Three weeks ago, just days after ESPN’s sale of B.A.S.S., new co-owner Jerry McKinnis was in Alabama following the finalization of the deal that shifted ownership from the entertainment sports network to a guy the fishing world knows and two others few had heard of.
McKinnis, of course, is a fishing icon after more than three decades in the television production business. He ran JM Associates in Little Rock, which he sold in 2007 to Career Sports Entertainment of Atlanta. McKinnis’s crew has been involved with production of fishing, hunting and outdoors shows on ESPN and other networks, as well as the FLW Tour and Bassmaster circuits.
His partners are Don Logan of Birmingham, a retired top executive with Time Inc. Logan is known for his acumen in the media world, having worked with such publications as Time, Sports Illustrated, People and, previously, Southern Living. Jim Copeland of Georgia is the former U.S. and Global chief of the international financial services firm Deloitte. He retired in 2003 for but currently is a director for three Fortune 500 companies.
With interest high in the entire bass fishing industry about the sale, we thought it worthy to publish this interview with McKinnis. It took place on Nov. 5 in Huntsville, Ala., where McKinnis was speaking to a group after his return from Orlando. During his visit in Alabama, he also stopped at the Bassmaster Weekend Series championship on Guntersville Lake for the opening morning launch.
How have things gone so far?
“It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been good. Someone asked me how I felt and I said I was scared to death, but in a good way. Being in a place in you’ve never been before always has been a bit motivating to me but I’d say it’s gone great. I have been so busy I have not paid attention to what all is going on out there.”
You’ve said you’re a bit impatient. Has it been hard to sit back as the deal evolved?
“Sure, it has. It wasn’t like I knew better than someone else did. It’s just that I felt I had a lot of ideas that could be implemented and I realized a lot of things couldn’t be done because of ESPN and so on, that that was pretty frustrating. But that’s the most exciting thing; you’re turned loose.”
You’ve said it, Ray (Scott) has said it … the grassroots … something was lost with the split a few years back. How important is it to rebuild that?
“I was at the Federation championship, too. I don’t know if rebuilding it is right. Reviving it … maybe they’re the same thing. Of course, it’s terrible they’re split. I wish they were all together, even if they weren’t with B.A.S.S. I wish they were all together. Maybe sometime that will happen. The only thing I’m going to do right now is take care of what we have and what we have going.
“We have lot of presidents coming to the Classic (in February) and we’re going to meet with them and a have a breakfast, and that
hasn’t happened the last several years. I don’t feel they ask for a lot. They just want people out there to know about them. It seems like, because we have a television show devoted to it, all we think about is the Elite guys. And we do think about them. They’re important. But you try to do some things for the other levels and because it’s not as visible then everybody starts thinking you’re not doing anything. I think for the last few years no one has been doing a whole lot. I’ve been amazed … I went to the Federation just to learn. They flipped out. Jerry’s here watching us take off. The Weekend guys were the same way. It’s just great for everyone to know.
“I was asked what the first thing I was going to do and it was to put the periods back in B.A.S.S.”
I imagine that struck a huge chord?
(Laughing) “It’s not the dots. But it is important. Someone at B.A.S.S. called and asked if I was kidding because they had some stuff to order. I told them not to chuck everything we’ve got, but when we start getting new stuff put the periods back in there. Let the old way we used to do this … we’re going to reach back a little bit.
“I decided to put some fishing tackle in a little bag in my truck and when I saw a car with a (decal) on it, I was going to pull them over and give them some tackle. I thought that was a neat idea. I was going to my home in North Arkansas out in the boonies and saw a guy with a (decal). You ever tried to stop someone? Then it dawned on me that it might not be a great idea. Someone might shoot me! But he was nice and I gave him the tackle, and now we’ll have to come up with a new plan.”
More changes are on the way?
“Probably not a whole lot coming down (in 2011). Everything is about in place and you can’t change a lot. Really trying to do something with the Opens. I want to make the Opens really solid. I do want to do more stuff with them to make them lots better than they are now. That’s why I put the Classic spot in there. I didn’t have time to explain … I did in the news release but they chopped it out of there.”
So, why do you give a Classic spot to every Open winner next year?
“There are three divisions and have to fish all three (events) to qualify. It looked like you could jackpot a tournament but that’s not the case. You have to fish them all (in the division). What we had was 150 guys fishing this tournament and a few don’t do well, the next one has 140. Then the last one, you have 108. So I decided to take most valuable thing that we have, and that’s a Classic spot, and try keep those full.
“My goal is to eventually get to 45 in the Classic. Right there I’ve jumped up … trying to fix that problem and then start cutting back on Classic spots without really cutting into the Elite guys. I don’t want to trim (those). I really want us to put an emphasis on the college guys fishing. I thought the best thing we could do there is let a college kid come to the Classic.
“When it’s all washed out, he’s probably not going to be eligible for that money but we’re going to work out something for scholarships and give that kid the experience of going to the Bassmaster Classic. I think we will get a lot of PR on that and a lot of press. We got a lot of press on the lady being there but that was a gimmick. These young kids are going to be with us somewhere along the line.
“That’s why I did those two things. I don’t think I ever do anything that doesn’t have another step coming. I hope everyone is patient with me and lets me get to that next step. I guarantee you get down there in three years and you’ll say, ‘Now I know why you did that back in 2010.’
“One of these days, it’s my dream to have less (of) an Elite field without an entry fee. I’ve got to get in there and sell my fanny off to make that happen, and I think I can do that. It’s the biggest hole in what we just purchased, the lack of sales. We have an incredible product and the people who are going to be involved in succeeding in that sale are going to realize what a great product it is.
“I have two tremendous partners in this who are kind of quiet, and I kind of hate that because I’m kind of noisy and out there talking and all. Don and Jim are a lot quieter. But they’re going to be great assets. If the bass fishermen knew him as well as they know me, they’d sleep a lot better at night.”