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Fishing for Social Media Innovation

BassmastersCCI alumnus and Board of Visitors member Jim Sexton (B.S. / JEM ‘ 81) recently traded in his executive suite job for the rock-show world of bass fishing.  As Chief Digital Officer for B.A.S.S. in Birmingham, his duties culminate each year with the Bassmaster Classic.  The annual tournament is the Super Bowl of bass fishing.  Held this year in Shreveport, Louisiana, on the Red River, the event came off flawlessly thanks to the hard work and creative initiative of Sexton and his team. 

Forty-nine of the world’s best bass anglers qualified for the three day event which airs on ESPN2 and Outdoor Channel.  The coverage is taped and shown the weekend after the event, leaving a void with respect to live coverage.  For the first time in the history of the event, Sexton and his team developed live “War Room” coverage.  The War Room, a live video stream on, had six hours of up-to-the-minute coverage each day.  Commentators showed video clips from the fishing front lines, reported on the leader board, showed GPS map points of the competitors’ locations, and responded to Facebook questions and comments. 

The B.A.S.S. Facebook page has over 107,000 followers with a modest but growing Twitter audience of 8,000.  Both tools saw a significant gain in followers during the tournament.  In conjunction with this growth, the website broke previous traffic records each day of the tournament with 5 million page views the final day, and more than a million video plays over the three day event. 

Classic Winner

At the tournament finale, around 10,000 people gathered at the CenturyLink Arena as the anglers weighed their catches.  The massive leader board scrolled selected tweets as the events unfolded.  Viewers began to send in creative, expressive tweets to get the thrill of seeing them scroll across the board seconds later.  All of the fast-paced communicating served to heighten the excitement.  One fishing enthusiast in the crowd told Sexton, “You guys rocked it this year!” 

The challenge facing many organizations in the brave new world of social media is to communicate appropriately in a rapid-fire environment.  The very nature of social media ensures the immediacy of the information being conveyed.  Sexton addressed this challenge by hiring a full-time social media staffer from within the ranks of his existing employee base.  “She has proven her knowledge of the sport, and I can trust her to communicate appropriately and effectively,” said Sexton.  In a recent Birmingham business leaders meeting, Sexton noted many businesses such as financial institutions are wrestling with the social media dilemma.  By policy, they always have external communications carefully scrutinized before releasing them to the public.  This model can become problematic for moment-by-moment communications such as tweets.  The College of Communication and Information will host its first Social Media Week April 24 – 26, 2012 to provide a forum for discussion and information about the opportunities and challenges of social media. 

For the B.A.S.S. event, social media also played an important role in solidifying its relationships with advertisers such as Toyota.  Like NASCAR, bass fishing has an enthusiastic and loyal following.  During the tournament, B.A.S.S. posted a comment on its Facebook page promoting a video Toyota had created about top angler Kevin VanDam and his Toyota Tundra truck tag. The video actually lived on and included a tracking tag so Toyota could track the number of plays.  Toyota had included social media as a part of its ad buy with, a growing trend among advertisers.  With this real-time interaction data, Sexton and his team will have rock star results to tout for next year’s Classic in Tulsa. 

When asked how he was able to expand his traditional journalism career into the digital realm, Sexton said, “My education at UT was critical.  I was taught how to learn, how to discover possibilities rather than simply being taught the mechanics.  It has helped me be adaptable in my career. I love exploring new ways to communicate, whether that be social media, mobile platforms, or whatever comes next.”