MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 18, 2013

Bassmaster Classic to boost region's economy


Associated Press

— TULSA (AP) — The surprise of the Bassmaster Classic, to those who never have seen it, comes purely in the scope of the event.

"Big" won't fully describe what is set for Tulsa and Grand Lake O' The Cherokees on Friday-Sunday.

The 43rd annual Bassmaster Classic, presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, brings with it a world-class sports event, sports television production, an outdoors sports expo and associated community events.

BASS estimates a crowd of 100,000 visitors, and the Tulsa Sports Commission estimates $26 million in economic benefit. Tax revenue for the city of Tulsa is estimated to be between $1.5 million and $2 million - and all venues are free and open to the public.

"I think a lot of people will be surprised at how big it is," said Ray Hoyt, senior vice president of Visit Tulsa and the Tulsa Sports Commission. "The enormity of it will take people back a little bit. They'll say, 'I had no idea.'"

It's an event with impacts first felt a year ago that carry the potential to influence the economy, tourism and quality of life in northeastern Oklahoma for years to come, Hoyt said.

The economics of the event surprise most people, Deby Snodgrass, executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department told the Tulsa World (http://is.gd/jSSdQS).

"What most people don't know about outdoor recreation is it employs more Americans than education, construction, or the oil and gas industry," she said. "It's 6.1 million jobs nationwide ... outdoor recreation's direct economic impact nationally is over $35 billion annually."

Organizers report the BASS organization alone is bringing roughly 200 staff members and contractors to town for the production, and the Sports Commission and Local Organizing Committee have recruited about 350 volunteers to add a smiling sheen to the Green Country welcome mat.

"None of this stuff happens without volunteers," Hoyt said. "Some of these guys have taken days, weeks out of their personal work schedules."

At the heart of events this week is a contest among 53 of the world's best anglers. They had to qualify to compete for a life- and career-changing title with the coveted Bassmaster Classic championship trophy, champion's ring and a $500,000 top prize. The tournament purse is $1.2 million.

The anglers already are on Grand Lake O' The Cherokees for a three-day practice fishing period that runs through Sunday. On Wednesday they will have an official practice, with a sort of dry run at the lake launch site to make sure logistics and timing are set for the weekend.

Friday through Feb. 24, 3,000 to 6,000 spectators are expected lakeside at a sunrise ceremony capped by the official tournament launch at 7 a.m. Spectators and anglers will arrive around 5:30-6 a.m.

The Classic will be the first event to launch from the newly constructed Wolf Creek Boat Park and Ramp at Grove, which is in phase one of a three-phase, multimillion-dollar improvement plan.

The new 22-acre boat launch area is the first large physical example of the lasting impact of the event, Hoyt said.

"That would not have been built if the Bassmaster Classic wasn't coming," he said. "That launch will continue to give people a great experience and easy access to the lake."

Anglers will leave the water before 3 p.m. and drive to Tulsa for the weigh-in show at the BOK Center, a made-for-TV production where each angler arrives before a cheering crowd of thousands with stage production effects, theatrics, big-screen video displays and their own personal blaring theme music.

Available seating will be similar to concert arrangements in the BOK, with one end accommodating the stage, said BASS Director of Event and Tourism Partnerships Michael Mulone.

The 18,500-seat BOK Center typically hosts about 13,000 for a concert; but for this event, additional floor space is used for pulling in anglers' trucks and boats and for television and stage production equipment. An exact number for seating is to be determined.

"We'll go over things with the fire marshal on Monday," Mulone said.

The three-day contest features all 53 anglers Friday and Saturday, with the field cut to the top 25 for Sunday's finale. Each day, each angler is allowed to weigh five bass - if they can catch that many - and the winner is the one with the heaviest combined weight. The fish are kept alive (anglers are penalized if fish die) and returned to the lake via a hatchery truck operated by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

While crowds are expected to pack the BOK Center for the weigh-in, the turnstile-turner is the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo, which has booked every bit of floor space in the Tulsa Convention Center. To boot, the Sports Commission arranged to have Third Street blocked off between the BOK and the Convention Center to create a fan zone dubbed Bass Bash.

The Expo is a draw with professional anglers and celebrity sportsmen interacting with fans and often holding impromptu fishing instruction sessions at their sponsor booths. The early season timing also makes it the debut venue for new fishing and outdoor sports products, often sold at a discount.

"It's a destination event," Mulone said.

Lifetime BASS members and BASS Nation members often attend year after year. BASS - the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society - is a 500,000-member organization devoted to bass fishing and conservation.

Classic event planners explain that the draw of BASS members, the added visitation to Tulsa and visibility nationally is how a single event becomes an effort for community improvement.

The Tulsa event is precedent-setting, with the announcement of the location 15 months in advance and with a local presenting sponsor, Hoyt said.

"Usually, BASS comes in with a national sponsor," he said. "For the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, the Cherokee Nation, the lake has their name on it. They are great partners and their involvement, the lift from many local corporate sponsors, is key for the success of this event and for future efforts."

The commission and community leaders worked on securing the BASS event six months before the announcement in November 2011, he said.

For more than a year, a local organizing committee with three dozen staff members and volunteers in Tulsa and Grove has been working with a $1.2 million budget with funds from the Sports Commission, City of Tulsa and private donors and in-kind services, according to committee chairman Jeff Stava.

"We've been meeting monthly for over a year and once, twice a week the past month getting ready," he said.

The early announcement allowed the committee to come together in advance of last year's event, and last year at this time committee members were in Shreveport, La., watching the Classic unfold in that community.

The experience was invaluable, Stava said.

A key takeaway played into initial discussions about a launch site working with the city of Grove, Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Grand River Dam Authority and the state Department of Wildlife Conservation.

"When the layout for that ramp came together, we looked at things that worked in Shreveport, the accessibility, setting up for the event, where to put the bleachers, the satellite trucks, the tents, getting things in and out of there," Stava said.

The joint realization of the benefits such an event can bring to the area pulled together the communities and agencies not only to fund but also to expedite construction of the new facility, Stava said.

The Bass Bash, closing off Third Street between the BOK and the Convention centers and filling it with exhibits and a heated food and beverage tent, was another take-away from Shreveport.

"People waited in line there for hours to get into the weigh-in with nothing to do," Stava said. "So we created a fan fun zone."

Organizers return to key phrases time and again in discussing the Classic; rolling out the welcome mat, making a fan-friendly event, giving people a good experience. It's all about securing continuing return from an initial effort, and that means showing Oklahoma's best side.

Snodgrass looks to the lasting impact of 10 hours of international television coverage of the event on ESPN and continuing benefits from people visiting for the Classic and seeing what Oklahoma has to offer on television.

"Anything we can do to develop our outdoor recreation profile will be a strength for Oklahoma," she said. "What we find is once people come here and experience Oklahoma they want to come back."

Stava said the business and community involvement, particularly in a relationship that has drawn together two communities that are 90 miles apart, should open eyes for future possibilities.

"I hope it creates an understanding of the power of events like this and how it makes a city come alive and how it contributes to our economy, whether it's bass fishing or bowling or amateur or professional sports," Stava said. "We have never hosted an event like this so we're kind of coming to a dawn, and I hope it's so successful that people see we need to do more of this kind of thing and people start channeling those ideas to make this kind of thing happen more often."