Big bass tourney hooks onto Fox-TV's NFL time; Outdoors


If it's Sunday afternoon in the fall and Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw is on the tube, then the program must be pro football, right?


Next Sunday, Bradshaw, co-host of "Fox NFL Sunday," will be calling play-by-play live from the final round of the $3.6 million Ranger M1 Millennium bass fishing tournament at Florida's Cypress Gardens.

Bob Brenly, Fox's major-league baseball analyst, will assist with the play-by-play and Forrest Wood, founder of Ranger Boats, will provide commentary.

The 90-minute broadcast will run either before or after the Fox network's regional coverage of NFL games. In Baltimore, the broadcast is scheduled for 2: 30 p.m.

Tournament organizers and network officials said the time is right for a live tournament broadcast rather than the standard fare of taped fishing shows telecast on cable on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

"A number that is hard to ignore is that over 55 million people in the United States consider themselves anglers," said Ed Goren, executive producer of Fox Sports. "Noting the high-profile companies already signed to sponsor this event, it is marketing friendly, and that's exactly what they were saying about NASCAR just a few years ago."

More than two dozen companies that produce everything from bass boats to weed eaters to breakfast cereal have signed on as sponsors.

"Even though competitive bass fishing had been around since the 1960s, the time was right to take the sport to the next level with respect to the marketing of it and building a national awareness of it," said Irwin L. Jacobs, chairman of Operation Bass Inc. and owner of Ranger Boats.

"The fishing market was promotionally untapped. Therefore, it presented an enormous opportunity, not just for bass tournaments but for all kinds of other products, as well."

Fox is producing the telecast with Intersport Inc., the Chicago company that markets innovative shows such as the College Slam Dunk and Three-Point Championships before the Final Four.

The tournament winner is guaranteed $400,000 cash, and incentives from sponsors could net the winning pro another $600,000. The top prize for the amateur side of the field is $150,000, with another $250,000 possible.

The field of 400 anglers, evenly split between pros and amateurs, was built through a series of qualifying events on the four major national bass fishing tours and 17 regional competitions. The field includes anglers from 31 states.

"This is another huge development for competitive fishing and fishing overall," said Jacobs. "There is no doubt that competitive angling is becoming one of the most popular sporting pastimes in America today, due to its universal appeal and accessibility."

Organizers say the format of the millennium tournament was designed specifically for television, with all 400 anglers fishing Thursday and Friday, the top 50 pros and amateurs fishing Saturday, and only the top 10 pros fishing Sunday.

To cover the event, producers will spread a crew of more than 80 reporters, cameramen and technicians over the 14 lakes of the Winter Haven chain.

Coverage will be provided from a fleet of boats, a helicopter and a blimp, small cameras attached to competitors or their boats and miniature cameras that can be lowered into the water for the ultimate look at fish being hooked or played.

Bradshaw, Brenly and Wood will be on stage at the weigh-in site at Cypress Gardens, calling the action and waiting to see who -- if anyone -- can win $1 million.

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