ORLANDO, Fla. — The fishing and boating industries must find new and better ways to retain anglers to offset the sport’s decreasing number of participants.
That was the message industry leaders delivered during the State of the Industry Breakfast today on the second day of ICAST (the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades).
“Many people just don’t have the generational knowledge — the legacy of recreational fishing in their culture or their families,” Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the America Sportfishing Association, told hundreds of attendees at the sold-out breakfast at the Orange County Convention Center.
“In fact, an entire generation of millennials seems as if they’ve opted out of nature. Can we invite them back? You bet we can. Do we need to get younger and get more creative in our approach to recruiting and retaining anglers? Absolutely.”
ICAST is being held this week (July 12-15) simultaneously with the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show, produced by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. ICAST is the largest sportfishing show in the world.
Show organizers hope to have close to 14,000 attendees this year, which would be up 1,250 from last year. During the past five years the show has doubled in the number of attendees and floor space. In 2011, 6,900 people attended. For the first time, the ASA has partnered with the NMMA to have about 50 exhibitors in the NMMA Marine Accessories Pavilion.
Cooperation between the fishing and boating industries has grown steadily in the past few years. The combined effort strengthens an overall movement to get more people into fishing and boating, leaders say.
“Last year 6.5 million people dropped out of the sport,” Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) president Frank Peterson told the audience. “I ask everyone in this room: What did we do to try to keep those people — as state agencies, as retailers, as an industry?”
Each facet of the boating and fishing industries has to focus on the three Rs: recruitment, retention and reactivation, Peterson said. “We have to continue to focus on youth, and the Hispanic demographic, which was up in the U.S. [by] 3 percent last year.”
The RBFF will do this through its “60 in 60” initiative, which aims to recruit 60 million anglers ages 6 and older in the next 60 months, or by 2021.
The keynote speaker, communications and brand strategist and avid angler Ken Schmidt, followed Peterson by echoing the importance of recruitment, retention and reactivation. Schmidt, 56, is the former director of communications strategy for the Harley-Davidson Motor Co.
“I spent 31 years in the motorcycle industry … and was part of the team that took Harley-Davidson from the brink of ruin and financial disaster and turned it into the most iconic, powerful, potent, disgustingly dominant brand … in the world. I tell you right now, you can take the three Rs that were just on the screen and tattoo them on the body of anyone working at the motor company now because I will tell you we are looking at the exact same [challenges] that you are — demographics getting older, trouble attracting younger people, misconceptions about what motivates and attracts people to what we do.”
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for businesses these days is avoiding the constant use of “feature talk” about the products they sell, said Schmidt. You must go beyond the cliché descriptions — such as “high-quality” and “sleek” — and find success by humanizing the products and business.
“We have to impart information that will be memorable and repeatable,” he said. “Nothing is crappy anymore — no market will accept it. What we are selling has to transcend the product or the service. When people can’t humanize us as a business, we don’t exist.”
When industries mature, “competitors start marching in lock step,” he said. “We do it inadvertently. But when everyone is saying the same thing, who is listening? The answer is nobody.”