A Q&A Session with BASS General Manager Don RUCKS
BASSMASTER.COM: You talk about growing the sport of bass fishing. What
exactly is ESPN/BASS doing to grow the sport?
RUCKS: One of the biggest things we're doing is to increase the number
of Tour events from six to 11. This not only brings more money into the
sport, but creates greater opportunities for anglers to have a viable
career. More tournaments mean more exposure and more interest. The total
payout available to anglers has increased in 2006 by over $4.5 million.
At BASS, we've really worked hard to announce a number of groundbreaking
changes to our Tour that will revolutionize the sport. Our business
model has always been to aggressively, but responsibly grow the sport of
bass fishing, and that's exactly what we're doing.
Recently, we announced increased payouts for our Tour events, Majors and
the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. The 2006 Classic will have a $1 million
purse and a huge first-place payout of $500,000 - plus all of the
prestige and opportunity that comes with winning bass fishing's most
In 2006, our Elite 50 Series will be replaced by "Majors" - three
no-entry-fee tournaments with a top prize of $250,000 for each of the
winners. "Majors" is not just a name change, the Bassmaster Memorial,
Bassmaster American and Bassmaster Legends will be major events that
will draw nationwide attention. This is a key ingredient to growing the
When you turn on ESPN2 on Saturday Morning, you have a four-and-a-half
hour block of programming that is changing the way people think of bass
fishing. Programs like BassCenter, Loudmouth Bass and The CITGO
Bassmasters are timely, exciting and just what we fans want. Stop and
think about the resources we're committing to the sport! That's every
Saturday, 52 weeks a year. I don't think that's sunk in for a lot of
folks, but it's huge. Nothing can build the sport or an angler's career
faster than this.
In addition to all of the Saturday morning programming, all three days
of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic and the final day of each major will be
carried live on ESPN or ESPN2. In 2005, ESPN will carry five hours of
Classic programming and ESPN2 will have 11 hours.
BASSMASTER.COM: Why is it necessary to make all the changes you have
announced for 2006?
RUCKS: Each of the changes we're making is designed to improve upon and
grow the sport. We're constantly working toward creating the very best
events, the very best systems and the very best organization for our
members, our sponsors, our anglers and our fans. When we see an
opportunity to make an improvement, we do it.
Sometimes, it's a relatively small change, like tweaking our points
system for the Tour next year.
Sometimes the changes are large and sweeping, like moving the Classic to
earlier in the year and expanding the Tour to 11 events.
And don't forget our previously announced objective of building a
schedule focused on selecting the right locations at the right time of
year that will put the best anglers in the world in a position to catch
the most and biggest fish.
All of these changes are part of our overriding objective to
aggressively, but responsibly grow the sport of bass fishing.
BASSMASTER.COM: Why 11 Tour events instead of six?
RUCKS: By increasing the number of Tour events we're giving our pros a
greater opportunity to build a viable career in the sport.
With our Tour events stretching across most of the year, BASS anglers
will have more and better opportunities to gain recognition and
notoriety, more opportunities to win money and more opportunities to
showcase their sponsors.
It's my opinion that fishing a full Tour season is a career commitment.
Eleven events allow those careers to be solidified. The 11-event
schedule was not and is not intended to be a one-size-fits-all
situation. A lot of people talk about elevating the sport, but to really
elevate the sport these types of strategic decisions will have to be
made knowing they are unpopular for some.
BASSMASTER.COM: Why convert to the so called Majors instead of sticking
with the Elite 50s?
RUCKS: We created the Elite 50s in response to the anglers' desire for
no-entry-fee events with reduced fields and big payouts. The Majors are
a natural progression from the Elite 50 Series, which enjoyed tremendous
success last year and so far this year.
By correctly calling the events "majors" we hope to bring attention to
the fact that these are major, stand-alone events for the best and
brightest in the sport.
Our majors will be terrific outdoors events for the whole family with
large outdoors expo consumer shows at each major event. They're also
no-entry-fee tournaments with reduced fields - just the cream of the
professional angling crop. We're working toward the day when our BASS
majors command the same kind of respect and attention that "majors" in
other professional sports have earned. The "majors" will grow over time
to attract similar attention as our prestigious CITGO Bassmaster
BASSMASTER.COM: Why not do away with the three-year average and money
list to let pros qualify for the 2006 MAJORS in the same year AOY
standings prior to each major?
RUCKS: When we announced our multi-year plan in 2003, we believed the
two-tier system struck the right balance between the legends of our
sport and the anglers who have been hot over the past few Tour seasons.
By keeping that basic system in place, we're following through on our
commitment to maintain the balance that the anglers and our fans have
come to expect.
Prior to the 2005 season, we made an announcement regarding all 2006
qualifying criteria and we're simply following through on those
guidelines. As we look ahead to 2007, we'll look at these
qualifying criteria again.
As with all of our programs, we will continue to evaluate our systems
and schedules as part of our commitment to delivering the finest events
in the industry. To address some of those concerns, there now are four
wild card positions that we created for 2006 which will come from the
CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year points standings only, prior to each
major. This will allow for the four hottest current anglers not
BASSMASTER.COM: Why increase the TOUR field from 150 to 200?
RUCKS: We're growing field size to increase participation on the Tour so
that we can build stars and create more opportunities for viable
We understand that change is a difficult thing, but in this instance, we
believe the anglers who've expressed concern are being premature in
BASS is confident that anglers will be competing on fisheries that are
large enough to accommodate the additional anglers without any issues or
We also wish to underscore that the field will be filled with anglers
who are worthy of Tour status, and we're confident that this will create
opportunities for anglers who would not otherwise get a chance to
compete against the world's best. We're excited that because of this
field expansion many new stars will be born.
I see the increase in field size very much the same as the NFL's and
Major League Baseball's many league expansions over the years. In both
cases, more athletes were required with these changes, and, as a result,
additional pros were given the opportunity to start careers and many new
stars were born.
BASSMASTER.COM: What is the tiered entry fee all about?
RUCKS: The tiered entry fee system creates a "break" for anglers who do
not make the cut - they pay only $1,800 per event (down from $1,925 in
For those anglers who finish in the top 75, an additional $1,200 will be
collected from their winnings prior to being presented with final
I wish the critics of the system would try to focus on the positives
with this concept by realizing that 125 angers out of 200 will only pay
a $1,800 entry fee. That's less than the $1,925 entry fee Tour anglers
paid this year, and far less than another tournament trail that charges
all 200 anglers a $3,000 entry fee.
This is a very important ingredient when looking at providing the
opportunity for new anglers to compete. It's especially important in
2006 since we're expanding from six to 11 tour events. Even seasoned
pros will not make it into the top 75 cut in all of the events;
therefore they'll catch a break as well.
The easiest thing we could do is to have one flat entry fee, but that's
not in line with our strategy of growing the sport and providing new
opportunities for more anglers.
BASSMASTER.COM: What if an angler in the top 75 after Day Two decides
not to fish on Day Three? What happens?
RUCKS: We'll simply work down the list to the next highest finisher
after Day Two until we fill the 75 positions. An angler's prize money
and entry fees are based upon his final day's finish in the tournament.
Any angler choosing not to fish to avoid additional expenses for
lodging, gas, etc., will simply slide down in total weight, payout
position and, most of all, points. At the conclusion of the tournament
the additional $1,200 entry fee portion will be deducted from each of
the top 75 payouts regardless of whether or not the angler has fished on
We believe, however, that anglers will want to compete on the final two
days in order to enhance their position in the point standings, increase
their chances of earning additional prize money and to best serve their
sponsors and the fans who follow them.
Let's face it, even if an angler is out of the running for any of the
year-end money or CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualification, it's still
important to an angler's career where he finishes in the season-ending
Obviously, when talking to existing sponsors or potential ones, it
should put an angler in a better negotiating position if he finished
73rd on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour instead of 123rd. Also, with a multi
year average required for majors' qualification, it will be critical for
any serious career-minded professional angler to fish every day for
which he has qualified.
BASSMASTER.COM: Why would an angler that is out of year-end awards like
AOY and Classic qualification want to fish Day Three instead of dropping
RUCKS: Once again, we believe that anglers will compete on the final
days in order to enhance their position in the point standings, increase
their chances of earning additional prize money and to better serve
their sponsors. Where they finish is important - 63rd is better than
73rd. Also, with a multi year average required for majors'
qualification, it will be critical for any serious career-minded
professional angler to fish every day for which he has qualified.
Angler value to sponsors is driven by their performance. It's important
to an angler's career to improve his standings every chance he gets no
matter where that angler is in his career.
Anglers will now have a third day in their own boat, which has been a
major concern for them. We're the only major tour that encourages
anglers to fish in clothing that supports their sponsors, and we've now
restructured our Tour events so that they get an additional day in their
When you look at the 2005 Tour standings at the end of two days of
competition, you'll see that the competition is remarkably close. An
angler can jump many valuable places by fishing on that third day, and I
think that's significant.
BASSMASTER.COM: Can you give details on FLW, WON and others qualifying
for the Tour? Why does BASS see this as important? Does it diminish the
importance of qualifying for the Tour?
RUCKS: First of all, this does not diminish the importance of qualifying
for the Tour through our Opens or other BASS mechanisms. It merely
provides other avenues for talented anglers to join our Tour. We're
convinced that once they do, they'll realize that the CITGO Bassmaster
Tour is the most prestigious tournament circuit out there.
We will first look to fill the fields with qualified BASS pros. We
believe we have the finest bass anglers in the world fishing our events,
but recognize that there are other talented anglers out there.
The BASS Federation, FLW Tour and WON Bass have established themselves
as quality trails with many talented anglers.
We will offer invitations to 10 positions from those categories, six
Federation Regional Champions, one Bassmaster Series Champion, one WON
US Open champion, one FLW Angler Of The Year and one FLW Champion. I
might add that the 2004 WON US OPEN Champion was Aaron Martens, our 2005
CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
BASSMASTER.COM: How does the cut to 75 anglers on Day Three impact
RUCKS: It certainly makes things more challenging for the television
production people, but we believe this will make for even better events
and better television. With only 12 anglers making the cut on Day Three
in 2005, there was little opportunity for a true come-from-behind
victory. Seventy-five anglers on Day Three means more opportunity for
drama, and that should create better television.
>From an angler's perspective, cutting to 75 boats rather than 12 is a
great arrangement. On the third day, the anglers will be fishing from
their own boats, which has been a real concern for them. Then, on the
final day - because we're cutting to 12 rather than six - we're doubling
the number of sponsor wrapped boats on the water. It creates a real
win-win situation for everyone.
BASSMASTER.COM: Deposits in 2005 were $500 per tournament for a total of
$3,000. Would you explain the deposits for 2006?
RUCKS: Demonstrating great care for the anglers, we have left the
deposits for the 11-event season at $3,000 to help alleviate the
financial burden on the anglers. We will apply the deposit to the last
five tour events of the year when we think anglers will need it the
Once the $3,000 deposit is made, the first six Tour events will require
$1,800 each prior to competing while the final five events will only
require $1,200 each prior to competing. We think this offers a big break
for anglers by helping to ease the up-front expense burden. Yes, it's
different, but we think it's better.
BASSMASTER.COM: Why do you think these changes for 2006 have been
confusing for some individuals?
RUCKS: A great deal has changed over the past few months here at BASS,
and I understand that change - especially significant change - is
sometimes difficult for people.
With so many changes affecting virtually all of our events and
tournament series, it's inevitable that there be some confusion. Bass
fishing competitions have operated the same for many years and many
people in our industry have become very comfortable with the way it's
If you look at other major sports, they've all gone through significant
changes in order to grow. Many of those changes met with resistance and
they weren't always popular, but over the long haul they proved to be
the right thing to do in most instances.
A year ago, NASCAR changed the NEXTEL CUP points championship by paring
it down to the top ten for the final run to the championship. When
NASCAR announced their plans in 2003 that it would be the program in
2004, it didn't meet with much popularity - especially from the drivers,
the athletes. It turned out to be very successful.
We simply ask that our members, sponsors, anglers and fans take a good
close look at what we're doing at BASS. If they'll do that, we're
confident they'll realize that we're on the right track and that the
changes are moving us in a positive direction.
BASSMASTER.COM: How do these changes impact the BASS position regarding
the new PAA?
RUCKS: In light of the positive strides in our sport, BASS sees no
reason for an anglers' association at this time. We think the BAAC was
an effective communications tool and whatever can be accomplished
through the PAA could just as easily be accomplished through the BAAC.
We've yet to see how working with the PAA is going to make a valuable
One reason we don't see a need for an anglers' association is that we've
been very responsive to the anglers over the years. You only have to
look at our no-entry-fee events, our expanded Tour schedule and the cut
to 75 anglers in their own boats for evidence of that.
BASS will continue to communicate with all anglers at tournament
briefings. We understand the importance of communicating with anglers
and will continue to do so in an effective manner. Angler relations is
something we take very seriously at BASS, and we have plans to roll out
new mechanisms for effectively communicating with anglers at all levels.
Our goal is to help all anglers be the best that they can be in all
phases of their career.
BASSMASTER.COM: There's been quite a negative response from the anglers
regarding the 2006 Tour payouts, do you care to comment?
RUCKS: Anytime there are concerns with our events or systems we take a
hard look at them. Our goal is always to grow the sport - aggressively
and responsibly - and we want to be fair to all concerned. We get a lot
of feedback from our stakeholders - members, anglers, sponsors, fans -
and we evaluate all of it. When we have an opportunity to improve, we're
going to take it.
Payouts have been a huge focus for us recently, and I'm not sure if
everyone gets the real strategy behind our system. It's clear that BASS
has put its emphasis on the payouts of the "no-entry" major events - the
Bassmaster Memorial, Bassmaster American and the Bassmaster Legends - as
well as the no-entry-fee CITGO Bassmaster Classic. You can't look at the
Tour payouts without seriously considering that in 2006 these four
"no-entry" major events will pay a total of $3,000,000.
Many anglers have expressed their desire to reduce the payouts of our
majors significantly and add it to the Tour payouts. We just don't think
that makes good business sense when looking at our aggressive strategy
for growing the sport. If some anglers are focusing only on the Tour
payouts to build their careers, I really think they should seriously
To develop a solid career, an angler simply needs more than winnings to
succeed. A good career requires performance incentives from sponsors, as
well as the angler's ability to effectively market himself. How did
successful anglers do it in the past? What about Larry Nixon, Rick
Clunn, Denny Brauer and Roland Martin - how did they do it? First by
performance, then big wins like the CITGO Bassmaster Classic or CITGO
Bassmaster Angler of the Year. Finally, they were able to effectively
I find it very interesting that in 35 years as a pro angler, Roland
Martin's total winnings are a little over $1 million. That's less than
$30,000 per year - gross - and everyone would agree that Roland is one
of most successful anglers in history. He's an icon of the sport and has
used his success on the tournament trail to market himself effectively
on television, in books and on product shelves across the country. His
success is not based on tournament payouts alone.
Different tournament organizations use different models for their
businesses. BASS has the key ingredients for building an angler's career
and growing the sport aggressively, the rest is up to the angler.
It is not the responsibility of BASS to insure the success of an
angler's career, but we are working very hard to create more
opportunities for anglers to be successful, and I think we are doing
that very responsibly.
We have all the multi-media, including Bassmaster Magazine with its
550,000 circulation, BASSMASTER.COM, ESPN Outdoors' BASS Saturday TV
with BassCenter, Loudmouth Bass, Bassmaster University and The CITGO
Bassmasters. BASS also attracts abundant media attention which provides
the opportunity for anglers to build their careers by highlighting their
successes and showcasing their sponsors.
Unfortunately, no tournament organization offers everything that an
angler wants. Some offer larger payouts on their tours, but they don't
provide anything like the BASS "no-entry-fee" majors. Those same
organizations don't come close in the media components that are
essential to being able to seriously build a viable long term
BASSMASTER.COM: What do the changes mean for Tour non-boaters in 2006?
The entry fee has increased by $100, why is that?
RUCKS: Even with the increase, we believe that fishing a Tour event as a
non-boater is one of the greatest and most worthwhile experiences that
any avid angler can enjoy. Where else can you compete alongside your
sports heroes? Seventy-five non-boaters will now have the opportunity to
fish on Day Three, adding even more to the experience. We think that's
worth far more than the $100 increase.
BASSMASTER.COM: What is BASS' current position on the shared weight
RUCKS: While it's been successful for the pro anglers in the Tour
events, it has not been as acceptable for the non-boater participants.
We have evaluated it from every perspective and will not continue the
shared weight concept on the Tour in 2006. A different set of
circumstances exists in the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series, and we
won't announce our decision about shared weight in that series until
after we have completed the entire schedule.
BASSMASTER.COM: Will BASS continue to change its scheduling year after
RUCKS: We certainly don't expect to make these kinds of dramatic changes
year after year. 2005 is a transition year, and we plan to offer a
stable schedule of the best fishing in the best locations at the best
We believe the aggressive but thoughtful growth of the sport demands
this approach, and we look forward to making it a permanent part of our
These changes are going to have great benefits for everyone concerned,
and we're very proud of them.
As with all of our programs, we will continue to evaluate our systems
and schedules as part of our commitment to delivering the finest events
in the industry. If we can make something better by changing it, then
we'll do that. At the same time, if something new doesn't work we'll
change it until it does work. If a good idea comes along, we're going to
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than
20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO
Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50
series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament
circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility,
professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or