Birders see Big Opportunity in "Big Year"

They call it ‘the movie.’

And when they say it, they breathe it out with a glowing reverence – almost a whisper, actually -- more suited to a scornful demigod (or former girlfriend) who might appear if you accidentally say the name a bit too loud.

When “A River Runs Through It” came out in 1992, it put fishing for trout with a fly on the radar screen of every guy who wished he had a little bit of Brad Pitt in him, as well as every woman who wished for the same.

In addition to doing wonders for Norman MacLean book sales, the "movie" put fly fishing businesses into a soaring trajectory as well.

Briefly, that is. While fly fishing participation soared in the early 90s, the next 15 years featured a slow and steady decline. A river running downhill, so to speak.

They still talk about the “movie” in the fly fishing world. Some wistful, some snarky. And every time another film that features the sport in it comes along, they push a few chips out onto the green felt, hoping that big wheel stops on them once again. (Last year’s “The River Why” was frothed up as the second coming, but apparently even Amber Heard's lovely form wasn’t enough to save it. Link: Review)

This month, another outdoorsy community is clasping hands in anticipation of a bump. Enter the birdwatchers.

“The Big Year” – starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson – is being heralded by the birding community as the big opportunity they’ve been waiting for. The tale of three hyper competitive bird watchers trying to set a record for the most birds in a single year has seen more advertising support in the last 30 days the entire fly fishing industry spends in a year, combined.

That might help. But plenty of other movies spend buckets of cash to no avail. And the hope here is about more than just supporting gross box office sales, it's about increasing the number of people heading outside for a glimpse of a wild bird ("conversion") and it's about hooking those people on the activity in such a way that they keep coming back year after year ("retention").

At this point, conversion is primary focus. And, blissfully, the birding community isn't just sitting around waiting for the bump to lift them up. They're actually doing something.

This week, Audubon launched “Birding the Net” a month-long Facebook campaign that aspires to draft off "The Big Year" and its massive marketing support ... and hopefully convert a few people to the birding cause.

An inspired and well thought-out program, “Birding the Net” has recruited hundreds of brands -- from USA Today to the New York Times to our friends at Woolrich -- to incorporate a variety of birds into their websites. Live birds, actually, that will fly across the screen as you're reading the news or shopping for a new merino wool sweater.

Every time you see one of those birds flying around your computer monitor, if you click on the bird in time, you’ll “collect it” and a badge will be added to your birding portfolio on Facebook.

Lots of other twists to the campaign exist as well ... like html "birdhouses" that can be added to any site ... as well as a boost of competitiveness in which your roster of birds will be measured against other friends on Facebook. The 'net birders with the most in their portfolio by the end of the month will be entered to win numerous prizes, including a Lindblad trip to the Galapagos. Pretty damn sweet.

The beauty of "Birding the Net" is that it doesn't hinge on "The Big Year" being good, bad or sideways. Instead, it takes the initiative.

And for right now, that's exactly what it's gonna take.

LINK: Audubon's 'Birding the Net' on Facebook

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