Bass Pro buying rival Cabela’s in deal valued at $5.5 billion

Cabela’s, which has one area location in Kansas City, Kan., is being purchased by Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro.
Cabela’s, which has one area location in Kansas City, Kan., is being purchased by Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro. File photo by The Star

Outdoor gear giant Bass Pro is snapping up rival Cabela’s in a $5.5 billion deal announced Monday.

Bass Pro is paying Cabela’s shareholders $65.50 cash per share, a 19 percent premium to Friday’s closing price. The value of the deal includes debt. The deal combines two companies known for their giant destination superstores.

It also creates uncertainty about jobs in Cabela’s home state of Nebraska. The combined companies plan to keep some operations in Sidney and Lincoln, Neb., but it’s not immediately clear how many jobs might be lost.

Cabela’s employs about 2,000 people in the western Nebraska town of Sidney, which has about 7,000 residents. State Sen. Ken Schilz, who represents the area, said the deal is concerning because of the duplication between the two companies’ headquarters that will be eliminated.

“We’ll just have to wait and see what Bass Pro does. I’m sure most folks in Sidney are pretty nervous,” Schilz said.

Bass Pro has two Kansas City area stores — in Olathe and Independence. Cabela’s lone area store is in the Village West development near the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.

The Cabela’s store opened in 2002, and it’s been one of the top tourist destinations in Kansas for many years.

Recently, a dispute arose over a planned Cabela’s location in Lee’s Summit.

Officials with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., raised concerns following the Lee’s Summit announcement. The Unified Government had signed a deal with Cabela’s when that location was approved in 2001 that restricted future Cabela’s locations within a 150-mile radius.

The Star first reported on the controversy in June. Mike Taylor, a Unified Government spokesman, said Monday no resolution has been reached.

Lee’s Summit officials say they have not yet received any development application for a Cabela’s store in that city.

RED Development, which is developing the Summit Place retail project where the Cabela’s is contemplated, was not available for comment.

It’s not clear whether the Cabela’s name will survive once the sale becomes final.

Activist investment firm Elliott Management began pushing for significant changes at Cabela’s last fall. Elliott owns 7.4 percent of Cabela’s shares and holds options to buy another 3.8 percent.

A sale of the Cabela’s has been a distinct possibility ever since the company announced a review of its strategic options last December, but many in Sidney weren’t ready to believe it could happen.

“We’re just trying to absorb it right now,” said Denise Wilkinson, president of the Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce. “We just never knew what would happen.”

Bass Pro founder and CEO Johnny Morris said he hopes to continue growing the Cabela’s brand alongside his privately held Springfield, Mo.-based chain.

“The story of each of these companies could only have happened in America, made possible by our uniquely American free enterprise system,” Morris said. “We have enormous admiration for Cabela’s, its founders and outfitters, and its loyal base of customers.”

Capital One will take over running Cabela’s credit card unit as part of the deal.

Cabela’s was founded in 1961 when Dick Cabela started selling fishing flies through the mail from his kitchen table with his wife, Mary, and brother, Jim. It now has 85 retail stores primarily in the western U.S. and Canada.

Bass Pro got its start in 1971 when Morris began selling high-quality fishing tackle in his dad’s liquor store in Springfield.

Morris developed a following in the Ozarks region — its lakes and rich streams a haven for anglers — and created the Bass Pro Shop Catalog in 1974 and opened the first of his now 99 stores in Springfield seven years later. Bass Pro’s stores are mostly in the eastern United States and Canada.

Morris also introduced the Bass Tracker fishing boat in 1978 that was designed specifically for fishermen. That led to the creation of the White River Marine Group.

The Star’s Steve Vockrodt contributed to this story.