Elite Series: The no-spin zone

Tournament Director Trip Weldon: "I feel the Elite Series is a quantum leap toward moving professional angling to the next level." 

I have been in this business a long time, first as a tournament angler in the 70's and 80's, and on the administration side of tournaments at BASS since 1991. After reading recent posts on chat rooms and misinterpretations on obviously slanted Web sites about the new Elite Series, I feel it's my duty as a rules official to set the record straight.

Despite what has been written on other Web sites — which for some reason tell only one side of any given decision BASS makes — the Elite Series will be the defining moment in professional bass fishing. I feel the Elite Series is a quantum leap toward moving professional angling to the next level.

BASS does not want to alienate anglers. Some fishermen may choose not to participate because of financial reasons or pre-existing sponsor obligations, and that is their right, their decision. But for those who do participate, the Elite Series is an unparalleled opportunity to build long-lasting careers and to grow our sport.

Some people, for whatever reason, do not want us to get to that level. They misrepresent our tournament rules, and take things out of context and focus on whatever they can portray as negative.

Most of the recent misinterpretations have dealt with "Rule 24" in the Elite Series rulebook.

Here's the truth about that. In 1986, BASS inserted a rule (at that time, number 23) reading, "BASS may restrict logos, patches, signage, etc., with as much advance notice as possible to anglers." That rule was amended in 2004 to say "in direct competition with BASS sponsors." For almost 20 years and hundreds of events, professional anglers have been signing entry forms, agreeing to abide by this rule, without reservation or complaint. These same anglers today are complaining about the rule.

Over the past 20 years the rule has been in effect, BASS has never used the rule against the sponsor of one of our athletes. The only way that would ever happen would be if a logo were to demean one of our sponsors or promote a competing tournament organization.

I have been in all of the BASS Angler Advisory Council meetings since being appointed BASS Tournament Director in 2002. Although some anglers say nothing good came out of those meetings, the truth is that the Elite Series is a direct result of those meetings.

Pro anglers in those meetings said they wanted three things:

First and foremost, anglers wanted to be able to run their own boats during competition days. They wanted the freedom to wear uniforms sporting their sponsors' logos. And they wanted smaller, more exclusive fields. Under the Elite Series format, they now have all three!

BASS reserves a small piece of these properties in exchange for the loss of exposure for our organization and our sponsors. Look at NASCAR, which has control of a portion of cars and uniforms involved in its events. Take a look at a driver's uniform — you'll see a big Nextel patch in the same place on every one. Contingency program decals are on the same quadrant of each car. Placement of the BASS patch on the front shoulder region of an angler's shirt is just making all uniforms consistent. Another word for that is "UNIFORM." Anglers can still put sponsor logos beside the patch.

For those who choose to participate in them, placement of logos for possible contingency programs, like those for Busch and CITGO, should also be consistent. Consistent placement of patches and logos helps athletes look like they are truly part of a professional sport. The truth is, anglers have somewhat forced BASS to specify these things in part because of their lack of uniformity and also because of the casual, unprofessional attire some of them continue to wear at the highest level of the sport.

Get this from the horse's mouth: I am in charge of enforcing these rules and contingency programs, and quite frankly, it is hard to do when patches and decals are scattered all over the place. Consistent positioning of logos makes it easier for me, but it also makes it easier for the anglers, fans, sponsors, etc. Of course we recognize that this "real estate" is valuable. Why is it valuable? Because of the media platforms BASS and ESPN have to offer. Do not think for one minute that sponsors would give two hoots about an angler's logo positioning if it were not for the exposure provided by Bassmaster TV, Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times and Bassmaster.com.

Another issue brought up by our detractors is the commitment we're asking from pros to appear at Bassmaster Expos, which are held in conjunction with our Majors and some Elites. Anyone familiar with our long history of dealing with anglers should know that BASS will not ask anything unreasonable from them. We would simply like for anglers — a couple of times a year — to hang around the tournament if they fail to make the cut. This enables them to meet their fans and give their sponsors more visibility. All of which helps drive business. By the way, it should help anglers drive their own careers.

And for some reason, no one has bothered to mention the fact that Don Rucks (BASS General Manager) has told Elite Series anglers they would be invited to set up vending booths at our events to sell their own apparel and merchandise. This is a tremendous opportunity! I remember several years back when this was absolutely taboo. (As a matter of fact, several times I was the one who had to tell a certain vendor to leave.)

There are many people at BASS, JM Associates and other entities working their tails off to make this the best, most elite tournament series on the planet. Do we have the courage to take a bold step? You bet we do. Will we make mistakes along the way? Probably. But to make this work, and to elevate professional bass fishing to the levels of mainstream sports, it will take effort by everyone involved — BASS, sponsors AND anglers.

I promise you this: I pledge to do my part, and I know everyone at BASS will do the same.