Ken DukeWritten by

Stay Off the Grass

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The 2017 Bassmaster Classic is in the books, and there’s a lot to talk about. Our digital editor, Joe Sills, has already offered his “good, bad and ugly” breakdown, but that’s not going to stop me from doing the same … only different.

Major League Facilities

With the Expo in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center and the weigh-in at Minute Maid Park (home of Major League Baseball’s Astros), the facilities were top tier and the best this Classic veteran has ever seen.

The consumer tackle show was all on one floor with few if any truly “bad” spaces. No exhibitor was at the end of the hall, up a spiral staircase and three doors down a dimly-lit hall, as happens on occasion when a lesser venue is oversold.

So, if you didn’t like the facilities this year, you’ve never liked them and probably need to remove the pea from under your mattress.


The buzz among many exhibitors on the Expo floor was less about attendance or the tournament than about some union fees to get their goods and exhibits into the booths. The number I kept hearing was $1.50 per pound, which may not sound bad if you’re shopping for ground beef at the grocery, but it’s daunting if you want a bass boat hauled onto the floor.

I’m not sure where the disconnect occurred here. Did the complaints reflect a lack of due diligence on the part of exhibitors (some of which seemed to know about them in advance) … or the Convention Center … or BASS? No matter who gets the blame here, it’s a disincentive for coming back to Houston.

Steers and Tears

Speaking of ground beef, simultaneous with the Classic/Expo was the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo at NRG Park, March 7-26. A few numbers offer an interesting comparison between the events.

For one, the Livestock Show & Rodeo drew 2.6 million fans. I haven’t seen any numbers for the Classic, but they won’t compare favorably even if you break it down on a day-to-day basis.

For another, the prize-winning steer at the Livestock Show sold for $345,000 and the second-place steer went for $330,000. (The rodeo competitors earned a lot less.) Classic winner Jordan Lee earned $300,000.

Now, I’m not saying that livestock and the sport of bass fishing can reduce their comparative values to attendance or a few dollars changing hands in Houston last week, but if you wanted to do that, those are some of the numbers you might want to consider.

Warning Track Power

Going in, bass fans were told repeatedly that Conroe was poised to break every great Classic record, that the weigh-in at Minute Maid Park would be one for the ages and that the Expo would draw 150,000 cash-carrying anglers.

Not quite.

Lake Conroe disappointed. Weights were well below what was predicted, and catch rates were dismal. Except for a trio of 9-pound bass, fishing bore no resemblance to the pre-tournament buzz.

The weigh-in at the baseball park was awkward and empty. Tow vehicles and boats came into the facility around the warning track, careful not to bend the grass lest baseball officials raise a ruckus … which they did anytime anyone touched a blade of the stuff.

(Note: No grounds crew has ever won a World Series game. Of course, neither have the Astros.)

Attendance at the Expo was good, but had to fall far short of 150,000. And weigh-in attendance was very disappointing. Officials had partitioned off seating for 18,000, but there’s no way more than 8,000 were there for the finale … unless they were cleverly disguised as empty seats.

I wonder sometimes if the hype serves to discourage what it hopes to promote. If you tell people there will be 150,000 at the Expo and that the weigh-in stands will be full, won’t they think twice about hopping in the car, driving into the mayhem and paying $30 to park? Won’t they say, “I think I’ll stay at home and watch on the web”?

Hard to Get

I don’t think you can fully assess the success or failure of an event like the Bassmaster Classic/Expo so soon after the lights dim and the doors close. As a tournament, this one came alive on the final day. The fishery was a dud, but fans will talk about Jordan Lee’s stunning comeback for many years.

And most of the vendors/exhibitors I spoke with stayed busy throughout the show. If I had to boil the consensus down to one sentence, it would be this: “It was good, but not as good as we hoped or as good as the hype, and the fees were outrageous.”

Ultimately, the best test of a Classic is the same as for a first date. Do the two parties want to do it again? Was there “chemistry”? Will Houston pick up the phone and ask BASS out one more time? Will BASS play hard to get or eagerly come back to the land of livestock and lunkers?

We’ll have to wait to find out.