By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Alterations to the Bassmaster Elite Series payout structure will place an increased emphasis on performance in 2014 as the monetary reward for finishing in 41st through 50th place in regular-season tournaments will be cut in half.
Anglers who end up in those positions at the seven standard-format events will receive $5,000 instead of the $10,000 they'd gotten in previous years. On the flip side, B.A.S.S. has funneled much of that $350,000 it's saving into the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year purse, which will grow from $685,000 in 2013 to $900,000 next year and will be doled out in a championship-style event at the end of the season that replaces All-Star Week.
Those changes, along with several others of significance, are revealed in the 2014 Elite Handbook that B.A.S.S. recently distributed electronically to anglers eligible for the '14 Elite Series. The handbook also includes details of the 5-day, million-dollar BASSfest extravaganza at Lake Chickamauga in June and outlines some new money-making opportunities for competitors via seminars, pro-am derbies and corporate hospitality outings, most of which will take place following cut days at Elite events.
"At the central part of all this, we've made some changes that we think will ultimately be good for the anglers, the fans, the sponsors, and for B.A.S.S., too," B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said in a phone interview this week. "There's obviously been cuts in some places, but it's kind of hard to hold bigger tournaments with larger payouts without some reshuffling. The economy hasn't quite fully recovered to the point where we can do that yet.
"This year we subsidized the payout $100,000 at each event we paid out $800,000 over entry fees for the season, and that's before operating and media costs are factored in. That's part of the reason for the changes as well. A lot of people would like to see us add (regular-season) events, but when you've got that kind of a negative margin, it makes it real hard to do that."
Akin acknowledged that there's been much private grumbling from Elite anglers regarding the $50,000 that's been taken out of each regular-season event while entry fees remain unchanged ($43,000 for the season if paid in installments, or $40,000 up front). He counters by pointing out that, all told, an additional $150,000 will be up for grabs this year and that the $7.2 million total purse exceeds entry fees by $2.5 million.
Also, an additional Bassmaster Classic berth was provided this year (the Top 29 from the AOY race now get in) and unclaimed berths from the Bassmaster Opens now go directly to the Elite points list.
"It's controversial because (a $10,000 paycheck) seems to be kind of the magic number it covers not only entry fees, but also expenses," he said. "But if you're shooting for 41st through 50th place in a tournament, it's possible that your goals might not be high enough.
"Anytime you make change, people tend to focus only on the parts they perceive as negatively affecting them and you never hear anything about things like the additional Classic spots. We think it all kind of ties together."
Short Fields Would be Costly
At this point, there's no guarantee that the 50th-place finisher at 2014 Elite events will receive any compensation. The payout cutoff is based on a full field of entrants (105).
B.A.S.S. will remove one position from the day-2 cut and eliminate one paycheck for every two anglers below that full-field number. Therefore, if the field size were 99 (as it was at the end of 2013), only 46 would advance to day 3 and thus receive a check.
Since the inception of the Elite Series in 2006, the low-water mark for number of anglers is 93 (2010), and the Top 47 were paid during that period. If the roster were to fall to that number again, only 44 would be paid under the new format.
In order to reach the 105-angler mark, the number of anglers who move up from the Opens in 2014 must exceed the number of this year's dropouts by six.
"In full disclosure, that's going to require some people from the Opens to come in," Akin said. "We can take up to 105, but that doesn't mean we'll have 105."
The idea of competing for smaller checks that could be fewer in number doesn't sit well with many Elite anglers, despite the increase in the AOY payout (the AOY will still receive $100,000, but every other position down to 50th will see an increase). None of the anglers BassFan spoke with would talk on the record at this point, but one veteran said that the sentiment against the restructuring is "just about unanimous."
Festival Atmosphere Anticipated
Akin said BASSfest, which will be a points event for the Elite pros, was created with several goals in mind. One of those is an effort to bring another "major" event to the sport, and another is an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the old summertime Classics that existed prior to 2006.
In addition to the Elite pros, the field will feature as many as 60 of the top Opens competitors from 2013 (each paying a $5,000 entry fee). The winner will get $150,000 and $10,000 checks will extend down to 60th place.
It'll play out under a somewhat complicated format that's certainly unique to tour-level competition and likely to bass fishing as a whole. Here's how it's laid out in the handbook:
> $1 million total payout (based on full field of 165 anglers)
- All 2014 Bassmaster Elite anglers (105)
- 20 Opens anglers from each 2013 Open division (60 total)
º B.A.S.S. will work down standings to get a total of 60
º Opens anglers do not receive AOY points
> Full field competes on Chickamauga Lake on days 1 and 2 (Wednesday and Thursday)
> On day 3, the field will be cut to the Top 50
- The Top 50 will participate in the BASSfest Expo and seminars
- The remaining 115 anglers will compete for 1 day on Watts Bar Lake for a second chance at reaching the final rounds
º Weights will be zeroed for the competition on Watts Bar
º Pros on day 3 will be paired with co-anglers competing in a pro-am format
* Co-angler limit: 3 fish
- Top 10 pros from Watts Bar 1-day event advance to day 4 (Saturday) competition on Chickamauga Lake
º After Watts Bar, fall back into rank order from days 1 and 2 on Chickamauga Lake
> 60 anglers compete Saturday (Day 4) on Chickamauga Lake
- Weights from days 1 and 2 will carry over for all 60
º Weights from Watts Bar will not be included
- Takeoff will be in two flights, in rank order from 1 to 60
- Top 12 after Saturday advance to Sunday finals
º Weights from days 1, 2, and 4 will carry over to Day 5
> The angler with the heaviest combined weight from days 1, 2, 4, and 5 on Chickamauga Lake will be crowned champion
- The champion will receive a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic if he or she meets all qualifying criteria
º If an Opens angler is the champion, he or she will only qualify for the 2015 Classic if he or she competes for the full 2014 season in at least one Opens division. Otherwise, B.A.S.S. will work down the AOY points standings to award the Classic spot to an Elite angler
"We're trying to accomplish two or three different things and trying to make it interesting for a lot of people," Akin said. "We have the luxury of having several bodies of water in the (Chattanooga, Tenn.) area that we can utilize. We'll see what works and adjust from there.
"We're trying to create something that's new and different and big, but that doesn't mean (the format) is forever. Just like the payouts, it's something that we'll try for 2014. Nothing is permanently set in stone."
The creation of BASSfest is another indicator that the Classic won't be returning to the summer at any point in the near future.
"There's a lot about the summer Classics that people miss because they planned vacations around it and it was a big family event, and it served as kind of an annual meeting where B.A.S.S. members could come together. A lot of people have asked why we can't go back to that, and there's many reasons why we want to leave the Classic where it is (in February).
"We can't recreate the Classic, but maybe we can create a big event that emulates parts of it."
> The handbook includes few details about the seminars and pro-ams that will be held in conjunction with Elite events in 2014. It mentions that anglers can earn $500 for a half-day seminar and $1,000 for participation in a pro-am (teams will consist of one pro and two amateurs) or hospitality outing.
> The Bassmasters weekly TV show will again be broadcast on ESPN2. The number of re-airs of the program on the Outdoor Channel is scheduled to increase from 78 this year to 104 in 2014.