Tag Archives: Bill Foster

Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy?

By Pete Williams

Registration now open for 2013

The Tampa Bay Times broke down the numbers from the Feb. 12 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in St. Petersburg and the results show that the inaugural event fell well short of what race organizer Competitor Group projected in May when it landed $30,000 in city services and $100,000 from Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater to market the event.

During a splashy news conference in May, Competitor projected 12,000 to 15,000 runners and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said the event could account for 10,000 hotel nights and pump $15 million into the local economy.

We examined those numbers at the time, turning to economist Philip Porter of the University of South Florida, a longtime critic of sports economic impact projections. Porter suggested only a small portion of the runners would come from outside the Tampa Bay market, minimizing economic impact.

That’s exactly what happened, according to The Times. The Feb. 12 race had just 7,000 finishers, only 1,248 of which came from out of state. The three official race hotels booked just 200 rooms. Other hotels already were nearly full with other bookings.

Porter says such projections always overestimate economic impact.

“Think about it. You’re coming to City Council and asking for money and support shutting down roads and you’re going to promise the sky,” Porter said this morning. “If you don’t deliver the crowds it doesn’t matter because there’s no mechanism in the contract that holds you accountable.”

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater has a three-year contract for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and has pledged $100,000 for each race in 2013 and 2014.

Though the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon generally was well received, some runners wondered why it needed to begin at one site (Tropicana Field) and end at North Shore Park. Runners faced $15 parking fees at The Trop on race day and for mandatory packet pickup on the days before, though many parked in free two-hour spots on the streets and walked over.

Weather was chilly for the race, though that likely had little impact on late registration in the days leading up to the event as entry fees were a whopping $125. Advance registration was as little as $55 and Competitor was offering $65 registration for the 2013 event during packet pickup this year.

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Rock Concert Parking Prices

By Pete Williams

St. Pete runners will pay ballpark prices to park at The Trop.

Runners hoping to park in Tropicana Field lots near the start of Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in St. Petersburg will have to pay $15.

If they wish to park at The Trop on Friday or Saturday for mandatory packet pick-up at the event’s health and fitness expo at the beloved dome, they’ll have to pay another $15.

That’s $30, which is more than it costs to enter most 5K events, few of which involve parking fees, as well as more than most tickets to Tampa Bay Rays’ games. (Registration for the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon itself began at $55 and gradually rose to $105. Expo registration will be $125).

In a Tampa Bay Times story yesterday, race organizer Competitor Group pointed the finger at the Rays for the parking fees. A city official said it’s between the Rays and the promoter (Competitor). Rays vice president Rick Vaughn, the best PR guy in sports, must feel like he’s having a flashback to the Vince Naimoli era, spinning what seems to be a petty situation all around.

“The Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon Expo is a commercial enterprise and, like all for-profit events at Tropicana Field, its promoters are required to pay a parking fee,” Vaughn told The Times.

Vaughn is right, of course, though all this has little to do with revenue from a few thousands vehicles, probably much less given that most runners will seek out cheaper parking further away. After all, this is a crowd that doesn’t mind walking a mile or two to run 13.1.

The situation has much more to do with entitlements of race promoters, city officials mesmerized by dubious economic studies, and perhaps the ongoing friction between St. Pete and the Rays over the team’s future ballpark.

When St. Pete and Competitor Group announced the event in May, Mayor Bill Foster cited a $12 million economic impact, even though the much larger, established Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa reports an impact of roughly half that. Philip Porter, an economist at the University of South Florida who has long criticized sports economic studies, suggested St. Pete’s numbers were highly inflated since the vast majority of runners figured to be local.

Nonetheless, Foster plowed ahead, committing $30,000 in city support, including police and road closures, expenses race promoters typically foot on their own. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission committed $100,000 to promote the race by taking out ads in national running magazines – even though Competitor Group itself publishes several prominent endurance sports magazines.

But where Foster really got into murky water was by asking the Rays to let The Trop host a health and fitness expo (and packet pickup) for free – a $60,000 value. You have to think the Rays, run by team president and avid marathoner Matt Silverman, might have written this off as another of the many community goodwill gestures the team has made since Stu Sternberg took over as principal owner in 2005. Heck, Sternberg didn’t charge Rays fans for parking for the entire 2006 season and continues to offer some degree of free parking to carpools of four or more fans.

Unfortunately for runners, Foster and Sternberg have been involved in a stalemate over the Rays future for more than two years. Sternberg wants to consider new ballpark sites outside of St. Pete (i.e. Tampa). Foster keeps pointing to a Tropicana Field lease that runs through 2027.

So here we are, with runners contemplating parking options, shuttles, and the logistics of a race that starts at one venue (The Trop) and ends at another (North Shore Park).

Who to blame? There’s plenty to go around.

COMPETITOR GROUP: The San Diego-based promoters could (should?) pay the Rays and pick up the parking. They received much more consideration from the city than other race promoters. Not only that, it was only a few years ago that local promoters had to convince St. Pete to let anyone host a half-marathon. All Competitor had to do was waive an economic impact study to get Foster excited. Last weekend, the organizers of the Chilly Willy Duathlon picked up the new $5-per-car entry fee for athletes competing at Fort DeSoto Park in St. Pete. A smaller event, to be sure, but still a big hit by a local promoter who doesn’t get any of Competitor’s considerations from the city or county.

There’s nothing that irks people more than paying for parking. They never remember the steep prices they paid for sports and entertainment tickets, along with the $10 per beer. But they won’t forget the $15, $20, or $30 they had to pay to park. Speaking of sports tickets…

THE TAMPA BAY RAYS: Only in the warped alternative reality of professional sports does a city have to ask permission from a tenant to stage an event in a building the city owns (but the team operates). But that’s how sports works and, in fairness to the Rays, they’d like nothing more than to make The Trop available to the city of St. Pete for health expos, packet pickups and other events 365 days a year.

The Rays seem to be on the right side of this argument, but we wonder if it’s worth the PR hit. Yes, this parking revenue is covering their costs, but all runners will know is that they had to hand over $15 (perhaps twice) to the same lot attendants who work Rays games.

The Rays, as you may have heard, have some attendance issues. And while it’s true that the people who get up before dawn on Sunday mornings to run half marathons generally aren’t the same people who sit around for three-plus hours drinking beer and watching B.J. Upton, there’s going to come a time when a Rays stadium issue is going to be placed on a ballot somewhere in the Tampa Bay area. As the Buccaneers learned, those votes can be awfully close.

Sternberg and his staff have done most everything right since taking over in 2005, with the exception of grossly underestimating the opposition to development along the St. Pete waterfront and thinking Pat Burrell had a heart.

The Rays ate $16 million on the Burrell deal. Seems like $60,000 wouldn’t be a bad PR investment, though again the lion’s share of the blame goes to the one man we know won’t be running 13.1 miles on Sunday:

MAYOR BILL FOSTER: This guy quickly has established himself as the biggest ego we’ve seen in Tampa Bay politics, and that’s saying something. The logical thing would be for Foster to go to Competitor and say, “Look, we’ve bent over backwards for this event, given you far more cash and consideration than we should have. And now all of us are going to lose some serious goodwill over this parking issue. Now I may not know much about endurance sports. To me a half Marathon is what I had left after eating part of a chewy candy bar, but I hear you guys have added a lot of these events over the last year or two. Seems like you might have to cut back like you did with those Nutty Buddy races. What? Muddy Buddy? Okay, whatever, point being we want to have you back and I think you want to be back. So why don’t you go to the Rays and meet them halfway for, say $30,000?”

Failing that, let’s line up Mayor Foster and Stu Sternberg for a 5K.

If either finishes in under 30 minutes, parking is $30.

If not, parking is free.

 

 

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St. Pete Mayor’s Rocky Marathon Deal

By Pete Williams

Another half marathon for St. Pete

For years Philip Porter has shaken his head as public officials around the country have cited dubious economic impact studies to justify massive public spending for sports events.

So when St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster touted an economic impact of as high as $12 million for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon that the City Council approved Thursday night, the University of South Florida economist got out his calculator once again.

“Let’s say you have 25,000 runners,” Porter said Friday morning. “That’s $480 per person, which might be possible if everyone came from out of town. But the vast majority of these people will be local. They’ll enter the event and go home. At most they’ll buy a meal somewhere.”

Local race organizers were out in force Thursday night to protest Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon organizer Competitor Group getting $30,000 in city support, including police and road closures – expenses race directors typically foot on their own – for the Feb. 12, 2012 event.

Given the money being made during this running boom, in the middle of a recession, the question is why any running organization is given a dime in public funding.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, featuring rock bands along the course, is the most popular national marathon and half-marathon series. Half marathon fees average $90. With a typical field of 25,000, that’s $2.25 million in gross revenue, not counting sponsorship dollars.

“For an investment of $30,000, we could have a $12 million return,” Foster, citing the economic impact study, was quoted by The St. Petersburg Times. “I don’t know why we’re still talking about it.”

Here’s why we’re still talking about it:

When a race is put on by a local promoter – such as Chris Lauber of the Halfathon series or Dawna Stone and Matt Dieter of Women’s Running, both of which were on hand last night – the money is supporting local businesses. Competitor Group, owned by New York private equity firm Falconhead Capital, is based in San Diego.

The approval for the Rock ‘n’ Roll event came on the same day Pinellas County announced plans to lay off 1,100 teachers as part of an ongoing budget crisis. Different budgets, to be sure, but still hard to justify.

But the $30,000 is not the most ridiculous or ironic expense approved for the race last night. Actually, it might not rank in the top two.

The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission, according to The Times, will spend $100,000 to promote the race by taking out ads in national running magazines.

Want to guess what Competitor Group’s core business is?

Yep, they produce national running magazines.

Oh, sure. One of those magazines is Triathlete. The other, Competitor magazine (for which I spent 2010 as a regional editor), does technically cover other endurance sports, though it focuses on running. (At the end of last year, editors were told to write only about running.)

Hopefully the Sports Commission won’t be spending money on Competitor Group magazines. But given Competitor’s strength in that area, why should the Commission be spending any money on magazine advertising at all?

Maybe the Sports Commission could buy some ads in Women’s Running, the magazine published by Dawna Stone!

Somewhere Wendy Johnson, who died last year, is shaking her head. For years, Johnson lobbied the City of St. Petersburg to let her Motion Sports Management company stage a half marathon in St. Pete. City officials resisted, not thinking there was a market.

By the time the city came around, other local organizers were in the bidding. Stone eventually got the contract and now has a three-race national women’s running series, anchored by the November half marathon in St. Pete.

Now St. Pete is all about staging half marathons, even though the Rock ‘n’ Roll event will come just three weeks after Lauber’s Clearwater Halfathon and three weeks before the wildly popular Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa.

The Rock ‘N’ Roll event also will compete with the popular Chilly Willy Duathlon, which has been around for nearly a decade and is held in St. Petersburg on the same Sunday in February at Fort DeSoto Park. The Chilly Willy does not receive a dollar from St. Pete or the county. It’s a safe bet the portly Mayor Foster has never heard of the Chilly Willy Duathlon.

You’d think Foster would have learned from the City of Clearwater, which got little beyond traffic complaints for all the money it paid to host the Ironman 70.3 for the last five years. By the time that deal ended last year, the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. didn’t even put “Clearwater” on one piece of official race merchandise.

Remarkably, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard couldn’t wait to sign up to host the year-end event for the new Ironman 5150 series.

Let’s hope Competitor at least gets the marketing right and doesn’t refer to St. Pete as “Tampa” the way ESPN does whenever Tropicana Field hosts an event.

Speaking of The Trop, perhaps the most incredible aspect of the Rock ‘n’ Roll deal is that Foster and the city asked the Tampa Bay Rays to allow the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon to hold a health and fitness expo at Tropicana Field for free. That, according to The Times, was valued at $60,000.

Imagine the response when that came across the desk of Rays’ president Matt Silverman, himself a marathon runner.

Silverman and his colleagues have spent the better part of the last 18 months trying to get Foster to let them speak with Hillsborough County about a possible stadium. Foster won’t even entertain the notion.

Granted, only in the warped world of stadium leases does a city have to ask permission from a team to hold an event in a building the city owns. The Rays have no choice but to go along, though it would make for wonderful theater if they refused.

Porter, the USF economist, won’t be the last person to raise an eyebrow over Foster’s generosity with Competitor Group.

“This is the same mayor who tells the Rays to take a hike on the stadium issue,” Porter says. “Now you’ve got an event where mostly local participants are paying entry fees that are being exported. If this is anything like Gasparilla, there’s no economic impact at all. People will wake up at home, go do the race and drive back home.”

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