Jerry McKinnis is a Missouri product who made it to the professional baseball ranks, to guiding fishermen on the White River then operating a marina on Lake Maumelle before he found a solid niche in producing television outdoor programs.
Recently McKinnis and partners Don Logan and Jim Copeland completed the purchase of Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) from ESPN, the cable television operation that is part of the Disney entertainment conglomerate.
McKinnis, Logan and Copeland became the fourth owners of B.A.S.S. since it was founded in 1968 by Ray Scott. An Alabama group headed by chief executive officer Helen Sevier bought B.A.S.S. from Scott, then sold it to ESPN.
B.A.S.S. changed sport fishing. Innovations introduced in competitions in the Scott days carried over to everyday fishing. Just one example is catch-and-release fishing. B.A.S.S. became involved in environmental issues and its sizeable membership gave it leverage in high places.
This writer posed some questions to McKinnis just three weeks after the change in ownership.
Mosby: Membership in B.A.S.S. has declined over a number of years from something like 680,000 to 500,000. Do you plan to build an intensive membership campaign?
McKinnis: My hope is that we will take such good care of the existing membership that they will be the ones who will help us attract new members. In addition to that, of course we will be focusing on increasing new memberships ourselves as soon as we get in the position to craft those campaigns.
Mosby: B.A.S.S. was born as a one-man show by Ray Scott. Do you hope to get Ray back in some form at major B.A.S.S. events or to have him involved in any other way?
McKinnis: Ray actually does come to many events, and we hope to utilize his celebrity as much as possible, but I think Ray has his hands full taking care of his lake in Alabama and all that he has going on there. We do have some interesting things planned around the tournaments and you will see some new talent there soon.
Mosby: In the past, B.A.S.S. was a major player in several environmental and water quality issues. Will there be renewed focus on these as the need may arise?
McKinnis: Of course, that is one of the strengths of B.A.S.S. — the passion of its members and their willingness to rally around issues that are important to them.
Mosby: The Classic has been the B.A.S.S. showcase since 1971. The growth of the competing FLW Championship and its million-dollar first prize may have taken a little of the limelight. Any plans for a new boost for the Classic?
McKinnis: Attendance wise, the last three years have been the greatest Bassmaster Classics that we’ve had. Our goal is to set a new record for attendance in New Orleans this year. We haven’t paid much attention to any competition because quite honestly, nationwide, there is nothing that compares with the Bassmaster Classic.
Mosby: Since the beginning of B.A.S.S., honest and fair tournaments have been a hallmark with the work of directors Harold Sharp, Dewey Kendrick and now Trip Weldon. Will this continue to be emphasized in competitions at all levels?
McKinnis: Our tournament director, Trip Weldon, has been in place for the past 8 or 10 years, and he is the absolute best tournament director there’s ever been. I know all of our anglers would agree. And the staff that works under Trip reflects his values and commitment to the integrity of this sport.
Mosby: Fishing is not just tournaments. Will there be increased focus on grassroots activities for B.A.S.S.?
McKinnis: The focus won’t be increased because it’s already at an extremely high level. The grassroots anglers are the heart and soul of B.A.S.S. We know that and look forward to having two-way conversations with them to find ways that B.A.S.S. can better serve them.
Mosby: Is B.A.S.S. considering a headquarters location change?
McKinnis: We’ve actually owned the business for (a few) weeks. All of our efforts and energy are going towards building the business. The location is not high on the list of items that need attention right now.
McKinnis added, “We have bought the most powerful brand in the outdoors. We are still sitting side by side with ESPN, one of the most powerful brands in sports. And we have the top professional anglers in the world involved with us. The possibilities for growth are extremely exciting. We aren’t looking to move backward but are enthused about moving forward with our members and fans. B.A.S.S. has a long and storied past, but it’s the future that looks bright from where I sit.”
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.