Pulling ranks

My wife is a ranker. We finish a delicious pizza from Domino’s: “Do you like it more than Papa Johns?” she asked. We watch Iron Man 3: “Where would you rate it compared to the other two?” she asked. We get a new French bulldog puppy: “What breed of dog could you like better than this?” she asked. So, it came as no shock to me that after attending the Knoxville Classic this past March, she asked me how it compared to the other 23 I have attended. That query actually made me think for a bit because it seems like every year the Classic keeps getting better. Still …

My very first Classic holds a special place in my heart. Being at that 1999 event held on the Louisiana Delta opened my eyes to the enormity of the stage and the depth of the dream for not just bass anglers, but for those passionate about every corner of our sport, from media to manufacturing. That Classic was won by the legendary Davy Hite, who beat the legendary Denny Brauer by almost 10 pounds. Larry Nixon, also a legend, was third. Plus, that is the year I was hired to be a part of the B.A.S.S. team. So yes, that was a very special Classic, indeed.

But, to answer my bride’s question, I simply have to look at the numbers. This year, 163,914 fans attended at least one venue over the four-day celebration. That is a new attendance record. For a fan, the atmosphere created by so many like-minded, passionate people forms an electricity that simply cannot be found anywhere else on the planet and remains unrivaled for bass anglers.

As for reach, scads of records were broken. We had 21.7 million social impressions and 1.2 million streams of Bassmaster LIVE coverage, with over 32.7 million minutes of Classic content livestreamed across digital platforms, up 15% over last year. These numbers paint a very uplifting picture for the sport we love. The more anglers watch, the more anglers participate. If we can see a 15% increase in participation, our fisheries benefit and our fishing communities remain healthy.

Economic impact is another interesting metric to gauge the success of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. When the Classic was held in Knoxville in 2019, the event had an economic impact of $32.2 million and earned a Champion award in sports tourism from Sports Destination Management. I hope there is room on the mantel for another trophy in the B.A.S.S. offices, because the recent Classic had an impact of $35 million! That’s not counting the financial impact of the more than 300 vendors who sold gear over three days at the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by the U.S. Army.

I vividly remember the 2004 Classic where Takahiro Omori became the first international angler to win the title. Since then, a legion of Japanese anglers have tried to follow in his footsteps. At the Knoxville Classic there were more international anglers vying for the title than ever before. Carl Jocumsen represented Australia, and dozens of his countrymen made the long trek to support him. Taku Ito and Kenta Kimura represented Japan, and you could see the Japanese contingent waving flags at the jam-packed launch each morning. Jeff Gustafson, Cory Johnston, Chris Johnston and Cooper Gallant represented Canada. Hundreds of Canadians crossed the border to join the fray. And they were rewarded. Gustafson became the second international angler to claim our sport’s top prize, and Knoxville may never be the same after the party that ensued.

So, all things considered, this year’s Classic was my favorite of all time. Period. That said, if my bride asks the same question next year after the confetti of the Tulsa Classic has settled on the floor of the BOK Center, the answer may be different.

“These numbers paint a very uplifting picture for the sport we love.”