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Don Rucks talks about new changes

BASS VP and GM Don Rucks: "Having the Elite Series card is having the ability to enhance an angler's career." 

Early Friday, BASS announced major developments to its tournament structure. It introduced the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series — one that it claims will be the highest level of competition for the world's top anglers — and is doing away with the Opens to operate the CITGO Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours.

Bassmaster.com asked BASS Vice-President and General Manager Don Rucks what's in store:

Bassmaster.com: BASS is really making some groundbreaking changes here. What was the reasoning?

Well, I knew we could have kept things the same — as they've always been — but we had so much feedback from our stakeholders and anglers, we wanted to truly deliver what they asked for and what the industry needs. With higher payouts, better locations and an Elite Series for the world's best anglers, we believe we have accomplished what we set out to do.

Bassmaster.com: The Elite Series appears like the crowning jewel in this new plan. Can you elaborate?

Of course, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic has been and will always be our crowning jewel, but the Elite Series is so exciting for us. It's going to be a 100 of the world's best anglers battling for a $100,000 first-place prize in each event. Plus, we'll pay down 50 places. With the media exposure the Series will have, we really expect anglers to use this as a career-building opportunity.

Bassmaster.com: From the release, it sounds as if BASS is ready to make card-carrying Elite Series members out of these anglers.

You're absolutely right. Having the Elite Series card is having the ability to enhance an angler's career. BASS will offer benefits so that anglers can better recruit sponsors, retain them and build their careers because that's what they've been seeking.

Bassmaster.com: Now what about the CITGO Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours? Can you go a little more in-depth there?

There's so much about these two Tours that I think anglers are going to love. First, there's six Classic berths that are wide open here, three from each Tour. And the Tours will have five events that each pay $75,000 to the top boater and $30,000 to the top non-boater. Anglers can fish both because the Southern is in the spring and the Northern is in the summer. We're also having this second-chance qualifier, giving some Tour anglers another chance at qualifying for the Elite Series. When I say it like that, it really makes me realize just how much is on the table here and how exciting 2006 and beyond is going to be.

Bassmaster.com: Then these are better than the Opens?

They're not even in the same league as the Opens. We thought long and hard about how to create a tournament that carried more prestige in the industry and create for opportunities for anglers. The Tours are the outcome.

Bassmaster.com: The entry fee for each Elite Series is $5,000 and the fee for the Tours is $1,500. That's a lot, no?

Well, not when you really take a look at what anglers are getting for that money. We're paying out more than ever before — it's actually $11.2 million. More anglers will berth to the Classic through the Elite Series than they ever did on the former Tour and we're awarding paid entry fees as a prize in that second-chance qualifier. Also, and I love telling people this, an average angler who fishes the Elite Series and the surrounding events — one who just finishes in the middle of the pack — will earn $158,000 annually. I don't know of too many careers that offer that. And I have to say that the media coverage will give these anglers and their sponsors added value.

Bassmaster.com: Speaking of sponsors, the wrapped-boat idea. Is that to create uniformity or promote uniqueness?

Actually, it does both. We want the sport of professional bass fishing to become more of a spectacle and create more excitement for fans. And we want to offer every opportunity for anglers to build their own brands wherever they can. The wrapped boat does both.

Bassmaster.com: So are you trying to make the sport more prestigious?

Yes, and we're building in marketing opportunities for the athletes at the same time. As I'm sure everyone knows, ESPN bought BASS in 2001 and we utilize that relationship everyday. For instance, the final day of Majors weigh-in will be telecast the same day on ESPN2.

Bassmaster.com: The Majors, that's three stand-alone events, no-entry fees and $250,000 first place prizes?

Exactly. The final day weigh-in will be on ESPN2 the same day and we're paying the top 25 anglers. Since the field is just 50 anglers, every one out of two anglers will get paid. Also, going back to angler brand-building, anglers can fish from their own boats on all days of the Majors.

Bassmaster.com: Thanks for taking time to speak with Bassmaster.com, Don.

Thank you. I enjoy sharing these details as it's a really exciting and invigorating time at BASS and in the sport.