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Forward Thinking

It was one year ago when Soundings Trade Only asked dealers and manufacturers to identify the biggest challenges boating was facing. They named seven, ranging from workforce development to rising interest rates. If that same survey were taken today, it’s a no-brainer they’d all agree there’s only one challenge: survival.

That’s why the industry-wide marketing campaign set to be unveiled this June could be boating’s personal flotation device. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation and the National Marine Manufacturers Association are teaming up to create the campaign, upon which boating will stake much of its hope for a fast recovery from the pandemic. But that also means it’s time to address long-overdue questions about funding for such an effort if a long, painful industry recovery is to be avoided. Here’s the rest of the story.

RBFF’s Take Me Fishing program and the NMMA’s Discover Boating initiative will join forces to build a national campaign that displays the excitement and restorative powers of boating and fishing. It will include public service announcements, online advertising, social media, and newsletter and public relations materials, all targeted to local areas. The key to success will be all boating and fishing interests speaking the unified messages. Accordingly, all stakeholders will be given access to the materials.

But both RBFF and Discover Boating are underfunded, and have been for years. Indeed, the marine industry could even be accused of taking RBFF for granted. For more than 20 years, RBFF has called little attention to itself while crafting successful programs — through its Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar initiatives — to increase participation in boating and fishing. But it’s $12 million budget is small change coming out of the $600 million annually put into the Sport Fish Restoration & Boating Trust Fund.

The overwhelming majority of the $600 million flows to state agency programs. And looking ahead, it’s easy to see the pandemic has already cut deeply into state revenues, and that’s likely to trigger future budget battles for available funds. For example, in Florida, the Orlando Sentinel just reported, the states sales tax revenues for April were $773 million below the expected revenue.

Further, since much of the funding for the Sport Fish Restoration & Boating Trust Fund comes from the excise taxes paid by boaters on fuels, it’s more important that ever for all boating interests on the national and state levels to prepare to engage in lobbying for continued funding. And to the point, boating representatives must make it a priority to increase the specific funding for RBFF’s programs.

On the industry side, it was 2003 when it was determined that a new national outreach was needed, inspired by the success of the RV industry’s Go RVing campaign. So the Grow Boating initiative was chartered, giving birth to what we know as the Discover Boating national campaign to increase boat sales. Funding grew to some $16 million annually, and the future looked promising when the crash of 2008 hit.

While Discover Boating survived, funding plummeted by 50 percent and, with some minor increases since, remains at only $9 million. Since this funding is based primarily on engine sales, the need for a speedy marine industry recovery is obvious. Likewise, the need to increase Discover Boating funding is equally obvious. (For comparison, the RV industry spends $25 million.)

Nevertheless, Discover Boating continues to promote the boating lifestyle message and this week released on social media a Special Edition Boat Shopping Guide that outlines “5 Steps for Social Distance Boat Shopping” designed to assure prospective boat buyers that they can safely pursue their dream of family boating.

It’s a fact that the only campaigns to increase boating participation come have from RBFF orDiscover Boating. There are no others. Therefore, this joint marketing effort comes at a critical time and the power of these two working together cannot be overstated. But there’s potentially even more power.

Once the messages have been crafted, the plan is to engage with other key industry groups, such as the American Sportfishing Association, the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, BoatUS, state and local marine trade associations, and others. The combined use of a consistent message nationwide will clearly tell the boating industry’s story. In effect, by pooling resources, the groups will gain access to marketing channels in new ways and move the industry out of the pandemic.

The marine industry can come out of this together.

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