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Disney World visitors can rent Sun Tracker pontoon boats to carry them to prime viewing spots for the nightly fireworks.

Disney World visitors can rent Sun Tracker pontoon boats to carry them to prime viewing spots for the nightly fireworks.

Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation president Frank Peterson wants to expand the Take Me Fishing campaign’s reach beyond the people currently boating and fishing. He wants to reach people who are into outdoor experiences and turn them into boaters and anglers.

That’s why he’s targeting vacationers taking boating and fishing excursions at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Many of those renting boats and fishing equipment are first-time boaters and anglers, Peterson told a small group of media representatives gathered in May at the Disney Convention Center in response to an invitation to learn about a partnership between Disney and the RBFF.

“The lakes here are so stocked with big fish, it’s a great first experience,” says Mike Benn, director of alliance development at Disney.

TakeMeFishing.org is one of the theme park’s 40 corporate partners, Peterson says. It is the only sponsor that gets park billing of its URL to help vacationers reference the group after leaving. “Those who participate in boating and fishing at Disney are twice as likely to go fishing, twice as likely to go boating and twice as likely to go to the TakeMeFishing.org website than others,” Peterson says.

The theme park giant has a corporate mandate to connect 35 million kids with nature and outdoor experiences by 2015. “We’re a long way along the path of meeting that goal,” says Benn. Walt Disney was an avid conservationist, and Benn says that mutual interest was one of the main elements that attracted Disney to the RBFF’s industrywide initiative. “Corporate alliances have been around since Walt’s day.”

At Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, visitors are introduced to angling in its most basic form - pole fishing.

At Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, visitors are introduced to angling in its most basic form - pole fishing.

Because of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which taxes boating and fishing in order to preserve the resources that sustain those activities, the effort is seen as one that gets kids outdoors enjoying nature while making sure it is protected for future generations.

At Disney, kids and adults can fish, participate in a bass-fishing excursion and rent small “Sea Raycers,” touching on the boating and fishing experiences, both combined and solo. Sun Tracker pontoons also can be rented for premium spots to view the nightly fireworks. Various “cast members” on such excursions “have a lot of training to really make sure that people have a great experience,” Benn says.

Although the partnership is about a year old, fishing has long been a part of the Disney experience in some locations, says Stacia Wake, manager of alliance management at Disney. “Walt felt very strongly about conservation and the outdoor experience,” she says.

The experience

Ron Misch has been captaining pontoon boats for so long at Disney World that he remembers a time when he could hold small children on his lap and let them navigate the calm waters. Today, Misch says, 17- and 18-year-olds regularly ask that he be their excursion captain to see the nightly fireworks that Disney is known for, and many of them say it was the first time they ever steered a boat. “I’ll never forget that,” Misch says.

As a Disney “cast member” for 15 years, Misch has operated one of the six Sun Trackers at Lake Buena Vista at Disney’s Beach and Yacht Club Resort, taking family after family on an excursion and often their first boat ride. “I’m one of the old-timers,” he says as he takes a group out to a prime spot for the fireworks.

Sea Raycers like these rent for $32 a half-hour. For those who want a little more, Boston Whalers are also available.

Sea Raycers like these rent for $32 a half-hour. For those who want a little more, Boston Whalers are also available.

There are about 250 boats — many of them Brunswick brands and all with Mercury engines because of a partnership with Disney. Many of the Sun Trackers are powered with 50- and 55-hp Mercury engines. Those boats are now being used in various ways to facilitate the partnership between Disney and Take Me Fishing.

Take Me Fishing sponsored a media trip May 29 to introduce the press to the excursions with the Take Me Fishing branding — one fishing, one boating and another combining the two. “We’re creating an authentic experience where families share at the basic level,” Wake says. “Mom can share her first time out on the water when she caught a fish as her child catches his or her first fish.”

First up was pole fishing at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. The dockside cast member explained the best way to bait a hook with Take Me Fishing-branded worms while offering to do it for those who were squeamish. Several families lined up along the pier to wet a line, some of whom were taking kids fishing for the first time.

After that, the team headed to the Sea Raycers — two-person boats that guests can rent for $32 a half-hour in various areas of the park. Children 12 and older can zip around the parks independently, although the maximum speed is 5 to 7 mph and someone follows in a Boston Whaler as a safety precaution. (Whalers also are also for rent in various parts of the park.) The final bit was the bass-fishing excursion, which yielded at least one fish caught per participant. Recent catch rate surveys showed that the average rate per person, per hour, was between 1.6 and 2.5 fish, depending on where guests were fishing.

Allyson Atkins, an education manager for Disney’s animals, science and environmental endeavors, says the park is always trying to find ways to best utilize its assets to promote the outdoors and conservation efforts, though not in a preachy way. “It’s not new. We’re just putting it under a different umbrella,” Atkins says. “We want to get kids outside because studies show we have healthier kids, more creative kids and less childhood obesity. The more connected they are to nature, the more interested in conservation, and then going home and getting connected with nature. Who goes home and does more on their own? If we can get them to do that, then we feel like we’ve won.”

Promotion

Adults who don’t have children between the ages of 7 and 12 might not know about Phineas and Ferb. The animated Disney duo on their television show spend summer vacations creating crazy inventions to the chagrin of their older sister, Candace, while their pet platypus Perry goes unknown by the characters as a secret agent and thwarts the bumbling but evil Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz.

The No. 1-rated cartoon on cable TV, with 353 million viewers worldwide, “Phineas and Ferb” is being leveraged to cross-brand the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing campaign. A new spot will start running on Disney channels during the network’s many popular shows, featuring the duo outdoors with some “Fish on” Take Me Fishing messaging. Disney is leveraging the show’s popularity to lure children outdoors, and Take Me Fishing is capitalizing on it to lure them into fishing.

“We’re No. 2 for gateway activities into nature, after jogging, and how many 6-year-olds love jogging?” asks Peterson, who explains that although it’s important to keep current boaters and anglers involved, it’s also crucial to attract new ones. Phineas and Ferb are being used not only for their humor but also as character draws at events designed to attract new audiences to boating and fishing. One campaign push the RBFF has undertaken is an effort to reach the Hispanic population.

Participants at events get to enter a Reel in the Fun sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to Walt Disney World, and that gives Disney an opportunity to gather information about them, Benn says. The events offer photo opportunities for participants and activities such as a casting challenge.

Take Me Fishing branding is displayed throughout areas of the parks that feature fishing and boating activities, Peterson says. Radio Disney also has been partnering aggressively with Take Me Fishing, particularly in Florida and Texas, the two launch states for the Hispanic campaign. A 60-second spot featuring the voice of Dr. Doofenschmirtz touts the benefits of the water but also makes audiences laugh.

Radio Disney reaches 31 markets a week and 5.5 million kids between the ages of 6 and 11, as well as 5.4 million kids between 9 and 14. Another tie-in is through Disney apps, such as the game “Where’s My Water?” A free power-up leads to Take Me Fishing websites. “Oh My Disney” contains fun Disney content curated from blog posts that will introduce audiences to boating and fishing and amplify industry events.

Disney and the RBFF hope the outcomes will include reaching new audiences — youth and Hispanic, for example; increase brand awareness; drive traffic to TakeMeFishing.org; and ultimately prompt more people to go boating and fishing.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue.

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