Rescheduling Bassmaster events in the wake of COVID-19 is ongoing and arduous, but B.A.S.S. officials feel positive about tentative plans to hold all the tournaments, CEO Bruce Akin said.
“It’s challenging, yet we’re up to it,” Akin said. “Everybody is eager to get started, but we’ll make sure we start back in a healthy way.”
The pandemic hit America right after the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic in early March, and social distancing mandates have since forced the postponement of all B.A.S.S. tournaments, including three Elite Series events. Work to reschedule the events in a safe manner has been Akin’s greatest concern, and that’s been made more difficult with all the added logistics.
“It changes about every day, or every hour, but we’re working on it,” he said. “What we had last week might not be next week.
“Basically what we’re trying to do is get options, get backup dates, nail down the permits to make sure we can move it. We’re working closely with the hosts and with regulations for reopening the country, the states and localities, because they’re all sort of different.”
After lockdowns that had all but essential workers staying home, the country is reopening to varied degrees. There remains many unknowns, and B.A.S.S., like most companies, is working in pencil.
“We’re kind of taking it day by day, but staying real close to the hosts, and of course the anglers and sponsors and trying to accommodate all we can,” he said. “We recognize it’s going to be a balancing act as we go.
“It’s like a puzzle — once you change one thing, something else changes. It may be November or early December before we finish, but our intent is to get in all the Elites, and the others as well.”
Akin added that tournaments will not be business as usual with social distancing measures catering to local requirements.
“It will definitely be a little different, but we’re pretty sure we’ll get them in,” Akin said. “There’s a lot of planning going on.”
Eric Lopez, director of event operations at B.A.S.S, leads the rescheduling efforts, Akin said. He’s busy working closely with the venue officials to get new date approvals and what exactly should be done about fans and the accompanying expo.
“He’s the point person with the hosts and getting all the reschedule dates together,” Akin said. “He calls them to see, ‘Can we do it at this time?’ What do they think of this or that? Each host is different.”
Take the St. Lawrence River in Waddington, N.Y., which relies on the Elite weigh-ins and concerts that have helped draw record crowds to its Family Summer Festival. Unknown is if social distancing will still be in effect for the late July event.
“We don’t know how many we can have at a venue as of now,” Akin said. “You have to plan around whether we can have an expo or not, how many people can come out.”
Akin noted last weekend’s Professional Bull Riding event, the first pro sport to resume from the nationwide suspension. It had to be moved from Las Vegas to Guthrie, Okla., where restrictions weren’t as harsh, yet was held in an empty arena without an audience.
“The procedures they had to have in that event were like a book,” Akin said. “It’s a pretty big undertaking just to start back. Our first tournaments, we may or may not be able to have fans.”
Then there’s keeping the anglers safe and comfortable, from the 88 in the Elite Series to the 200 or so Basspro.com Opens anglers, and possibly that same number of co-anglers, and similar large numbers in B.A.S.S. Nation, College and High School events. The kayak series provides social distancing, but questions remain on running the events safely.