SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Ray Scott’s first two employees at B.A.S.S. met again and reminisced about how the bass fishing organization got off the ground 50 years ago.
Employee No. 2 Helen Sevier was inducted into the National Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, and Bob Cobb, the first person Scott hired, was there in her support. As marketing director, Sevier helped double B.A.S.S. membership then later purchased the company with an investment group and served as president and CEO, where she grew the organization into an industry juggernaut that remains more than 500,000 members strong.
To close her induction speech, Sevier had everyone in attendance stand and applaud who she thought was behind the careers of most every person in that room – Scott.
“I’ve never seen anybody as passionate,” she said of him. “He’s the guy who brought it to the forefront to make it what it is today.”
Cobb, a 2002 inductee into the BFHOF, and Sevier chatted at the reception for the six new inductees, and both graciously offered some time to speak of their pioneer days. Scott made the first casts toward moving bass fishing into the national spotlight in 1967 after his famous brainstorm in a rainstorm, and B.A.S.S. is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Scott’s idea to promote tournament fishing on a national level turned into something much bigger. From what Scott began with, Cobb said it’s hard to believe where it’s gone.
“When Ray started, he had four names on a 4x5 card in a metal box,” said Cobb, who left as outdoor editor at the Tulsa Tribune to work for Scott. “And he recruited 106 fisherman from 13 states to come to Beaver Lake.”
That was Scott’s first event, and its success led him to begin signing up anglers to his Bass Anglers Sportsman Society in 1968. Cobb bought in almost immediately, and he and Scott got Bassmaster Magazine rolling and built membership up to around 9,000. Enter Sevier.
“When this lady right here joined B.A.S.S, she became what Ray called our ‘Break-Even Girl,’” Cobb said of the direct marketing specialist. “There’s a certain percentage when you’re doing direct mail, where you either succeed or fall on your face.”
When Sevier came on board in 1970, she helped more than double growth to around 20,000 in her first year and then exponentially for years.
“She’d test zip codes in an area, and other magic things on her Ouija board back there,” Cobb said. “Not only did she recruit hundreds of thousands of new members, but she renewed about 70 percent, which is unheard of in the magazine business.”
Cobb said Sevier fueled an impetus to join with successful campaigns, like challenging anglers if there were good enough to display the B.A.S.S. patch. A more addictive tactic was premiums.
“Instead of talking money for ads in the magazine, we’d take lures,” Cobb said. “We’d get the best winning lures – Tom Mann’s baits, Bill Norman’s baits. If you renewed your membership in B.A.S.S., you would get this renewal package including lures.”
Upgrading to a lifetime membership garnered a tackle bag that would replace multiple, expensive trips to the tackle shop. Cobb recalled a worker coming to Scott with the problem of a Texas lifetime member requesting another lifetime membership. Scott wanted to talk to this man to see what was going on.
“Ray asked him, ‘You want to renew again for life, but you’re already a life member?’” Cobb said. “He said, ‘Yeah, I just can’t wait to get that bag of goodies. I’ll spread them out of the kitchen table and stock my tacklebox. Cash my check.’”
Rumor is the man is signed up until the year 3000.
“They have B.A.S.S. memberships in heaven,” Sevier responded. “Once a member, always a member.”