LOPEZ GIVES LOWDOWN ON HOUSTON CLASSIC
Last time we learned how Eric Lopez came to lead B.A.S.S. efforts at events, and now we’ll see what he’s working on for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic.
B.A.S.S. has an enormous canvas in Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. The venues are bigger and it’s smack dab in the heart of big bass country, as well as bass tournament country, so this Classic has the wherewithal to set attendance records.
Lopez, the director of event operations, said re-formatting the weigh-in shows from the usual arena to a 41,000-seat baseball stadium is the biggest challenge for B.A.S.S.
“Mike McKinnis (Bassmaster TV producer) and I work closely on making sure what happens at the weigh-in, which has typically been an arena, makes sense and works,” Lopez said. “In this instance, we’re reinventing the wheel. We’re not trying to fit what we’ve always done for the weigh-in into a baseball stadium. We’re reinventing the weigh-in. It’s going to have a new look and feel. That’s what’s going on right now.”
Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros since its completion in 2000, features a retractable roof and a bank of windows beyond the left field wall. B.A.S.S. won’t be able to rely on the spectacular light shows it has produced at Classics past.
“One of the things we’re doing is we’re playing to what baseball fans are used to seeing, what traditional sports fans see when they go to sporting events,” Lopez said. “They’re called stunts, or activations. Things you’d see at baseball stadiums are what our bass fans are going to see.”
Jumbotrons are a big part of baseball games, and Minute’s Maid’s Daktronics HD screen is the fourth largest in baseball. Called “El Grande” at 124 feet wide by 54 feet high, it’s located above the second deck in right field.
“A screen that large has never been used for fishing,” Lopez said. “It might not be that impressive to the average baseball fan because they’ve seen it, but our fans are going to go nuts.”
The big screen will serve as a backdrop to the stage that is to be built near third base. The stage design remains secret, but Lopez said it will most certainly be a drive-through weigh-in, with Toyota trucks pulling anglers right next to the left field stands.
“The fans will be able to get very close to them,” he said. “The stage positioning is very important to us.”
Lopez said there are more than 18,000 seats on the left field side that will be available to Classic fans, with 13,101 considered prime viewing. Of course, if more fans show up, there will be room.
OH WON’T YOU STAY
Last week in this post, Lopez and his crew were heralded for being the “first to come and the last to leave,” a line from Jackson Browne’s song “The Load-Out.” The second part of Browne’s famous medley, “Stay” – it’s actually a separate song – is fitting for this Classic. B.A.S.S. wants fans to come to downtown Houston and stay, and it’s set up to do just that.
The March 24-26 weigh-ins are a short walk from the Classic Outdoor Expo presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
“One of the things that we’re exciting about,” Lopez said, “is that once people park their vehicle, they’re done. They’re there. The George R. Brown is maybe a 6- or 7-minute walk from Minute Maid Park. People can stay for the entire day.”
There are 25,000 parking spots within walking distance of the facilities. There also is a Metro rail station in front of the GRB, and buses service the downtown area as well. The area is loaded with hotels and restaurants.
With 2.2 million residents and 6.3 million in the Metro region, Houston is a city known for having some horrific traffic. That’s why Lopez suggests visitors give themselves plenty of time to get downtown for Friday’s Expo that opens at noon.
“The Bassmaster Classic is a huge event,” Lopez said. “We ask people to be patient. There will be 10s of thousands of people walking around. This will be the largest Expo the Classic has ever seen, because of that we will have long lines when we open those doors.
“Plan and get there early and keep looking at the website for updates on schedules. Things can update by the hour.”
There should be no worries about hunting for food. Both the Expo and the ball park have plenty of affordable options that should help keep people in the area, Lopez said. He added that there also will be several rest areas for people to get away from the crowds and take a break.
The A, B and C Halls of the GRB, the 10th largest convention center in the U.S., gives the Classic Expo its largest footprint ever at 325,850 square feet. And Lopez said the Expo will be open longer.
“A great thing we’re doing is keeping the Expo open until 8,” Lopez said. “You can see the weigh-in then go back to the Expo and check out some more stuff.”
Last year’s Classic in Tulsa was attended by 107,650 fans, which stands second to the 2009 event in Shreveport-Bossier City, which had 137,700 attendees at takeoffs, expo and weigh-ins.
WHERE THE STARS COME OUT
Fans might get fortunate and run into their favorite angler at a hotel lobby, restaurant or maybe even a gas station. But the best place to rub elbows and seek an autograph is and has always been the Classic Expo.
That’s where a great number of pro anglers will be working booths of their sponsors. This year there will be more than 200 exhibitors. (Keep checking Bassmaster.com for listings of who will appear when.)
“You’ll be able to see the latest, greatest equipment and get up close and personal with all the big-name pros out there,” Lopez said.
The likes of Rick Clunn, Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Jimmy Houston and Hank Parker, among many others, all will be working the expo, but there is a prime time.
“The savvy Bassmaster Classic fan knows that Sunday is one of the typically bigger days, because we made the cut to 25,” Lopez said. “The competitors who aren’t fishing on Sunday will all be working the Expo.”
Of course, you can get an autograph almost anywhere, especially if you have a kid with notebook and pen in hand, looking up longingly at any of the pros. Most are suckers for that.