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From the Boat: Q&A with Jim Sexton, VP, Digital at B.A.S.S.

B.A.S.S. is the go-to place for folks who are passionate, or want to learn more, about bass fishing.

From humble newsletters first sent out in 1968, to the popular Bassmaster Magazine, seen by many as the bible of bass, the organization has been working to organize, engage, encourage and promote the bass fishing world in the United States and beyond.

Jim Sexton is VP, Digital at B.A.S.S., and oversees the online and digital presence that has become more popular and powerful to the bass fishing world than ever before.

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More on B.A.S.S.B.A.S.S. works to organize and stimulate awareness of bass fishing, through tournaments, education, and the support of conservation and research. Members earn more than just a magazine subscription, with entries in contests and eligibility for B.A.S.S. Nation.

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We talked with Sexton about his role, the efforts of B.A.S.S., and how the changing content landscape works towards audience building and storytelling.

Wide Open Spaces: You guys had the Bassmaster Classic in your backyard this year, were you out there on the lake or busy at your desk?

Jim Sexton: I didn’t spend any time at my desk, in fact I was out at the launch every morning, and then went to the arena and worked there in the afternoon. And in fact, I stayed in the hotel connected to the arena because we had some late nights and early mornings. Several people I work with spent every night in their own bed, but several of us didn’t.

WOS: Good for you, as the cliché goes, it’s the “Super Bowl of bass fishing,” so you certainly did it justice.

JS: That’s right, you want to leave it all on the field. (Laughs)

RELATED: Randy Howell Wins 2014 Bassmaster Classic

WOS: Tell us about your role at B.A.S.S., and how you help achieve the objectives that they’re going after.

JS: Sure, I’ve been with B.A.S.S. for two years and eight months, as of now. I was part of the team [that started after] ESPN owned B.A.S.S., until they sold it to three private owners officially in the fall of 2010. With the new ownership, they wanted more focus on digital, and… I don’t know if you know the story of the guys that bought B.A.S.S., but they’re avid bass fishermen and outdoorsmen, and they each bring a different talent to the business.

Don Logan is one of the owners. Don was the CEO and chairman of Time Warner and Time Inc., is an Alabama native, and was retired. He had told his friend that ran ESPN that if they ever wanted to sell B.A.S.S. to call him. Sure enough, they called, and Don was interested.

Jerry McKinnis is another owner. Jerry had a show on ESPN called “The Fishin’ Hole.” He had the show for something like 30 years, I don’t think the entire time it was on ESPN, but it was for a long time [Editor’s Note: ‘The Fishin’ Hole’ was on the air for 44 years]. He has a TV production company that’s now part of B.A.S.S.

And the third owner is a guy named Jim Copeland. He and Don Logan were friends. Jim was the CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, the public accounting firm, so he’s got a strong financial background.

It’s a great group of owners, they’re really good guys and really avid in the bass world, and pretty engaged in the business. They weren’t going to just buy it and sit back and watch it.

Anyway, I came in after those guys bought the business, really with the goal of growing the audience in the digital world, whether that meant on the website, or in social media, or in the mobile space, or whatever else comes along. So we’ve been working hard doing just that for the last two and half years or so.

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WOS: How has B.A.S.S. worked to have a stronger online and digital presence?

JS: The great thing [about B.A.S.S. involves] having it as its own company. ESPN brought a lot of great things to B.A.S.S., and a lot of great exposure because of their size and their big platform. The downside was that they have many, many other businesses, and perhaps B.A.S.S. wasn’t always top of mind.

So, we’re totally focused on B.A.S.S. and the bass fishing world, and we’ve looked for ways to grow the online audience in several ways. One is deeper content from our tournaments, particularly for the Elite Series, and the Classic, and anything with Elite anglers in it. That does really well for us, so we try to cover it six ways to Sunday. We do blogs up to the minute with reporters and photographers out on the water. We do video footage, some of it which is live coverage of the weigh-ins, and a live show that we do during the day of Elite Series tournaments called ‘The War Room.’ We’re really big on great photography, and we have some fantastic photographers that work for us.

First and foremost, probably our biggest, in terms of audience, is that tournament coverage. If we do that well there’s a big audience for it…

I should pause and say we have several tournament series. So, in total [we have] probably 40 tournaments a year. Those range from the Bassmaster Classic, to nine Elite Series tournaments, to nine Bassmaster Opens, and I don’t remember the number of Nation tournaments, but the Bassmaster Nations are the more state-level organizations. We have college tournaments and even some high school tournaments now. So, probably around 40 total for the year, it might actual be a little more than that this year.

“We do a lot of storytelling about these peoples’ lives, how they got there, the quest to be professional anglers, and the struggles, highs, lows and in betweens.”

It’s the personal stories of those people who are fishing, I was going to say guys but there are some women in there as well that are good and really interesting… So we do a lot of storytelling about these peoples’ lives, how they got there, the quest to be professional anglers, and the struggles, highs, lows and in betweens. Something that works really well for us is telling the emotional story of fishing. That may be success or tragedy or camaraderie or those kinds of things, so we look for those angles in the world of fishing as well.

After that, the bread and butter of what we do is “how to.” You know, how to fish a crankbait, how to fish a frog, techniques for fishing, tying knots, and all those types of things. We do some gear coverage as well, showcasing and reviewing new products as they come out. Those are kind of the highlights for us. I’ll add one more to it, in that we’re playing more in the lifestyle space. As you know, there’s a lifestyle to fishing beyond just going out and fishing. There are other things that kind of surround it that people enjoy and that enhance the experience, whether that be food, or camping, or other things like that. So we do some lifestyle content as well. We’re sort of not afraid to push the boundaries on that, and make some mistakes if they end up being mistakes.

WOS: Can you tell us a little bit about the digital aspects in B.A.S.S.’s role in attracting new audience members, whether it may be females, or a younger crowd, or maybe just the atypical bass fisherman that’s not already going to be interested?

JS: Yeah, the B.A.S.S. organization has been around for 46 years. What has happened over those years is, there’s a core audience for B.A.S.S. that are people who know how to fish, and they’re pretty good at it. They put in a lot of days during the year, and fishing is kind of their main hobby and passion. So, we’ve got a lot of guys who already know how to fish. They’re always looking to get better and catch more fish and bigger fish, so that’s kind of our core audience. They’re going to find B.A.S.S. and they’re generally going to like us.

We’re working harder now to get folks that are around the edges of that, more folks who are beginners. We have a Beginner’s Series on the website that’s a series of videos, and we’ll be doing more content along those lines. And, [we’re trying to attract] more females, and a more diverse audience in terms of ethnicity, and so we really like showing the diversity of the audience, whether that be kids, or folks you wouldn’t normally think of as fishing fans.

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As an example, the guy who won the Classic, Randy Howell, even before he won it his wife had started writing a column for us. It’s kind of the family, behind the scenes dynamic of an Elite angler… what’s that lifestyle like? I feel things like that, and some of the fun things we do are bringing in a new audience, and folks who are not quite as dedicated, but we like that too.

WOS: What about the grassroots level participation B.A.S.S. gets on the regional B.A.S.S. Nation?

JS: Part of the deal with B.A.S.S. is it’s a membership organization. We’ve got 500,000 members who have signed up and paid their dues, and get one or more of the magazines. That membership base tends to be the core audience. They love fishing, it’s an important part of their life, and so… there’s a lot of passion in the sport of bass fishing, and fishing in general, so that’s kind of our core group, and we’re always working to expand that membership base.

One of the areas that is kind of interesting now is college, in that there are more bass fishing clubs in colleges. That’s a real growing trend, some at big schools and some at small schools. And the small schools are really good. So, the college age group is a good dynamic for us as well.

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WOS: Tell us about some issues or obstacles that B.A.S.S. faces, and talk a little bit about how the digital side is addressing those.

JS: I would say one thing that we’re pretty focused on is growing the younger side of the audience… It’s very common in the bass fishing world, that when people get old enough to have the discretionary income to buy a boat and those kind of things, that’s when they tend to become the most avid. That’s certainly one of the things that digital platforms are enabling us to do more of.

In one area, social media, we’ve had really good success in Facebook, and that’s been wonderful, but with some of the filtering that’s going on with Facebook these days, it’s sort of reiterated to us that we’ve got to expand into other social platforms as well. So in this Classic, we put much more attention on Twitter, did a lot more work on Instagram and with Vine, and those tend to be younger audiences than Facebook.

“In this Classic, we put much more attention on Twitter, did a lot more work on Instagram and with Vine, and those tend to be younger audiences than Facebook.”

WOS: How does B.A.S.S. approach Facebook and Twitter, and what’s the ultimate response been?

JS: We think of social media as really important, and one of the areas that works for us is, because we’re doing live sports with coverage of scoring and winners and losers, it’s one way that we can quickly get out up to the minute news. With social media in general, there’s been a really positive response to it. I think when I started at B.A.S.S. there were, I don’t know, 40,000 Facebook fans. We’ve got 550,000 now. We have a full time person, a social media editor, dedicated to doing social media for B.A.S.S., and she came out of the editorial space. She tends to approach it so that the content is solid, not puff posts. It tends to be useful stuff.

I feel like we’ve grown our social audience the old fashioned way, which is good content, and posting things that people like, and that they want and need. Social has been very important to us, and it’s important to our sponsors as well.

WOS: Can you share something about B.A.S.S. or bass fishing in general that most people don’t know?

JS: I know that Hawaii has bass, and Alaska does not. Also, the largemouth bass is the official fish of four states. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

WOS: What’s your favorite part about working for B.A.S.S.?

JS: That’s a great question, and I have several. One is that I get to go fishing as part of my job. When I get to go as part of work, it’s usually with people that are really good at it.

I get to fish a few times a year with Dave Precht, who oversees our publication group. Dave just passed his 35th year at B.A.S.S., so he is a great angler. Whenever I fish with Dave it’s a lot of fun and I learn some things.

“We’re working on websites and social media and mobile products and videos and stories, so there’s never a dull moment.”

And the same thing on some other trips; I got to fish with 2012 Classic champion Chris Lane. So I get to fish some, and it’s really actually important to my job that I go, because it helps my ability to tell stories and understand the products and the sport. That’s one of them.

The other is there’s just so many good stories in this space, mainly about the people. There’s a really broad spectrum of types of content that are good and interesting. I kind of described them before, from sports tournament coverage, to human interest, to gear and how to and that kind of thing. So we tell a really broad range of stories.

Maybe the third thing is just that it is a full spectrum job. We’re working on websites and social media and mobile products and videos and stories, so there’s never a dull moment.

For more on B.A.S.S. and Bassmaster, visit Bassmaster.com.

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From the Boat: Q&A with Jim Sexton, VP, Digital at B.A.S.S.