MLF’s highest-level circuit will operate with 65-angler roster, higher payouts in 2025
The 2024 Bass Pro Tour season will kick off in late January with some strategic changes ahead. Photo by Christopher Shangle.
In October, Major League Fishing unveiled a new, long-term strategic plan for the Bass Pro Tour. With an eye on expanding its digital impact and elevating its top anglers, MLF announced that its premier tournament circuit would return to the every-fish-counts scoring format in 2024 and trim its roster from 80 competitors to 50 following the season.
While a 50-angler field and every-fish-counts scoring remain the future for the BPT, the path to get there will look a bit different.
The Bass Pro Tour roster reduction will now take place across two seasons. After 80 anglers comprise the field in 2024, 65 will compete in 2025. Then, in 2026, the field will be reduced to 50. Anglers will also compete for larger paydays: Starting in 2025, the first-place prize for all seven regular-season BPT events will increase to $150,000.
The field size change was made in response to feedback from the Major League Fishing Angler Association. The independent association, which has represented anglers since the inception of the Bass Pro Tour, approved the measure with a supermajority.
“The Angler Association came to me and asked if we could have a softer cut process,” said MLF President and CEO Boyd Duckett. “We are an angler-driven league, and so out of respect for our anglers’ desires, we will have a two-year cut process and will go 80, 65, 50.”
Bass Pro Tour evolving with the times
As the contemporary media landscape continues to shift, the tournament bass fishing world has felt the tremors like everyone else. Television consumers are utilizing streaming options in increasing numbers, social media has become the dominant source of news, and the proliferation of webcasts and podcasts means there’s more competition for eyeballs than ever.
It was in response to those changes, and with the desire to reach new audiences in mind, that MLF decided to overhaul the Bass Pro Tour.
While MLF competition will continue to have a place on linear television, digital coverage is a key priority. The MLFNOW! livestream will offer additional coverage starting in 2024. In addition to 38 days of competition across nine BPT tournaments plus six three-day Tackle Warehouse Invitationals events, the General Tire Team Series will also be livestreamed starting next fall. The innovative competition, which pits teams of Bass Pro Tour anglers against one another on surprise lakes, has been aired via delayed broadcast on Outdoor Channel during its first two seasons.
“We will continue to do all that we’ve ever done plus any more opportunities that we can scratch up in linear delivery, but we’re also recognizing that the old style of creating posted television shows is not the future for us,” Duckett said. “We’re definitely expanding in digital delivery on multiple platforms. Through that process, that has required some changes.”
One of those changes will be a return to MLF’s signature every-fish-counts scoring system. After anglers spent the 2023 season competing in the five-biggest-bass format — a tweak made at the request of pros and fans — audience metrics made it clear that viewers are more compelled by watching anglers catch as many fish as they can.
“A brand-new person that doesn’t even know what professional bass fishing is just wants to see excitement and competition, and there’s nothing that highlights that greater than every fish counts,” Duckett said.
The more significant change: a 50-angler BPT roster. Why the smaller field? For one, analytics indicated that events needed to be shortened from six days to four. Having 50 anglers on the water at a time rather than 80 will be more manageable for both MLF’s catch-weigh-immediate release system, which sets the BPT apart from other tournament circuits, and for fans following the action on SCORETRACKER®. Plus, those anglers who make the cut should benefit from being part of a more exclusive field.
Starting in 2025, the Bass Pro Tour will surge past the $100,000 first-place payout that has been standard for more than two decades by upping that mark to $150,000 at every regular-season event. All told, Bass Pro Tour anglers will compete for nearly $6.5 million in 2025. The 65-angler field will average $100,000 in winnings, compared to $84,000 in 2024. In 2026, the 50-angler field will average more than $121,410 in winnings.
Bass Pro Tour anglers should be positioned to reap the rewards of increased sponsorship deals, too. Several companies assured Duckett that being part of a 50-person BPT field would provide anglers increased credibility and earning power.
“We’ve talked to all of our sponsors — and had many conversations with other strong endemic sponsors that are not our sponsors — and we have full support from the sponsorship in this space,” Duckett explained. “They have the same problem that we have: Everybody with a jersey and a wrapped boat wants sponsorship. And they would love to see a platform that is elevated. There needs to be a clear option as to where they invest their money in anglers. So we’re bringing that to the table for them.”
The path from 80 to 50
While the 2025 season will represent a gap year in terms of the number of anglers on tour, it will otherwise provide viewers a glimpse of the Bass Pro Tour’s future.
Tournaments will span four days, with all 65 anglers taking the water for the first two. Weights will reset for the Knockout Round on Day 3, during which the Top 20 anglers will compete, then carry over when the Top 10 duke it out in the Championship Round. All the action will be livestreamed.
To get there, the 45 pros with the highest career average at the conclusion of the 2024 season will qualify for the 2025 field. Career average will be calculated based on each angler’s annual finish in the Bass Pro Tour Angler of the Year standings, with pros able to drop one year for every three seasons of competition — meaning those who have competed since the BPT’s inception in 2019 will calculate their average from their four best finishes. Of the remaining 35 competitors, the 15 highest finishers in the 2024 AOY standings will also earn invitations to return to the tour. The final five invitations will be extended to the top five finishers in the Invitationals points standings.
That process will repeat itself in 2025. The top 35 anglers in average career finish will earn invitations for 2026, plus the next 10 best finishers in the 2025 AOY competition. Once again, five Invitationals anglers will round out the invite list.
Extending the cut process and allowing pros two seasons to earn their spot in a 50-angler field should make one bad tournament less punitive. It will also make it easier for BPT rookies to gain a foothold on tour. Fitting the rookie class into the requalification process has been tricky. While MLF deemed it unfair for veterans to allow anglers to count their initial finish as their career average (one 30th-place finish isn’t necessarily as impressive as averaging 30th across multiple seasons), the plan to roster 50 anglers by 2025 only allowed for 10 invitations for those outside the top 35 in career average. With 15 spots now up for grabs based on 2024 finish, all 12 BPT newcomers could requalify.
Once the BPT reaches its 50-angler destination, requalification for ensuing seasons will look similar to recent years. Starting in 2026 and beyond, the top 40 AOY finishers will receive invitations to return, as will the five anglers with the best average career finish outside that 40. They will be joined by five Invitationals anglers.
Lastly, the REDCREST championship will see its field become more exclusive as well. The qualification process for REDCREST 2025 at Lake Guntersville will be the same as 2024. But starting in 2026, REDCREST will feature 35 anglers. The top 24 finishers in the Bass Pro Tour points competition from the year prior will qualify, along with the reigning REDCREST champion and 10 winners from the MLF5 ranks (champions from all six Invitationals, the All-American and the Toyota Series Championship as well as the Invitationals Angler of the Year and one Abu Garcia College Fishing angler).
If that feels like a lot of change, especially for a circuit that has been tweaked just about every year since its inception, well, it is. Duckett acknowledged that. However, once the Bass Pro Tour reaches its goal of 50 anglers competing in the every-fish-counts format across four-day events, he’s confident it will achieve more stability.
He also refuted the idea that the changes, both past and present, are necessarily negative. While cutting roster spots is never ideal, he believes a smaller field is necessary to fulfill his chief goal since starting MLF in 2011 — to further legitimize the sport of bass fishing and reach new audiences than those who already compete in and follow tournaments.
“It’s not a good ol’ boys club,” Duckett said. “Everybody didn’t get to come in the beginning (in 2011), and everybody didn’t get to come when we formed (the Bass Pro Tour), and everybody’s not going to get to come to the 50. But it’s been the mission of Major League Fishing to advance the sport of bass fishing for whatever names are able to qualify.”
Pursuing that mission, especially while navigating an ever-evolving media landscape, has involved some trial and error. That’s the nature of innovation. Duckett believes the ultimate product —the new-look Bass Pro Tour and Team Series — will be better for it.
“Hey, trust me, it’s not that our executive team doesn’t recognize the negative around changes,” he said. “We fully understand how hard that is for anglers, sponsors and fans. No doubt. But remember, the mission of this company was to continue to find new ways to elevate the sport. The only way that can happen is with change.
“We are not afraid to make changes to advance the sport of professional bass fishing. And we have moved the needle by miles by being willing to take that risk. And I’m willing to do it again if we can take it to the next level.”
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