Finding the value in a fishing license

Posted on: April 6, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

What do people expect when they buy a fishing license? That’s a question marketers are seeking to answer.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures

Anybody can answer the question of what a fishing license costs.

But can anyone tell its value?

There’s a difference, said Judd Michael, a professor of business management for natural resources industries at Penn State University.

“It’s not just a piece of paper, is it? It’s a ticket to Disneyland,” Michael said.

Michael and several students seeking master’s degrees in business have been studying fishing licenses and anglers for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Their ultimate goal is to develop a business plan that the agency can use to help it connect with its customers.

Michael and one of those students, Ryan Laudermilch, talked to commissioners about some of their ideas.

What do people think they’re buying?

When it comes to value, Laudermilch said, the commission needs to figure out what people perceive they’re buying when they spend money on a license.

That’s not necessarily fish, he said. Some survey work showed that license buyers said they spend money on a license for fun, relaxation and to spend time with friends and family, in that order.

“A distant fourth is actually about the fish,” he said.

What do people want to believe they’re buying?

For-profit companies spend time and money figuring out a message that resonates with their customers, Michael said. The commission needs to do the same to reach those people, he added, at least as much as possible.

“Is fishing just about getting a fish, or is it a lifestyle?” Laudermilch asked.

“It’s like when you look at brands like Nike. They’re not just selling shoes. They’re selling a whole athletic lifestyle.”

Where to sell licenses?

The state’s metropolitan areas — and the southeastern corner of the state in particular, around Philadelphia – hold the most potential for new customers, Laudermilch said. Only about 58 percent of license buyers there over the past four years were repeat customers, he noted.

Commissioner Bill Sabatose of Elk County worries about making such places a point of emphasis, though.

He said he took a class of students from rural Elk County stocking fish. Most had never heard of the commission or knew what it did, he said.

“So how are you going to get Philadelphia involved when even the kids in the woods don’t know what’s going on?” he asked.

Commissioner Rocco Ali of Armstrong County said he likes the idea of trying to reach people who haven’t been traditional customers, though.

“Don’t preach to the choir. Go find a new constituent,” Ali said.

Who is doing the selling?

Meanwhile, there are other challenges.

One is the people selling licenses, Michael said. He went into some big box stores this past fall and asked the clerks what they knew about special promotions the commission was offering, like the 50 percent reduction in fees for those buying a license after Oct. 1.

The answer was not much, he said.

“I think that’s one of our concerns, is the retailers and their knowledge of promotions like this,” he said.

What’s next?

The Penn State team has only a little time left to come up with answers.

It began developing a business model for the commission last spring. It’s preparing its final report by the end of the month, Michael noted. It will deliver that to the commission no later than June 30, he added.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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