Ken’s Classic Report Card

The 48th Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell and the 2018 Classic Expo in Greenville, S.C., will be remembered for several things: solid attendance at the Expo, strong sales among the vendors and plenty of drama on the final day of the tournament.

Here’s my report card for the Classic and its peripheral events.

Facilities — C

With the Expo at Greenville’s TD Convention Center and the weigh-in at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, the facilities were pretty good, though certainly not on par with the sterling accommodations in Houston last year. (Houston had a lot of other problems, but the facilities were the best in Classic history.)

The Expo is one of America’s largest consumer tackle shows, so the pressure is on to handle lots of exhibitors and big crowds. Displays and vendors were all on one floor with few if any truly “bad” spaces. No exhibitor was at the end of the hall, up a spiral staircase, down a firehouse sliding pole and across the street in a dimly-lit shack …  which happens occasionally when a venue is oversold.

The Expo was clean and well-lit with plenty of room to maneuver even during the most crowded periods. And the weigh-in was generally well-attended and organized despite the challenges of parking near the arena. Local authorities handled the traffic skillfully.

I might give the facilities a “B” were it not for parking issues and the relatively great distance between the Convention Center and arena — 4.3 miles and at least 10 minutes without parking delays. Overall, they were average and get a “C.”

Expo — A

Attendance at the Expo was strong, exhibitors were happy, and B.A.S.S. claims that 143,323 people attended “one or more of the activities, according to law enforcement counts, host facilities officials and other independent sources.” That number would seem to include everything from Fan Appreciation Day (more on that later) to each of the launches to the Expo and the weigh-in.

It’s impossible to say how accurate that attendance number might be, and it’s easy to believe that B.A.S.S. doesn’t want us to know. After all, if you want an accurate count, you install turnstiles at entry and exit points. Without turnstiles — and the accurate reporting of their numbers — everyone’s just guessing and reporting the number they like best. If you call it 150,000, you’ll see some eyes roll, but if you say 143,323, well that must be right since it seems so precise. Even though I don’t trust the numbers, I do trust the comments made by exhibitors, who all reported a good experience with lots of enthusiastic fans. The people there — and there were lots and lots of them — had a good time and spent a lot of money.

Competition — B+

Because the bass fishing on Lake Hartwell is nothing special — no giant bass, no 25-pound bags and no reasonable expectation of setting any significant records — it’s hard to get excited about the competition. Truly the only thing that can save it — and it happened this year — is a tight race to the finish line.

After Jason Christie jumped out to a big lead on Day 2, it looked like a ho-hum Classic. But Christie stumbled … and fell … and probably got hit in the face with a cream pie at some point. In the final round, he left the door open, finished one critical fish short of his 5-bass limit, and Jordan Lee won for the second year in a row. It was exciting, the leaderboard got an interesting shuffle on the final day, and the tournament went down to the wire.

Media Experience — D

As a media person, the 2018 Classic was a struggle on several fronts, starting with Media Day. B.A.S.S. schedules 10-minute sessions with media members and requested anglers, but it takes longer than 10 minutes just to find your assigned angler because there is zero planning behind the layout. When you miss or are late for one appointment, it snowballs and quickly becomes a free-for-all.

To add to the melee, B.A.S.S. invited the general public to “Fan Appreciation Day” immediately following Media Day. But, of course, fans don’t wait until Media Day is officially over. Why should they? They don’t even know about Media Day, so they arrive early and vie for autographs and photos while the media is still trying to get the story.

It was an avoidable mess.

Moving to the tournament, there was ample “VIP” parking at the weigh-in venue, but no parking passes for the media. Even if you don’t want to classify media as “VIPs,” it was frustrating to see hundreds of empty spaces in a great location, but no way to use them. What’s more, no one at B.A.S.S. seemed to have an answer to the issue or an interest in solving it. As a result, media members who worked both the Expo and the weigh-in — 4.3 miles away — either used a car service or paid hefty parking fees to get to a weigh-in B.A.S.S. wants us to cover.

The Media experience gets such a poor grade because the same problems have persisted for many years. Two things save it from an “F”: (1) the credential process seemed smoother and easier than ever before, and (2) on-site staff in the Media Center are always helpful and accommodating. Kudos to Chauncey Niziol, Linda Souza and Joe Bolbot for their grace under pressure.

Overall Score — B- (but your mileage may vary)

After a dud of a Classic and Expo in Houston last year, it was good to see the championship back on familiar turf. (Greenville hosted in 2008 and 2015.) The crowds didn’t come out in Houston, Expo vendors struggled with union charges, and the relatively few fans who did check out the events were greeted with $30 parking fees. It’s a safe bet that Houston won’t be calling B.A.S.S. and asking for another Classic.

Greenville is not an ideal host for the Classic, but it is a better fit than a giant city like Houston, which seemed indifferent to the “Super Bowl of bass fishing.”

Much to their credit, the people of Greenville and Anderson (which hosts the launch) and the fans who came from far and wide support the Classic at this location, turn out in good numbers and will probably want to bring the Classic back in four or five years.

And wanting it is the biggest factor in Classic site selection.

No announcement for next year’s Classic destination was made in Greenville, but it’s probably coming soon.

Knowing nothing of X-factors, venue issues, logistics, lobbying efforts … or any of the other things that impact site selection, we can only speculate on where it will be.