Gonzales Weekly Citizen - Gonzales, LA
  • Looking back on the Bassmaster’s Classic and ESPN’s BASS?deal

  • In 2001, I attended the Bassmaster’s Classic in New Orleans for the first time as a media representative.

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  • In 2001, I attended the Bassmaster’s Classic in New Orleans for the first time as a media representative. It was quite the spectacle for a first timer, filming for Ascension Outdoors TV and writing for the newspaper. It was pretty much like an angler qualifying to compete for the first time.
    The hype was about a hundred times greater than anything one could have imagined. BASS had a great need for the press and we were treated like royalty. Folks with media credentials received ditty bags full of merchandise, lunches sponsored by the likes of General Motors; you know what I mean.
    We were even treated to a river boat ride on the Mississippi River one evening where I hooked up with a couple of avid bass anglers and writers; one from Spain and the other from Italy. I got the history of bass fishing of both countries. I felt like I was with family during the whole process.
    On day two of the tournament, I was privileged to be a press observer with Scott Rook from Arkansas. I had the opportunity to witness what a professional did in a day’s time on the water and just how good they are. Rook finished second to Kevin Van Dam and this is one experience I will never forget.
    However, there was a buzz going on at that event; ESPN had purchased BASS and everyone was just a little excited about the possibilities for the future of professional bass fishing. The timing of the purchase didn’t allow the media giant to run the Classic, so Bassmaster’s put it on with a lot more of TV coverage.
    Fast forward to 2003 in New Orleans again for another Classic and ESPN was in full control. They are sports media and it was pretty obvious that they didn’t need the usual press nearly as much as BASS did. We were no longer treated like royalty, but we weren’t treated like paupers either. The “family” was gone and corporate had taken over.
    For nearly 10 years the only “family” that went on in the owner/angler/public opinion relationship was fussing and fighting. There were a few things that went pretty well, but for the most part in my opinion, ESPN’s ownership of BASS was not a success. Their success with NASCAR did not repeat itself in this venture.
    The first big issue for anglers and lots of fans including me was the Busch Beer sponsorship of the Angler of the Year award. If an angler didn’t wear the beer patch, they received no points and thus were eliminated from the competition. Several pros refuse either to fish BASS or to wear the patch, including Lendell Martin Jr., Randy Blaukat, Clark Wendlandt and David Walker. However, for me the action that crossed the line and etched in stone my disdain for this relationship was the day they fired “Fish” Fishburne in 2004 as tournament emcee. I still shake my head in unbelief.
    Page 2 of 2 - The love/hate relationship continued for nearly ten years. Most folks as well as many of the professional anglers regretted the purchase and could only hope ESPN would eventually tire of the venture or lose enough money to get out.
    Well it happened! On Tuesday, August 3, ESPN Inc. announced that it has reached an agreement in principle to sell BASS, LLC to a group of investors led by Don Logan, Jerry McKinnis and Jim Copeland.
    Investor and outdoorsman McKinnis has a long history with ESPN as the host of the network’s second-longest-running show, The Fishin’ Hole, which aired from 1980 until 2007. Retired Time Inc. executive and avid angler Logan at one time oversaw Time Inc., America Online, Time Warner Cable and the Time Warner Book Group before his retirement from the media giant in 2002. Georgia native Copeland retired as U.S. and Global CEO of international financial services firm Deloitte in 2003 and currently serves on the board of directors of three Fortune 500 companies.
    The venture is still in its formative stage, but I believe the combination of the three parties’ areas of expertise will give the sport of professional bass fishing the boost it needs for new life. The buzz has been very positive and I look for good things to happen starting in the near future.
    Gonzales’ Greg Hackney had this to say about the new deal: “I think the new management’s going to take it back to where it was a few years ago, which I think is the best it’s ever been. We had the Elite 50s, and then I feel like Jerry had a huge hand in getting the Elite Series started, with the 11 regular-season events. I think without a doubt it’s going to be better because Jerry really understands the sport. The main thing is he understands who he can sell it to and who the viewers are. The biggest deal is I don’t see those guys buying it to babysit it. It’s going to be good for the fishermen and hopefully (the new owners will) make some money out of it.” (Quote courtesy of BassFan.com)
    I can’t think of a better scenario to test the new waters; the Bassmaster’s Classic will be back in New Orleans in February of 2011. I’ll be back attending as a media representative and experience it first hand. Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God bless you.
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