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Mossy Oak turning into multimedia brand force

Toxey Haas has always been ‘a couple of innings ahead of us’

WEST POINT — Many might wonder if Toxey Haas, founder of Haas Outdoors/Mossy Oak Brand Camo, knew in 1986 that the business of making camouflage using actual colors found in nature would expand into a major media player in outdoors programming and publication.

Ron Strickland believes so. “I didn’t — but I’m thoroughly convinced Toxey did. He’s always a couple of innings ahead of us.”

And Strickland should know — as senior vice president of media, he oversaw Mossy Oak’s move from direct-to-video releases like “Facts and Feathers” in 1993 and “Megabucks” in 1995 to the success of “Mossy Oak’s Hunting the Country” on TNN and its “Tuesday Night Pursuits” programming bloc for the Outdoor Channel.

But the 12-member production staff isn’t resting on its laurels — 2003 brings a new show for the Outdoor Channel, an unorthodox outdoor show concept on the Golf Channel, and a new home to “Mossy Oak’s Hunting the Country.”

Strickland came to Mossy Oak as a salesman in 1987 after a stint with Primos, a leader in the hunting calls business. His interest in filming wildlife goes back to when he bought the first camcorder sold at the Sears in Natchez and painted it in a camo pattern to take to the woods.

“Ronnie built that part of the company for us,” said Bill Sugg, president of Haas Outdoors/Mossy Oak. The videos were a way to support their licensees, promote different types of hunting, and showcase the camo products as they were meant to be worn, according to Sugg.

“I kept videoing because the footage was so good for showing how our camo worked,” said Strickland.

As the popularity of the videos and the cable market’s interest in outdoor programming grew, the video business segued into the programming business, said Sugg. “In 1996, we were able to work out a deal with TNN to do a show in their hunting bloc — and that’s where ‘Hunting the Country’ was born.”

Later ventures included a “Mossy Oak Classics” program on the Outdoor Channel, which was episodes of the best programming in their library, and a new program focusing on waterfowl called “Whistling Wings.”

The “Hunting the Country” franchise didn’t stop there — the company’s quarterly magazine took up the name and a new publisher in Birmingham, according to public relations manager C. J. Davis.

About 100,000 copies are printed in each run, which appears on newsstands in spring, summer, fall and winter. Features include a gear-and-gadget column, editorials, and feature articles on hunting issues or outdoor topics. Columns by Haas and his father, Fox Haas, are produced in-house, with freelance material filling in the rest of the pages.

The magazine’s scope covers hunting all over North America, not just in Mississippi — although the state does get its fair share. “It probably gets a little more inclusion than most due to Toxey and Mr. Fox,” said Davis.

The popular show will undergo another shift when it moves to a new home on ESPN2 next July as the contract with TNN expires, Sugg said.

But the move for “Hunting the Country” only comes after Mossy Oak launches “American Hunter” on the Outdoor Channel in conjunction with the National Rifle Association in January. Wade Sherman, vice president of business development for the Outdoor Channel, is excited about the new show’s debut.

“They do quality work, and we’re happy to be associated with them,” Sherman said. Mossy Oak’s media department brings a lot to the table for the Outdoor Channel, according to Sherman — “their approach to hunting, their respect for hunting ethics and traditions, and their commitment to recruiting youth.”

And Sherman knows the appeal of what Mossy Oak is doing — Strickland made him a believer. “I was not a hunter before I took this job,” Sherman confessed, noting that hunting trips with Strickland hooked him on the sport.

“He’s very dedicated — he’s not interested in doing anything unless it is of the highest quality. He tells a good story; that’s what I like most about him — and most of it’s even true,” Sherman said.

But the most interesting effort to date may be “Second Season,” premiering with an hour-long special in February with a 26-week run of shows beginning in July, said Sugg. The premise of the show is showing professional golfers going about their other outdoor pursuits — including hunting of all kinds. Series host is Hal Sutton, recently named Ryder Cup captain for 2004.

“There’s a lot of crossover,” said Sugg. Strickland said surveys showed that 77 out of the top 120 golfers on the PGA money list listed hunting as their major hobby outside golf.

The leap to a non-traditional channel came in a search for new markets, according to Strickland. “Toxey will tell you the bigger picture is to find new congregations to get the conservation message out,” Strickland said.

And youth hunting is a big part of the Mossy Oak message — and it shows with high Nielsen ratings among kids. “We’ve had a G-rating since 1996,” Strickland said.

The Mossy Oak motto of “It’s not a passion — it’s an obsession” says a lot about how the company goes about creating these ventures to expand hunting’s popularity. “Our bottom line is we’re better able to relate to hunters — because we are hunters,” said Strickland.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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