ESPN bets bass fishing is TV hit

ESPN bets bass fishing is TV hit

Taking a lesson it learned in the 1980s from its NASCAR coverage, ESPN and ESPN2 will continue to expand their telecasts of bass fishing tournaments in 2006.

ESPN purchased BASS in 2001, obviously with plans to make bass fishing the next big televised sport. While bass fishing may never reach a par with stock-car racing, its popularity already has surprised all the skeptics who felt that fishing was simply too boring as a live television subject.

Bob Jenkins, the play-by-play announcer for most of ESPN’s NASCAR telecasts for almost two decades, said ESPN is banking on the growth of televised bass tournaments just like it did with the coverage of NASCAR in the 1980s and 90s.

“It was just the fact that ESPN exposed the series, and then people saw it and said, ‘Hey, this is pretty good entertainment here,'” Jenkins said.

“People were aware that stock car racing existed, and they were aware of the Daytona 500, but not necessarily that there was a series, and that they raced every week and that it was good entertainment.

“People started watching and as a result started going to the races that were in their neck of the woods,” Jenkens said.

ESPN’s expanded coverage of BASS events in 2006 will include same-day coverage of the final weigh-in at three Bassmaster Majors events, in addition to tournament coverage from the new CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series and continued coverage of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic.

In addition, ESPN airs BASS Saturday each week, a block of morning programs that includes BassCenter, which is ESPN’s first and only derivative of SportsCenter.

H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., is enthusiastic about the growth of bass fishing coverage.

“TV has definitely helped BASS along, and both sports are things people can do very easily,” Wheeler said. “They can drive and they can fish.

“There was a time when people thought no one would want to watch TV and see cars race around and around a track, but obviously they were wrong,” Wheeler said. “There are also people who have wondered why anyone would want to watch people catch fish, but people do like to watch.”

Wheeler said he expects an innovative and creative TV production person to come along soon and bring the bass version of the in-car camera.

Tom Higgins, a writer who has covered NASCAR and also hunting and fishing for more than 40 years for The Charlotte Observer, pointed out that the power of TV is incredible.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the exposure on ESPN makes BASS really take off and bust out,” Higgins said.

Recreation study. Economists know that Americans are big spenders when it comes to their outdoor recreation. In 2004, for example, we spent $20 billion on everything from fishing to biking to paddling to camping, plus a lot of other activities in-between.

What we don’t know, said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association, is the impact, both direct and indirect, on our economy.

“Exactly what recreation means to us as a nation is a significant issue,” Hugelmeyer said, in part, in a statement for the Outdoor Industry Foundation.

So, the foundation is launching a study with the goal of quantifying the economic impact.

The baseline results, expected to be announced in the spring of next year, will include estimates on expenditures, jobs, earnings, total economic output, along with state and federal taxes for outdoor activities or groups of activities on a per state basis.

Southwick Associates, Inc. and Harris Interactive will conduct the study.

The report will be available to the public at no cost.

Contact Sargent at 242-3697 or bsargent@flatoday.net

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