Ray Scott Sees Fresh Start at New Orleans Classic
Ray Scott will soon be packing his trademark cowboy hat for the Bassmasters Classic in New Orleans Feb l8-20. It is there that 50 of the world's top anglers will compete in the Louisiana Delta for the bass fishing championship title and $500,000 top prize. This "superbowl" of bass fishing will be the 41st for the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) and the third in the historic city of New Orleans.
Although the well-choreographed event will appear much the same to the average participant, behind the scenes the B.A.S.S. organization will be "under new management" and Scott is excited about the changes that he feels can take the organization back to the grassroots that made it the largest sport fishing organization in the world.
This past fall, almost a decade after it purchased B.A.S.S., parent company ESPN sold the organization to a trio of private investors. And that is what has Scott in a state of anticipation.
Most recognizable to fishermen is Jerry McKinnis, longtime industry insider and TV producer and well-known for his long-running ESPN TV show The Fishin' Hole. Investor Don Logan is the former boss of Time, Inc. and later AOL Time Warner. Jim Copeland was former CEO of the international financial firm Deloitte Touch and serves on the board of three Fortune 500 companies.
"But here's the real kicker," Says Scott. "We all know Jerry is a bass fanatic, but these business heavyweights are both passionate about bass fishing as well. I've fished with Don Logan. All three are genuine anglers. And I think that is what is going to make the difference."
Scott founded the B.A.S.S. organization in 1968, and immediately blazed a trail in the sport fishing world, creating a new bass fishing industry of tackle, marine products and professional tournaments. B.A.S.S. reached a membership of over 650,000 and became a respected force for conservation, water safety and youth fishing, especially through the affiliated bass clubs he united into state organizations that could speak with one voice.
The sale has been portrayed as friendly and in fact ESPN and B.A.S.S. will continue to work together on programming.
Scott is philosophical about the change of ownership. "I think businesses are always redirecting their course in some fashion and we all see through a different lens...thank goodness or life would be pretty dull. I believe our course now will be more toward the grassroots membership, and as noted by Jim Copeland, B.A.S.S. will be smaller and more nimble and better able to better respond to our stakeholders."
Scott continues, "When I started the organization over forty years ago, I wanted the fishermen to know they were indeed part of a unique community - a community totally dedicated to bass angling. People thought I was crazy to focus on one specie. But we are a special breed. It's hard for us to explain ourselves - just ask our spouses.
"We wanted above all to help members be better anglers and to protect and improve their fishing environment. And when they saw a B.A.S.S. decal on the back of a vehicle, it said ''I'm one of you.' I hope we recapture and grow that spirit."
Scott believes he'll see that passion and spirit coming back in New Orleans. "Plus," he adds " we've got all the elements that always make the Classic such an incredible event -- the world's greatest anglers, a superb outdoor expo and an exciting weigh-in show. All in one of the country's greatest cities, New Orleans."
According to Scott one of the biggest changes will take place on the weigh- in stage. "We'll be welcoming a new face to the Classic and that is new weighmaster /emcee Dave Mercer. He's a big fishing celebrity from the North - a real yankee from Canada-and he comes with a big thumbs-up from all who know him. After several visits with him, I'm confident he'll be eating grits and saying y'all in no time.
"The weigh-in is very special to me," continues Scott. "I emceed the first 26 Classics and B.A.S.S. blazed the trail for all the formats we see today. I still chuckle when I think about that first 1970 Classic weigh-in on the rooftop of a Las Vegas marina. I had a bullhorn and we had a handful spectators, mostly press and wives. We should all be proud of how far we have come."
Scott believes Mercer will easily find his place on the Bassmasters Classic stage. For the past four years he has hosted the Toyota Texas Bass Classic which draws as many as 20,000 spectators to the weigh-in. Along with the Classic, Mercer will emcee all the Elite Series events for 2011.
The 36-year-old Mercer is noted for his showmanship and sense of humor as well as his fishing expertise and has a loyal following through his Facts of Fishing television show and DVD series of the same name.
But it is his passion that most impresses Scott. "He is an authentic bass angler. You can hear the passion in his voice. So much of what he's told me reminds me of fishing greats like Kevin Van Dam and Rick Clunn. Even as kids they spent every spare moment on the water and couldn't wait to get their Bassmaster Magazines, That's Dave. He's the real deal.
"He relates to both the competitors and the anglers in the audience. He talks their language. He understands that unlike many other sports, standing on the Classic stage is an attainable dream thanks to B.A.S.S."
For Scott, the renaissance of B.A.S.S. couldn't take place in a better place. "New Orleans is my favorite city. It's got friendly people, great food, fascinating history and sights. I go there frequently during the year - I was there only a couple weeks after Katrina. It's an easy driving distance from my home and it's always like going home."