Not only is ESPN, the parent company of BASS, stepping up big with an unprecedented 11-plus hours of coverage for next week's CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer, but television viewers will be guided and entertained by an impressive collection of on-air talent.
More than 100 ESPN personnel will be involved in bringing Classic XXXIV into the homes of millions of fishing fans. Most noticeable will be the hosts, analysts and reporters who will be reporting from three venues: the Charlotte Coliseum (site of the weigh-ins), Charlotte Convention Center (site of the Classic ESPN Outdoors Expo) and 12,000-acre Lake Wylie. It is shaping up to be coverage worthy of the world championship of bass fishing.
"It's a big effort to coordinate," said Jill Frederickson, coordinating producer for the Classic telecasts who also served as coordinating producer of the CITGO Bassmasters television series on ESPN2 this season. "We went from three hours last year to 11 hours this year. So obviously we needed to bring in a lot more talent and a lot more production people. It's just a much bigger deal. We're really excited about it."
The coverage begins with the first weigh-in which will air Friday, July 30 on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET from the Charlotte Coliseum. The telecasts will pick back up on Saturday morning with a live "breakfast" show from the Classic ESPN Outdoors Expo in the Charlotte Convention Center.
"At the weigh-in our host — kind of like what Bob Costas is with the Olympics — is going to be Ron Franklin, who has done the Classic with us for several years," Frederickson said. "And Fish Fishburne will be on the air as the emcee on the stage conducting the weigh-ins.
"Also, Bill Clement, who is normally an analyst for us on hockey and also a play-by-by announcer for our Great Outdoors Games coverage, will be our play-by-play person with analyst Shaw Grigsby. The two of them will be working around a war table, like Jerry McKinnis has on the Tour shows where they can look at maps and different lures and such.
"McKinnis is involved as a feature reporter. He will be doing various sidebar features that will be included in both our Coliseum and Convention Center coverage.
"At the Convention Center, Tommy Sanders will be our host throughout the day and Mark Menendez will be our analyst out there. They will have a set in the middle of the outdoors show where people will have a lot of access — very similar to like a College Game Day set where people can be watching and excited. We'll be able to do reports from different booths there as well as get live reports from the water where we'll have reporters Fish Fishburne and Kim Bain out on the water. They'll be giving us live updates throughout the day."
Frederickson, who has extensive experience in broadcasting other sports, emphasizes that fishing in general and the Classic in particular present special challenges.
"The Classic itself is very logistically challenging," she explained. "(It involves) going out on a lake and covering however many square miles that 53 anglers cover from sunup until 2:30 in the afternoon and putting together their underwater footage and creating story lines and getting live updates from the water.
"… Those intricacies are kind of challenging."
One lucky fan will be awarded a new Triton TR21X boat powered by a Mercury Verado outboard at the upcoming Classic as part of the Mercury Big Catch Giveaway.
Eleven people won a Lowrance Finder Pro GPS unit via a drawing at 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Tour and Elite 50 events. In addition, they were entered into a drawing for some impressive prizes.
The luckiest will walk away with the fully equipped Triton/Mercury package that is valued at $47,500. Second prize is a seven-day High Hook Fishing Fantasy Trip for two to Brazil (valued at $15,000). Third prize is a Lowe's Motor Speedway Weekend for two in Charlotte (a $1,000 value). Fourth and fifth prizes will be a MotorGuide trolling motor and Mercury/MotorGuide apparel package, respectively.
Did you know?
At 67, William Pippen, a Federation angler from Arkansas, will be the oldest man ever to compete in a Classic.
Classic contender Kevin Wirth will be 44 on July 20, while venerable Rick Clunn will blow out 58 candles four days later. Alabama's Kyle Mabrey turns 30 on July 23. Texas pro Todd Faircloth celebrates his 29th birthday two days later, and Mark Kile turns 38 on July 21.
If I hadn't become a BASS pro
Texas pro Ben Matsubu would be spending most of his time as manager of the Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits store on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
They said it
Growing up, my mentor was most definitely my father. He's in his 60s now and still fishes tournaments. It's kind of neat to see the full circle we've come from me being in the back of the boat taking boat whippings to now with me helping my dad in tournaments. I go to bed at night thinking that life's weird. I remember when he paddled me around while I caught them. And now here you are trying to do everything you can to help him.
CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle on the influence of his father, Tommy, on his fishing career.
Tim Tucker's Pro Angling Insider is a new bi-monthly newsletter with an annual subscription rate of $39.95. It can be ordered by calling toll-free 800-252-FISH. A sample issue can by seen on his Bass Sessions 2004 web site, www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.