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‘We will lose first-timers unless we stay connected with them’ – participation chief warns the angling industry


The head of the body charged with growing participation in the USA has a warning for manufacturers and retailers. The RBFF can’t increase participation alone, says Frank Peterson, and if you don’t act, you could be jeopardising future sales.

As participation in fishing seemingly skyrockets across the U.S., the fishing industry has been encouraged to seize the moment to ensure the momentum created during COVID-19 does not become a lost opportunity. The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF), the organisation working on behalf of the fishing and boating industries to grow their customer base, is calling on businesses to do two things:

  • Get on board with the resources it has in place to ensure newcomers and those returning to the sport are retained
  • Reconfigure their own marketing to reach out to new anglers

“The demand for fishing information is through the roof. Tackle store shelves are empty, boating and fishing manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand, and fishing licence sales are up too as fishing has become an escape from all that’s going on in the world right now,” said Frank Peterson, President and CEO of the RBFF. “RBFF’s fiscal year runs from April to March, and from April to August this year we had 30 million visitors to TakeMeFishing.org compared to 18 million for all of last year. Most of them are looking for places to go, finding out how to get a licence and generally seeking ‘how to’ information. This increase in demand is why earlier this year RBFF partnered with the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) to create its ‘Get On Board’ campaign, a first-time collaboration between Take Me Fishing and Discover Boating, which has had more than 15 million views on YouTube since June when it rolled out.

“We built the Get on Board campaign so everyone in the industry could use its complimentary marketing tools freely and easily.”

“The campaign has worked in a way that we didn’t think at first it would. The belief was that we would come out of the pandemic by mid-June and launch the campaign to jump-start business. That was the aim. What we didn’t realise was that huge momentum would build during the pandemic, starting around the end of March. So the campaign has been less like a start-up and more like a rocket booster.” The Get on Board campaign includes a comprehensive toolkit for the fishing and boating industries. “We built the Get on Board campaign so everyone in the industry could use its complementary marketing tools freely and easily. But it’s not catching on as much as we’d hoped, and we want to remind the industry that now more than ever, it’s important to engage with your customers through marketing and communications.”

Peterson believes the next 20 months will be very important for the fishing industry. He said: “We have been given an opportunity to build on the current boom in interest. It’s going to be critical that the industry engages with both newcomers and lapsed anglers alike. The number of people dropping out of fishing has been a perennial problem and I don’t think we are doing enough as an industry to engage and retain these new audiences. RBFF is working hard to bring newcomers into the sport, but individual brands need to engage with this new influx of anglers and customers in a way that we can’t. Companies should be asking themselves what they are doing to ensure customers feel comfortable with their products and the services they offer so that they will continue to engage with them. The industry has to understand who these people are and make sure their marketing reflects this.”

In addition to the Get on Board campaign toolkit, RBFF has two website plug-ins to help consumers get on the water and get licensed. These free tools have been adopted by 115 industry partners to help their customers have a successful day on the water. RBFF would like to see that number grow. “We see this as an incredible growth opportunity for the trade, and everyone should get involved. We will lose first-timers unless we stay connected with them. The industry needs to make them feel welcome and show them that we appreciate their business by entering into one-on-one dialogue, sharing experiences through fishing media and helping them with fishing tips and offers that consumers want.” Historically two-thirds of new anglers are not retained. “Our challenge is to reduce churn – the number of anglers giving up on the sport – by half. The tools are there to keep them. If everyone in the industry would adopt them, it would have a powerful effect.”

All of RBFF’s free resources can be found at www.takemefishing.org/corporate