Classic lands a big one: Busch as sponsor

Brewery's 3-year contract means more prize money

BASS Masters notebook

Fishing

July 25, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - In the battle of rival fishing tours, BASS has raised the stakes again.

Yesterday, the organization announced that Busch beer would be picking up the tab for the Angler of the Year program and other portions of the tournament trail.

The contract, which covers the 2002 Classic and the next two years with an option for two more, will put more money into the pockets of successful anglers and adds bass fishing to the Anheuser-Busch sports portfolio.

The brewery giant is a sponsor of a majority of pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams, the PGA Tour and NASCAR.

In April 2001, BASS was bought by ESPN, a deal that gave the 600,000-member fishing organization a more powerful media outlet. Then, at the 2001 Classic, officials announced a deal that made CITGO the primary sponsor of the Classic and the tournament trail.

The organization's monetary prizes, which always lagged behind the rival FLW Outdoors tour, were increased.

FLW, sponsored by Wal-Mart, responded by dumping the feeble PAX cable network and signing on with the Outdoor Life Network, The tour's beverage of choice is Maxwell House coffee.

Busch marketing director Keith Levy said it was the demographic similarity between bass anglers and auto race fans coupled with the ESPN involvement that attracted his company.

"ESPN is making [fishing] more exciting by highlighting the sexier aspects," he said.

Levy declined to say what the deal was worth.

For the Angler of the Year, it's worth plenty: a quadrupling of the prize money to $100,000. For the runner-up, the payout will be $15,000. Even the 10th place finisher will get $5,000.

After each of the first nine events of the tour, the points leader will get a check for $1,000.

The anglers praised the partnership and the increased rivalry between BASS and FLW.

"The competition between the two entities has raised the bar and opened the marketplace," said Jay Yelas, FLW's Angler of the Year and a longtime BASS competitor. "It's good for the fishermen because the purses keep going up and up."

Location, location

Already the speculation has begun about the site of next year's Classic.

The announcement last year was made near the end of the three-day tournament, but sightings of officials from potential bidders for next year and beyond have folks talking. In all, officials from more than a dozen locations have expressed interest in hosting future Classics.

BASS spokesman George McNeilly said that while officials have "pretty much made up their minds," next year's choice might not be made public until after the Classic because the contracts haven't been signed.

"You don't move into the house until you've had the closing," he said.

North Carolina, the location of the Classic in 1975, 1994, 1995 and 1998, would dearly love to hold a welcome back party. But High Rock Lake, the site of the most recent three, is suffering from drought conditions and is unlikely to bounce back in time.

Alabama, headquarters for the BASS organization, has been the host eight times, and sponsors and anglers like the proximity of the hotel and convention center. But Birmingham doesn't offer the kind of sizzle that television - that would be ESPN - demands.

The front-runner might be New Orleans, which landed the 2001 event and has the highly photogenic French Quarter, Bourbon Street and Louisiana Superdome, the location of last year's final-day weigh-in.

Award-winning

What's sitting next to Kevin VanDam's 2001 BASS Masters Classic trophy back home in Michigan? Why his ESPY award for being the Outstanding Outdoorsman of the Year.

With the trophy came some memorable moments, said VanDam. Meeting home run king Barry Bonds, Super Bowl quarterback Tom Brady and running back Marshall Faulk were all terrific. And, VanDam's wife, Sherry, got to meet Matthew Perry, the star of her favorite TV show, Friends.

But, the best, he said, with a big grin: "I got to go to the Playboy mansion. It was a great experience."

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