Folks who follow the national professional bass competitions may be surprised to hear Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) is being sold.
There is a strong Arkansas angle, too.
This is from BASS. "ESPN Inc., announced Tuesday that it has reached an agreement in principle to sell BASS LLC to a group of investors led by Don Logan, Jerry McKinnis and Jim Copeland."
Yes, that is our Jerry McKinnis, the Little Rock resident who went from running a boat dock on Lake Maumelle in the 1960s to a leader in outdoor-themed television programs, both as a host and as a producer.
What this will mean to BASS tournaments isn’t evident at this point, and the final papers haven’t been signed.
BASS was created by Ray Scott in 1968, a few months after he put on the first modern bass tournament on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. He sold BASS 20 or so years later to a Birmingham-based outfit that re-sold it to ESPN, the cable sports outfit, in 1999 or 2000.
Depending on who you talk to, BASS hasn’t been quite the same. But we’ve had a recession lately along with the rise of FLW Outdoors as a rival bass fishing organization. BASS moved its headquarters from Montgomery, Ala., to Celebration, Fla., several years ago. It will be interesting to see what’s ahead.
All right, the tournaments with hefty prizes along with high-dollar entry fees are what most people associate with BASS. There is much more to the organization, including producing several magazines and some extensive merchandising operations.
McKinnis is an interesting story. A Missourian, he was a good-enough baseball player to hook on with the St. Louis Cardinal system as a pitcher. He fished in off times and while on a trout outing to the White River in north Arkansas, he met a guide named Forrest Wood. In a short time, McKinnis went from baseball to guiding under Wood, then moved to Lake Maumelle under the wing of the late R.A. "Brick" Lile, a Little Rock financial figure.
McKinnis phoned television sports man Bud Campbell about some good fish catches, Campbell invited him on camera, and McKinnis entered a new world. He also made connection with Orville Henry at the Arkansas Gazette and wrote a weekly fishing column for the Gazette for several years.
Good timing worked again for McKinnis. His fishing-oriented television show was established about the time a new cable network called ESPN began growing. For quite a while, a string of Saturday morning outdoors shows were handled by McKinnis for ESPN and with much of the production work done in Little Rock.
McKinnis was one of the early inductees into the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame.
Don Logan is a retired Time Inc., executive and avid angler. At one time he oversaw Time Inc., America Online, Time Warner Cable and the Time Warner Book Group before his retirement from the media giant in 2002.
Jim Copeland is a Georgia native who retired as U.S. and global chief executive officer of the international financial services firm Deloitte in 2003 and currently serves on the board of directors of three Fortune 500 companies.
"I am eager to begin working with the anglers, sponsors, and supporters to bring an even more exciting BASS business to its fan base," said McKinnis.
"This group is looking forward to working with the fishing industry’s strongest brand and plans to make BASS even more relevant in the multimedia world," said Logan.
Through the years, BASS has had numerous ties to Arkansas. Several of its national competitions have been on Arkansas waters including the Bass Masters Classics of 1984 and 1985 on the Arkansas River at Pine Bluff.
Two future presidents, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, were on the platform at the final weigh-in for that 1984 event. For many years, boats used in the Classic were furnished by Forrest Wood’s Ranger Boats in Flippin.
Bass Masters Classic championships have been won by Arkansans Bobby Murray (twice), Rayo Breckenridge, Larry Nixon, George Cochran (twice) and Mark Davis.
(Some information for this article contributed by Doug Grassian of ESPN communications.)