MONTGOMERY, Ala.  - Jan.  24, 2003 - In the first of a planned series of talks from ESPN Outdoors, BASS Vice President and General Manager Dean Kessel offered his vision for BASS and the sport of bass fishing.

Kessel, who took the helm after ESPN purchased BASS in 2001, spent an hour fielding reporters' questions about the world's largest fishing organization.  Kessel opened the conversation with a quick summary of recent accomplishments at BASS, including increased and deeper payouts, cash-only purses for the pros and opportunities for more anglers to compete at higher levels.

One of the first topics to come up in the question-and-answer session was lessons learned in the first year. 

"(Member, federation and fan feedback about previous events) has really helped spur a lot of what we've done with the festival (at the new BASS Sponsor Expo)," he said.  "It's really helped build interactivity and the consumer showcase that we want to do at all the Tour stops this year."

He also cited great strides in television coverage on "The CITGO Bassmasters" on ESPN2.

"We're turning around the events in seven days," he said.  "That is phenomenal.  Last year, you'd see an Open or a Tour event that was executed in October and it would show up in January on television."

The show, however, is only one of the vast media resources ESPN has used to expand awareness of the sport, he said, in addition to appearances on SportsCenter and telecasts on ESPN during the CITGO Bassmasters Classic.

"That was part of the strategic vision: While focusing on the core, focusing on the stakeholders that are currently involved, how do we grow this sport?" Kessel asked. "Exposure is one of the greatest things, if not the greatest thing, that ESPN brings to the sport in general."

He also highlighted the dramatic story lines created by the new Busch BASS Angler of the Year chase, which has already put $1,000 into the pockets of opening event leader Skeet Reese and current points leader Jim Bitter.  Kessel pointed out that sponsorships that fund programs and increased payouts are the key to future success for the sport.

"The Busch side of things is part of the growth," he said, citing deeper purses and the all-cash payout.  "That's part of answering some of the concerns that our pro anglers have had about increasing purses and taking merchandise out.  Those types of things require financial commitment from outside sources. 

"... It's ground breaking for our sport and that's what's going to grow it - the CITGOs of the world, the Anheuser-Busches (and) Diamond Cut Jeans of the world.  Those folks that we call non-endemic or non-traditional are going to help fuel the growth for this."

Kessel cited recent concerns about sponsorship agreements, particularly a new requirement for pros to wear a small patch on their sleeve in order to participate in the Busch BASS Angler of the Year program and earn points toward qualifying for the Classic.  He pointed out that strategic decisions have been made with much valuable input from the BASS Athletes Advisory Council.

"One of the first things we did last October was put together an advisory council with our competitors which was actually voted on by all 150 pros from the year before," he said.  "They had an opportunity to vote in their peers.

"We went to them and just opened it up for dialogue and had several meetings down the road as we were putting the new tour together."

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375.

Editor's Note: A replay of the question and answer session is available to the working media.  For more information, call (334) 551-2375.
B.A.S.S. Communications  (334) 272-9530