Duckett and others involved in Major League Fishing — a new joint venture between the Outdoor Channel and 24 of the top fishermen in the country — are trying to appeal to more than the sport's hard-core anglers.
Duckett concedes that ESPN, which still televises the Bassmaster and FLW tours but no longer owns the rights to the broadcasts, has had a tough job marketing the sport.
"The playing field are these lakes that are so big that are in the middle of nowhere — most bass tournaments you have 200 guys, so who are you going to cover?" Duckett said. "I think that's been the challenge for years with trying to televise these tournaments."
Roger Trageser, president of the Maryland B.A.S.S. Federation, remains skeptical that Major League Fishing will succeed where others have failed.
"I'm a rabid football fan, and I can live somewhat of a fantasy football career through these players," Trageser said. "I have a passion for it. I'll watch any NFL game. I just don't know what they're trying to do will ascend fishing into a life realm."
Trageser said he mentioned the Major League Fishing format to another local angler. While familiar with it, the angler was lukewarm to the concept.
"There wasn't any kind of an interest," Trageser said. "Maybe if you're talking to guys like us who are so already ingrained in it that it seems like a waste of time. ... When ESPN puts on the [Bassmaster Classic], I may watch it, but I'm not going to go out of my way to watch it."
Major League Fishing commissioner Don Rucks said his organization is "trying to be a complement" to the existing tours and "expand it to outdoor participants that maybe don't watch professional fishing. Maybe they're gun guys, competitive shooters. To do that, we have to create an entertaining show."
Rucks compares it to other reality television shows, such as"Survivor" and "The Biggest Loser."
"Our long-term goal is to expand the sport to people who never thought they'd watch it," said Rucks, who has also worked on marketing of NASCAR events as well as college sports.
The first show, part of the Challenge Cup, will be 153 minutes long — more than three times the average 44-minute viewing time on what is being shown on ESPN and the Outdoor Channel. Subsequent shows on the Outdoor Channel will last an hour and be shown five times a week.
The series will debut Monday.
"One of the complaints was, 'Why are you showing this on the weekend when I'm out doing it?'" said Rucks, a former executive on the Bassmaster Tour. "It's not about just giving them a longer show. What you end up is seeing how the anglers play the game, how they find the fish, how they deal with the stress and things they never have had to deal with. We're trying to disrupt them, to make them more stressed, and by making them more stressed, making them more competitive and making them figure out things a lot faster."
Unlike other bass fishing tournaments, the anglers will not be allowed to get the feel of the lake for a few days before the start of competition and will not be allowed to get information about the venue before their arrival. The lake will be divided into six zones, and the anglers will not be told in advance which zone they will be fishing.
Each of the angler's boats will have a real time scoreboard, with an official providing play-by-play. The former will be easy to follow: eight anglers at a time, with the seven- to eight-hour tournaments broken into three periods. Rather than giving points for each competitor's top five catches, every fish caught will be added to the total.
The only catch is that, for now, there is no prize money, as Major League Fishing tries to build its audience and its sponsorship. According to those familiar with the venture, the Potomac River has been given "serious mention" as a future location.
Randy White, whose production company was tasked with putting together the Internet package that will be available starting Feb. 13 as well as the hourlong shows on the Outdoor Channel, compares the new venture to mixed martial arts and how that sport relates to traditional prizefighting.