Closed the Deal
The angler group thought it would take several years to find a suitable outlet for their competition format. In less than a year, the Outdoor Channel stepped into the game. Hungry for some fishing programming that was new and fresh, the puzzle pieces quickly began to drop in place.
In the spring of 2010, the anglers held their first few meetings with Outdoor Channel representatives. At those early meetings, Klein and Duckett shared their vision for the future of televised bass fishing. After nearly a year of discussions, the anglers and Outdoor Channel formed a partnership. The result was the creation of Major League Fishing.
The anglers and Outdoor Channel chose a talented, diverse group of professionals to head Major League Fishing. Chairman of Tulsa, Oklahoma-based sports production company, Jim Wilburn, was chosen as general manager. Former B.A.S.S. general manager Don Rucks will serve as league commissioner. West Virginia-based sports marketing and public relations specialists Randy Coleman, will serve as communications director. Wilburn, Rucks, Coleman and a host of others will take the lead on the operational project needs across the country.
That is how the New Game, New Rules, No Limits began.