By Pete Robbins
Since taking ownership of B.A.S.S. half a decade ago, the current owners have made bank by holding the Classic in a handful of mid-sized cities – Tulsa, Greenville, Birmingham and Shreveport. You may quibble with my definition of those four as “mid-sized,” but the bottom line is that none of them has big time sporting competition in the form of an NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB team. All of these cities are in the heart of bass country, and their regions showed the wisdom of those site selections by showing up in droves.
Before that, B.A.S.S. went to New Orleans, which, depending on when you measured, either has one or two “major” teams. They’ve always had the Saints, but the NBA’s Jazz left in 1979, and were replaced by the Hornets in 2002. Hurricane Katrina forced them to move to Oklahoma City for two years in late 2005 (at which point they became known as the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets). Then, at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season, they became the New Orleans Pelicans. So, their number of top tier sports franchises is a dynamic figure – for the 1999 and 2001 Classics, they had one. For the 2003 and 2011 Classics, they had two. If they’d held a Classic there in 2006, they would’ve had one and a half.
Anyway, sorry for the digression. My point was not to present a treatise on the sporting history of the Crescent City, but rather to show that B.A.S.S. has not recently tried to swim in the biggest ponds around. They’ve been content to be a very big fish in more reasonably sized ponds, and the strategy has worked, but if they’re going to build their profile and line their wallets, they need to go bigger. That’s why I was thrilled to hear that Houston will host the 2017 Classic (March 24-26, 2017). They have teams in the NFL, NHL and MLB. They have lots of other distractions for sports fans. For a city of that size, and that level of sporting diversity, to see fit to spend the cash to bring that there says a lot about the appeal of the sport. Granted, it’s still in Texas – which is about as bass-obsessed as a state can be – but it’s still a step up.
Of course, you also have to remember that on one previous occasion B.A.S.S. visited a metropolis with representatives in all four major sports leagues – the 2000 championship in Chicago. Indeed, they have two baseball teams, so they’re two franchises up even on Houston (and somewhere in the range of 3 ½ over New Orleans). I wasn’t there, but by all reasonable accounts the event was a failure. I don’t know anyone who speaks highly of it except Woo Daves. Of course the challenges were several, including wind, the location of the launch, and perhaps the prior owners’ naivete. Could the new owners take on Chicago, or some other mega-city outside the southeast or Texas and make it work? Perhaps, perhaps not. Of course there will be challenges and of course there will be critics. The point is that they’re spreading their wings a bit, going somewhere that’s at the same time safe and a stretch, growing incrementally – and most important of all, a city that doesn’t expressly need them has decided that yes indeed, they do want them after all.