Thursday, March 8, 2007

Doc Merkin - The Future Face of Bass Fishing

I'm not sure if "Doc Merkin" is an oxymoron or simply ironic, but I do know that this pro should no longer fly under the radar. He's a potential marketing dynamo.


At 57 years-old, conventional wisdom says that Doc Merkin shouldn't be regarded as "the future face of" anything, except maybe the obituaries. The former veterinarian and self-described "junk fisherman" of the B.A.S.S. tour probably doesn't strike most as billboard material or a face you'd likely see in an Abercrombie ad, but to belittle Merkin's marketing appeal is to fall directly into his trap. Merkin may not look the part, but he is on the verge of taking the world by storm and I'm not sure even he knows it.

Chances are you've never heard of Doc Merkin. You probably don't know Guy Eaker, Pete Ponds, Mike Wurm or Dan Morehead either. They are all members of the B.A.S.S. tour and to be honest, they probably prefer the anonymity. Competitive Bass Fishing isn't an occupation you take on for the notoriety or groupies, though there are a bit of both if your name is Mike Iaconelli, Kevin VanDam or Rick Clunn (for the over 50 crowd). Yet due to the recent partnership with ESPN and the addition of larger corporate sponsors like Toyota & Citgo, guys like Doc Merkin way not be laying in the weeds (pun intended) much longer.

Competitive Bass Fishing's growth has been compared favorably with the delayed explosion of NASCAR. The comparison likely has much more to do with the demographics of the current Bassmaster audience than anything but it is fair to say that in the last three years, competitive Bass Fishing has sustained tremendous growth. Tournament purses have doubled and last week Boyd Ducket came out of nowhere to win the Bassmaster Classic and pulled in an impressive $500,000 for the honor while celebrating on the stand in front of thousands of attendees and later tens of thousands watching at home. Competitive Bass Fishing is now filling the slots--and pulling in more viewers--that were traditionally left for Jimmy Houston and the Walker Kay Chronicles. Though ESPN scaled back its coverage of Bass Fishing a little (pulling ESPN2's live weigh-in coverage from primetime and instead airing a replay of the weigh-ins a few hours later) it's safe to say that the significant investment of air time and coverage (ESPN2 airs a daily recaps of all B.A.S.S. events on the weekends) means that competitive Bass Fishing is here to stay, at least for a little while. It remains to be seen whether the sport will capitalize on the opportunity. If Bass Fishing is determined to make a NASCAResque rise to pop culture relevance, all they really need is a personality to step out of the shadows and capture our imaginations. An "everyman" who is humble and yet dynamic. They need someone who will accept the challenge of fronting the Tour and accepting all competition. They need (and have) Doc Merkin. Aside from the obvious name cache, Merkin has a website (www.docmerkin.com); he's a boat salesman (http://www.docmerkin.com/boat.html) and he already has the type of media savvy TO could only dream of. In a wide ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times Merkin likens himself to "Brett Favre," makes a connection with his audience by citing prayer, comes off as a tough guy by belittling the multiple lacerations he suffered last year and displays his humble side without letting the reader forget how intensely focused he is to the job at hand. If you can read through that article and not become an immediate fan of Merkin, you don't have a pulse. He's the total package. In order to make use of this explosive marketing potential, all he has to do is win. Without a victory, he's just another pretty face in the long list of those who never took the next step and made the most of what God gave them by grabbing victory. He would essentially be the Anna Kournikova of bass fishing. Fortunately, Doc Merkin is a man who is constantly learning and has a desire to be the best. It is this yearning for success that will keep him coming back no matter how rough times may get. If his luck with the lunkers is anywhere comparable to his skill as a self-promoter, I have no doubt Doc Merkin will be the breakout performer of the B.A.S.S. tour and the walls of countless teenagers' homes will one day be covered in posters of Merkin.

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