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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 prestigious tournament.

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 sport.

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 Classic.

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 previously qualified.

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 careers.

We understand that change is a difficult thing, but in this instance, we believe the anglers who've expressed concern are being premature in their assessments.

BASS is confident that anglers will be competing on fisheries that are large enough to accommodate the additional anglers without any issues or complications.

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 2005).

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 checks.

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 Day Three.

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 point standings.

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 out?

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 own boats.

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 television coverage?

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 most.

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 always been.

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 difference.

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 reconsider.

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 market themselves.

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 professional career.

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 concept?

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 year?

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 times thereafter.

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 programs.

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 use it.

[End]

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 visit www.Bassmaster.com.
 

 

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Last modified: January 24, 2006