Bassmaster Classic Expo draws huge crowds

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dick’s Sporting Goods earned $300,000 at last year’s Bassmaster Classic by taking part in the Expo that draws more than 100,000 people from around the world.

The Expo is the largest consumer-facing fishing sale in the country, according to James Hall, editor for Bassmaster Magazine.

“I was sitting in a sunglasses booth, and I saw $1,000 in sales in less than 10 minutes,” said Hall.

Engine manufacturers and top fishing brands are all part of the event, sponsoring it and cheering on their elite pros, who all walk the show if they don’t qualify for the third day of fishing, greeting fans and signing hats, shirts and everything else with their likeness on it.

“For us, our largest market share is in freshwater,” said Brent Wood with Mercury. “We’ve been partners with B.A.S.S. and the Classic since its inception. It allows us to get in front of a lot of our audience. A lot of people don’t follow Bassmaster Classic, but they know it’s the Super Bowl of fishing. They want to come and cheer the team on.”

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Every exhibitor contacted by Trade Only Today said the crowds have grown fourfold over the past few years as Bassmaster has created tournament series for college and high school students.

“It looks like we’re on a path to set an all-time attendance record,” said Wood. “There are so many high schools and colleges putting together fishing teams and making it part of the athletic program that it’s revitalizing the sport. It’s why we see much larger attendance. Things are looking up for the whole industry.”

“It’s been a good ride,” said Joe Brown with Johnson Outdoors.

Go Pro cameras have also made creating content easy, said Hall, and some anglers have leveraged that ability.

“If you leave it on all day, you’re going to capture something cool,” said Hall. “We put Go Pros on every single boat so we have every single moment on film. The availability of content has improved because of Go Pros, FaceTime, Facebook live — it all allows for opportunities to spend one extra moment with the pros. However they want to consume the content, it’s all there.”

Small children to the elderly donned the jerseys of their favorite pros, waiting in long lines patiently to have them signed.

There were about 250 vendors at the sold-out event, said Hall. Exhibitors even lined the hallways so that no space went unused.

“Usually we have a wait list, but this year we really utilized all the space,” said Hall. The Expo spread in two venues and spilled out onto the lawn.

And now the sport is grabbing the attention of the entire globe. This year had the world’s first bass angler to qualify from Europe — Jacopo Gellelli learned English so he could address the mostly U.S. crowd at the weigh-ins each afternoon.

“Our European contingent is growing,” said Hall. “It was actually started by U.S. soldiers in Spain. They started the Bassmaster there to give the soliders something to do. They flew bass over and populated the reservoirs after World War I.”

The exhibitors have grown more global as well.

David Swendseid, R&D manager of Japanese bait company Duo’s, says that in Japan, the designers of the bait are the heroes, rather than the fishermen.

“They really take an artistic approach to bait design,” said Swendseid. Then the company uses science and exhaustive research to get the design exactly right in terms of ballast, wall structure, air resistance, drag and a dozen other features.

“You have this artesian effect, and R&D, and then you have technology, all going into these,” said Swendseid.

Many of the companies that debut products at ICAST actually unveil it initially at the Bassmaster Classic, said Jesse Simpkins, director of marketing at Wisconsin-based St. Croix Rods.

“If you have a bass-centric product, there is no better place to introduce it,” said Simpkins. Not only are you targeting your specific audience, you get invaluable feedback from hardcore bass anglers, he said.

“There’s no better litmus test,” said Simpkins. “We introduced two technique-specific rods and they sold out in two days. There are such hardcore anglers here we couldn’t keep it in stock. In our product meetings, we think about what we’re going to do at ICAST and then we back it up six months, because this is the best place to launch a product.”

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