Monday, February 13, 2012

St. Pete Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon: How Much Did it Really Bring In?

They aren't stadium subsidies, but the taxpayer handouts given to a for-profit sporting event in St. Petersburg are coming under scrutiny today.

Last May, St. Petersburg offered up $30,000 of in-kind services to bring the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon to town. Pinellas County coughed up another $100,000 for race marketing. In return, the race promoters promised 12,000-15,000 runners, 10,000 hotel room-nights, and "up to" a $12 million economic impact.

However, Sunday's inagural race - despite strong reviews from runners - drew considerably fewer participants than predicted, and with it, a considerably smaller economic impact. This comes after criticism last week about hidden costs of the race.

With only 1,600 participants coming to St. Pete from out-of-state (as provided by the race organizers), there's no way the event brought in 10,000 hotel room-nights and a $12 million economic impact. In fact, it's just the result predicted by a USF professor back when the event was announced.

Events that draw out-of-state residents are among the best bang-for-the-subsidy-buck and St. Pete may have gotten its $30,000 worth in hotel stays, shops visited, and meals purchased. But Pinellas County taxpayers have to be asking if the county could have spent $100,000 better than a handout to a private company. Other race organizers in Tampa Bay certainly think so.

In fact, other race organizers have been critical of the subsidies because:
1) they don't get them;
2) neither the marketing dollars nor profits stay in Tampa Bay; and
3) Rock 'n' Roll's primary charity support doesn't come in the form of checks, but "allowing" charities to raise money via the race.

A spokesman for the Rock 'n' Roll races said last May that "over 50 percent of the field, probably closer to 60 percent of the field next year will be coming from all 50 states." He also said they expected 25,000 runners by the second or third year of the race. St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster today said he was happy with the turnout and thinks the group could still hit the mark next year.

For more criticism of the handout and why supporters say it will be worth it in the long run, read 10 News' report by Adam Freeman.

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