Notes from the Sportfishing Summit

If you’re a retailer, your ears must have been burning last week because you were the talk of the American Sportfishing Association Sportfishing Summit near Charleston. It’s been a major challenge for ASA to get retail members, and they want to fix that problem.

Believe it or not, ASA has only 44 retail members at this time. That number is woefully — but not historically — low. The high in the last decade is just over 100, and ASA officials and members (like me) would like to see that number go up significantly.

But how to do it? That’s the big question, and it’s proven to be a tough one. Currently, retailers get free admission to ICAST, and many believe there’s no reason to get further involved. ASA offers other benefits but must find new and better ways to make retailers aware of them. It’s also true that ASA needs to come up with other reasons for a retailer to join.

Then there’s the matter of dues. ASA dues need to be more transparent and more in line with the benefits of retail membership. What’s the use of joining for a modest amount, then watching your dues skyrocket in year two? That scenario has cost ASA most of its retail members over the past few years.

So, the bad news is that there are only 44 retail members of ASA right now. That number is low, but understandable given the current climate.

The good news is that getting you to join ASA was at the forefront of this year’s Summit. Dave Pfeiffer, president of Shimano North America Fishing, put it there. At the Board of Directors meeting that precedes the Summit and sets the stage for much of what will follow, Pfeiffer — a board member — made a motion to give every retailer who attends ICAST a “free” membership in ASA.

It was intended to spur discussion and to put fresh eyes on an old issue … but it passed! Suddenly, and without input from the many committees that advise the board, retailers were going to get a free membership just by showing up at the industry’s largest trade show.

Not everyone was thrilled.

The Finance Committee noted that the change would cost ASA around $90,000 in revenue. The Membership Committee was concerned that a “free” membership sent a bad message — ASA membership is worth nothing!

Other committees considered what the change would mean to their facet of the organization, and ultimately several weighed in when the board met again after the conclusion of committee work. The free membership move was rescinded as quickly as it had been passed, and a committee is being formed to make recommendations on how ASA can grow retail membership.

I volunteered for the committee and hope to be appointed.

Ultimately, ASA may need a R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) program for retail members just as there is one for anglers. And the proposal has to start with more attractive benefits, a better dues structure and a seat at the table. That’s how you’ll know ASA is serious about this issue.