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B.A.S.S. Headed Back to Alabama

August 4, 2011

By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society is headed back to Alabama, the state where Ray Scott’s vision turned what was once a friendly competition among bass fishermen into a multi-million-dollar industry.

Although Montgomery, the birthplace of B.A.S.S., was in the running, the new owners of the Bassmaster franchise have opted to relocate from Celebration, Fla., near Orlando, to Birmingham, a move that is scheduled to be completed by Nov. 1 this year.

Two of the three partners in the new ownership, Don Logan and Jerry McKinnis, were in Montgomery last week for the Toyota All-Star Truck Week and the season-ending Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship on the Alabama River.

Logan, an Alabama native and current Birmingham resident, teamed with McKinnis, who hosted “The Fishin’ Hole” on ESPN for 44 years, and businessman Jim Copeland to purchase B.A.S.S. LLC from ESPN almost a year ago.

While the anglers who qualified for the championship, which was eventually won by rookie Ott Defoe from Tennessee, were plying the river for bass, Logan discussed what went into the decision to move to Birmingham.

“Ever since we bought Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. business from ESPN, we always knew we probably needed to look at the location and where it was headquartered,” said Logan, retired CEO of Time-Warner, Inc. “When ESPN bought it and moved it to Orlando, where Disney is located, for them it was a strategic decision and seemed to be a good fit.

“The problem we had is that it’s a long way from everywhere. If you look at where the tournaments are held, other than one or two that are held in Florida, it’s a long way to north Alabama or South Carolina or Oklahoma or Texas. We thought we would be better off in a more central location. So we started thinking about it. We told the employees from day one that we would do that at some point after we became familiar with the business. We’ve been operating it for about a year, so about six weeks ago we told the employees we had made the decision to move it back to Alabama.”

Two locations were in the running – Birmingham and Montgomery, where Scott had started BASS in 1967. Scott reportedly offered the new ownership team a 75-acre parcel to try to sway the deal in Montgomery’s favor. Eventually, Birmingham prevailed because of its more central location, better air travel access and availability of employees skilled in information technology, publishing and marketing.

“I actually met with Mayor (Todd) Strange last year at this event,” said Logan, who spent 22 years with Southern Progress Corporation, which currently publishes Southern Living, Cooking Light and Coastal Living magazines and published Progressive Farmer until 2007. “Word had already leaked out that we were buying B.A.S.S. He talked to me about moving it to Montgomery if we completed the deal. I told him if we decided to move, we’d give him a shot at it, and we did. They put a very aggressive proposal in, and we considered Montgomery and thought it would be a great home for B.A.S.S. again. But for a variety of reasons, we felt Birmingham was the best location.

“Birmingham was a little more centrally located in terms of getting to places to the north and west. You have better air service. There are a lot more non-stops to a lot more locations. Our people travel a lot. That was important. And the other thing, when you move a business, you always have a certain number of people who can’t or don’t make the move. Birmingham had a lot of experienced people in the fields we work in – marketing and sales people, editorial and creative people like art directors and designers. Because of Southern Progress and a lot of other media businesses there, we felt there would be more sources we could draw talent from. And over a period of years, as we hopefully grow the business, there will be a lot of talent available.”

Logan said ESPN did a lot of things right, mainly the television programming and other media ventures that are of  higher quality than what is seen in other parts of the outdoor world. Logan also credited ESPN with bringing big-name sponsors onboard. However, Logan, an avid bass angler himself, wants B.A.S.S. to refocus its attention on the everyday angler.

“We want to get back to the grassroots level, whether it’s the angler who only gets to fish on the weekend or the angler who is teaching his kid to fish,” he said. “So we want to follow B.A.S.S. from the grassroots level all the way to the professional angler who competes in the Elite Series and Classic. We want to make all aspects better. We want our magazine to be better. We want our television production to be better and more widely distributed. We’re running a number of our shows on the Outdoor Channel this year for the first time ever. Our Internet activity has expanded dramatically. We’ve already had more page views in 2011 than we had for all of 2010. We’re doing streaming video from the Open series that we couldn’t do before. We think we have a great opportunity to get to that multitude of anglers who want to fish more and catch more fish and serve them better.

“Everything we do is on the table for review to see if there are ways to make it better. There are no plans right now to make anything dramatically different, but we will be looking at different things downstream.”

McKinnis, head of JM Associates, which was recently added to the B.A.S.S. LLC portfolio, has been in charge of the Bassmaster TV production since 2000. He said it was easy to make the decision to move to a more centrally located area, but the timing had to be just right not to interfere with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, as well as the Bassmaster Classic in February.

“We had this window of opportunity between now and when the holidays start,” McKinnis said. “If we don’t do it now, we’d have to wait another year. It’s a natural move for us. Birmingham is a great city. It gives access to good people. And we’re still working hard to build a great, great staff. We’ve got a lot of good folks who are making the move to Birmingham, so that’s going to be a good start for us.

“I’ve got so much energy and enthusiasm about this whole thing. I’m excited about it. I never considered (ownership) until ESPN called me and asked if I had any interest. That’s the first time I’d thought about it. But it’s a big undertaking. It’s been harder than I thought it was going to be.

“It’s been overwhelming, but the upside is better than I thought it was going to be.”

PHOTOS: Alabama native Don Logan, top photo, teamed up with businessman Jim Copeland and TV fishing personality Jerry McKinnis, bottom photo, to purchase Bassmaster and related entities last year. The partners announced B.A.S.S. will move back to Alabama when it relocates to Birmingham by Nov. 1.

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