Tommy Mann Jr.
The Orange Leader
Expectations were exceeded and records were shattered during the Bassmaster Elite Series event this past weekend.
The four-day run of the Bassmaster Elite Series “Sabine River Challenge” will live in the memory of organizers, fishing fans, and Orange County residents for years to come as the event surpassed all previously held expectations and some impressive records along the way.
According to Bassmaster.com, over the four days, 33,650 people came to the season opener of the Elite Series, beating the previous four-day record by 15,730, B.A.S.S. announced Monday.
The previous high attendance mark of 17,920 was set in 2011 at the Bassmaster Elite Series Dixie Duel in Decatur, Ala.
The Orange, Texas event also surpassed the one-day Elite attendance record. The Sabine River Challenge drew 14,950 fans on Saturday, March 16. The previous one-day attendance record was 14,050 at the Dixie Duel.
Bruce Akin, CEO of B.A.S.S., which owns the Elite Series, applauded the efforts of the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce, the STARK Cultural Venues and other partners to make the Sabine River Challenge a record-setter.
“We can’t say enough about how the chamber and the Stark Foundation got behind this event and worked to make it such a great success,” Akin said in a post at www.bassmaster.com. “We deeply appreciate the hospitality shown to us, not only by members of the chamber and its partner organizations, but also by business owners and individuals of the community. We were welcomed with open arms.”
The title sponsor of the Bassmaster Elite Series “Sabine River Challenge” was Stark Cultural Venues. It is easy to determine by reactions from its personnel over the event that expectations were met, and then some.
“The only way to describe this is incredible,” said Walter Riedel III, president and CEO of Stark Cultural Venues. “It was an overwhelming experience. There was a lot of hard work leading up to the ‘Sabine River Challenge,’ but the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce and Orange County Economic Development Corporation stepped up to the plate. John Gothia and David Jones deserve so much of the credit too.”
Riedel said the events held in conjunction with Bassmaster Elite Series “Sabine River Challenge,” such as the Laser Spectacles show at the Lutcher Theater on Friday, Art in the Park on Saturday and special events at the W.H. Stark House, Stark Museum of Art and Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, were well attended too.
“We had excellent attendance at all our events at all venues during the week and, especially, on Saturday,” Riedel added. “This far exceeded our expectations.”
Several people associated with the event agreed.
“What a week. It was way better than anything we had hoped for,” said Ida Schossow, president of the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce. “So many people worked so hard to make it such a great event, but the success of this event was because the community showed up and supported it.”
Schossow was also amazed by the level of attendance from spectators of the event and the Orange County Riverfront Festival being held at the same location.
“You could see people as far as you could see,” Schossow added. “It was just amazing.”
Event organizers John Gothia and David Jones spent countless hours at the City of Orange Boat Ramp this past week, and very little of it involved sleep, but the success of the event is a result of the hard work done by so many people, Gothia said.
“There’s no doubt the community turned out to make this event happen,” Gothia said. “And they did it in a big way. The people at B.A.S.S. had nothing but positive things to say about the whole event. Our goal was to make people come out to the Elite Series tournament and to downtown Orange, and they did.”
The “Sabine River Challenge” may be over now, but the impact will last for some time and will only benefit our area in the future.
“This tournament will have a huge economic impact on our area,” Gothia added. “The amount of money being spent on fuel alone, especially from the guys in the tournament, was amazing, but when you factor in food and other purchases, it’s just amazing. We will have to see just how much when the March (sales tax revenue) report comes out.”
Businesses also experienced their share of the pie as well this past week.
“Last week beat any week I’ve ever had, and that includes the weeks following the hurricanes (Ike and Rita). And the hurricanes were big business,” said Mike LeMoine, owner of Spanky’s restaurant in Orange. “I was up 30 percent over a normal week. I will have the best March that I have ever had.”
As pleased as LeMoine was with the event had on his business, he was equally pleased with the support shown by the community and the hard work and dedication by event organizers and the Stark Cultural Venues.
“I’m so proud of all the people and everyone that put so much effort into this event,” LeMoine continued. “It was wonderful to see something like this happen in Orange and, hopefully, it will happen again.”