Ken DukeWritten by

The Future of the Bassmaster Classic and Its Expo

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If you’re a bass fishing fan, you know that the 2019 Bassmaster Classic is next week in Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s billed as “the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” and that’s not hyperbole. The Classic is easily the most important tournament in the sport, and the winner claims a sort of piscatorial immortality and an honored position among those who cast for cash.

In February and March, by far the question I am asked most often is “Will you be at the Classic?”

Of course, I’ll be at the Classic! It’s one of my favorite events of the year!

The second most common question — and one I’ve only gotten this year — is, “Will it be the last great Classic?”

That’s a much tougher question. The folks asking it are alluding to the fact that the Bass Pro Tour and Major League Fishing raided B.A.S.S.’s cupboards and took most of the stars. (And B.A.S.S. responded by going after some of the biggest names on the FLW Tour.)

The end of an era

Thirty-six of the 52 anglers fishing this year’s Classic left B.A.S.S. for the BPT. That’s 69 percent, and the chances of this year’s Classic champion being among them are higher yet since those 36 anglers represent the lion’s share of the talent in the field.

So, when asked if it’ll be the last great Classic, I answer, “I hope not, but it’s definitely the last of an era.”

B.A.S.S. is going to have to create a new batch of stars to keep the Classic on its pedestal. That takes time.

Next year’s Classic will be the 50th, and it’s tough to think of the event without the full complement of luminaries we’re used to seeing. There will be no Kevin VanDam, no Mike Iaconelli, no Skeet Reese, no Aaron Martens and no Edwin Evers. Without them, it won’t be the same. Some of the luster will be gone.

Personally, I’m rooting hard for Rick Clunn to qualify for his 33rd Classic. The four-time Classic champ is still fishing on the B.A.S.S. side and won the Elite Series opener on the St. Johns River in February, so he’s off to a strong start. The sport and the Classic are better when he’s on the stage.

What about the Bassmaster Classic Expo?

Another question I’m getting is whether manufacturers should plan to exhibit at next year’s Classic Expo. That’s a question that’s much harder to understand, but much easier to answer.

It’s harder to understand because I’ve come to think of the Classic and the Expo as two very separate events. To be sure, they’re connected by time and place, but whether or not the Classic field stirs the passions of tournament followers or not, the Expo is still the biggest consumer fishing show in the country and an important place to be seen for manufacturers in the bass market.

If you’re a tackle maker who has benefitted from being at the Classic Expo in the past, you should be at the 2020 Expo, too. After all, it should be a good one, irrespective of what the tournament looks like.

Some may not realize that many more people actually attend the Expo than walk into the arena to watch the weigh-in. The Expo crowd shouldn’t dwindle just because the Classic field changes.

And that goes double if B.A.S.S. is savvy enough to schedule the 2020 Classic and Expo at a venue that’s never seen them before … or at least hasn’t seen them in quite a while. Attendance is always better when the traveling show goes somewhere new. Visit the same venue too often, and interest wanes. In this case, familiarity may not breed contempt, but it can definitely make an audience jaded.

I’ve heard that B.A.S.S. will announce the 2020 venue very soon — likely at this year’s Classic.

And before you can ask — Yes, I’ll be at that one, too, rooting for my B.A.S.S. friends in the tournament and visiting my MLF friends in the booths.

I hope to see you in Knoxville.