By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The top prize from the 2014 Bassmaster Classic will be reduced by 40 percent in order to sweeten the pot for 41st- through 50th-place finishers in next year's Elite Series events, according to the latest payout revision put forth by B.A.S.S.
In a letter emailed to Elite anglers this week, a copy of which was obtained by BassFan, B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin says the newest alteration to the prize structure, which drops the Classic winner's share from $500,000 to $300,000, came about after discussions with competitors following the initial revision announced earlier this month. Under the first revision, Elite Series anglers who finished in 41st through 50th next year would've received $5,000 instead of the $10,000 they got this year, with the bulk of that difference redistributed to the Angler of the Year (AOY) purse.
Competitors in the 41st through 50th range will now receive $8,000 at 2014 regular-season Elite Series events, which in most cases will cover the entry fee and expenses for the week with perhaps a small profit left over. Akin states in the letter that the latest move is being made "in the spirit of cooperation and partnership."
"Many of you pointed out the title of Bassmaster Classic Champion provides great value beyond the monetary reward from B.A.S.S. and that the purse does not have to be that high," Akin wrote. "The Classic purse will still be over $1 million. And don’t forget that we have added a minimum of two berths for Elite Series anglers for the 2014 Classic, with two more possibilities remaining from this week’s Central Open and the Wild Card in December."
The letter also outlined some significant changes to BASSfest – the much-hyped event at Tennessee's Lake Chickamauga that will attempt to recreate some of the atmosphere of the summertime Classics that were held prior to 2006.
It's been determined that BASSfest finishes will not impact the AOY standings, as Elite anglers who compete on all days that they're eligible will each receive 100 points. That change reduces the actual points season to seven tournaments, after which the Top 50 in the standings will compete in the AOY Championship.
Also, anglers who compete at Watts Bar Lake on day 3 of BASSfest (those below the Top 50 vying for one of 10 transfer berths back to the main event) will fish without co-anglers, as the "Pro-Am" designation for the day has been dropped. Competitors will have non-fishing marshals in their boats instead.
Opens anglers who compete alongside the Elites at BASSfest (the field can accommodate up to 60 of them) will fork over a $5,375 entry fee if they opt to pay over time. That figure is the equivalent of the standard per-tournament Elite Series fee when paid on the installment plan. Opens anglers can get in for $5,000 if it's paid up front in a lump sum, although no deadline date for such a payment was specified in the letter.
"While these changes may not satisfy everyone, we have done everything feasible to satisfy the requests of the anglers we have talked with," Akin wrote. "And, keep in mind that these changes aren’t forever. We will, together, continue to work through this difficult economy to find ways to improve your career and earnings opportunities, build our respective businesses and grow the sport."
Lowest Since '05
The reduction in the Classic winner's share knocks the event out of a tie with the Forrest Wood Cup as the sport's most lucrative to win. The Cup paid $1 million to its champion for a couple of years at the end of the previous decade, but has since scaled back to the half-mil mark.
The first Classic champion to pocket $500,000 was Luke Clausen, who won at Florida's Lake Toho in '06. That was the first time the event took place in February, and it's been staged in that month ever since.
The bump to $500,000 was a 150 percent increase over the previous year, when Kevin VanDam received $200,000 for his victory at the Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, Pa.