Bassmaster Classic makes itself at home with ninth visit to Birmingham

Bassmaster Classic makes itself at home with ninth visit to Birmingham
A vendor pitches his rod cover at the Bassmaster Classic Expo at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

You couldn’t blame B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin if he lobbied to make Birmingham the permanent host of its flagship event – the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.

Personally, Akin would be very comfortable with that move.

“I would love that,” the Homewood resident said. “I could stay in my own bed every night. Fortunately, it’s become very popular in recent years, the Classic, and there’s been a lot of competition for it.”

Through today, 53 anglers are taking part in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. The 50th championship event of the Bassmaster Elite Series returns to Birmingham for the ninth time.

This is the 13th time the classic has been in Alabama and the third time it has been on Lake Guntersville. Once again, the weigh-in and expo will be at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Birmingham drew 90,000 fans when the Magic City was weigh-in central for the Bassmaster Classic in 2014. Last year, Knoxville, Tenn., established a record with 153,000 fans.

The 2019 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville, Tenn., was recognized as a 2019 Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism (Mid-Market Division) by Sports Destination Management.

The award honors organizations and local partners who “worked together to produce events that have made our industry a more vibrant, more exciting, more varied and more interesting place.”

Akin is rooting for Birmingham to show up and show out.

“Let’s beat the record that was set last year,” he said. “I’m ready to shatter that record. This is something Auburn and Alabama people can come together on, beating Tennessee.”

Record attendance is nothing new for the Classic. Before it was in Knoxville, a record crowd of 145,000 were at the championship event in Greenville, S.C.

“Each year it’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger,” Akin said. “We do have people coming from all over the country – and all over the world, really – to the Bassmaster Classic. They put it on their calendar, and they make it a family vacation in many cases.”

Those visitors are expected to have an economic impact of $30 million.

“It’s a big number,” said David Galbaugh of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, “but again, when you’ve got this many people that are coming to an event, it really adds up. I am in awe sometimes when we talk about these numbers. It’s very impressive and that’s what makes the event so special to be in Birmingham.”

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While Birmingham has been part of the Bassmaster Classic more than anywhere else, fans who were here in 2014 might feel they’re in a new place.

“We didn’t have all of Uptown in place,” Galbaugh said. “We didn’t have things going on in our downtown renaissance with Second Avenue and all the new restaurants that we have.

“We’re like a new product,” he continued. “I’m going to be really excited for people that are accustomed to coming to the Classic and being in Birmingham. If they haven’t been here in six years, they’re going to find something that’s really special. And I think they’re going to be very impressed.”

Hosting athletic events has become something Birmingham does. Faye Oates, commissioner of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office of sports and entertainment, said the Classic is a huge opportunity for the metro area.

“It’s a really big deal,” she said. “It has a great following. They bring a lot of folks to the city. Their expo alone is big. Without any fishing, the expo is huge.”

The expo, like the daily weigh-in, is free. It features 200 exhibitors and is what Akin calls the largest fishing consumer show in the world.

“People laugh that you’re just going to see fish being weighed, but it’s really quite a show,” the B.A.S.S. CEO said. “It’s a Hollywood-style production, and it’s truly made for TV. It will be broadcast on ESPN2 in about a month.”

A lot has changed in professional bass fishing since B.A.S.S. began 52 years ago and hosted its first Bassmaster Classic two years later. Since then, rival professionals tours – including FLW and MLF — have come on the scene.

Akin said the industry is very strong now, but B.A.S.S. and the Bassmaster Classic provide the biggest stage.

“We have everything from websites to magazines to television to a radio show to the events themselves,” the CEO said. “Throngs of people want to come out and see fish being weighed but also to sample the sponsor products. We don’t want to rest on our laurels by any means, but we’ve been the leader for 50 years and plan to continue to be the leader.

“We are the big fish in a big pond too,” Akin continued. “The industry is very vibrant and very strong now, but we are the biggest organization in bass fishing.”

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