Friday, November 4, 2011

The Baltimore Grand Prix: Wrecks and Confrontation OFF the Track

Fingers snapping.....the sound of fingers snapping. We can hear the sound of fingers snapping in rhythm and the strains of the clarinet combining for the familiar introduction to the story.

It's the Jets as they dance their way across the streets and playground of NYC, in the musical West Side Story. You know, the story of youngsters who are on opposite sides, with their respective gangs falling in behind, to support the leader. In the meantime, young Maria is placed squarely in the middle.

Fingers snapping, fingers snapping.

While there may not be a romantic interest, the underlying theme of West Side Story is now playing out in Baltimore, with the Baltimore Grand Prix in the middle.

As I wrote shortly after the conclusion of the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix event that ran through the streets of downtown, the economic impact study street-fight has begun. You can review how I expected this would play out.

Baltimore's Grand Fish Story

Today, the Baltimore City officials produced their own study of the spending and impact for the event. Their bottom line? $28M in spending and $47M in total impact. You can read the Baltimore Sun article that features the study Here.

Baltimore City officials are snapping their fingers, protecting their "territory". In this story, they are the Jets.

From the other side, comes the rival group with their impact study. This one produced by Professors from UMBC and UMCP respectively, which pegged the impact at approximately $28M dollars.

The Professors are snapping their fingers, protecting their "territory". They can be the Sharks.

It looks like a 'rumble' is about to breakout in Baltimore. If they were to ever come together imagine the pushing and shoving. Instead of switch blades, we might have 4 inch binders being swung in the direction of their adversaries!

In the meantime the actual event, the subject of all this study, has long since passed and now there is more thought given to plowing the streets, than racing through them. Clearly, the officials associated directly with the event shoulder more than an equal share of the blame that is now playing out in the public and media.  Poor financial management, vendors left to file ugly lawsuits, public spats about ownership. All of this falls squarely on Baltimore Racing Development (BRD). It's ironic, there have been more wrecks in the weeks after the event, then during the 3 days those high performance machines raced on the grid.

To their credit, BRD officials do acknowledge the carnage they have left and made public comments toward "making it right". It may not be enough, however. IndyCar and Baltimore City officials are demanding change if there is any chance for the race to return to Baltimore. Both IndyCar and Baltimore City can start by requiring a team of racing and sports professionals be put in place, with well supported and resourced ownership to draw upon. This is not such a big challenge, it happens all over the sports world, there are many, many professionals from which to choose. And by the way, they do not have to be from Baltimore. Too often the excuse for the failure of sporting events and activities in Baltimore has been "well, they are not from here, they don't know this city". Well, news-flash to Baltimore officials, there is a whole new world out there, relative to sports and event marketing an it's time to reach out and plug the city and surrounding area into that scene.

The story of the Baltimore Grand Prix does not have to be like that in West Side Story. Put your studies away before you hurt someone. Tell those respective followers that you have made your point, whether it's $28M or $47M dollars in impact. It's the big picture, do you want this in Baltimore or not?

I learned a key lesson about values and sports properties from a representative of a company that spends a tremendous amount of money on sports sponsorship in Baltimore and the surrounding area. As we got into the back and forth, the haggle, over what the new deal should be, he looked at me squarely and said, "you don't understand what's going on here. This is not the difference between the number you have and the one that I have. Actually, it's the difference between my number and zero, because if we can't agree, you are not getting anything".

It's time to decide, will it be, $28M, $47M or zero for the Baltimore Grand Prix?

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