Race organizers, city officials hope the high cost of being an AMGEN host pays off
On a rainy afternoon last February, nearly 15,000 people gathered in Downtown Santa Cruz to watch as bicycle superstar Lance Armstrong streaked into town, one blur of a jersey among many, as part of the Amgen Tour of California, the grueling nine-day, 750-mile bike race along the length of the state.
The city spent close to $80,000 to host the Stage 2 finish line, hoping that it would act as an immediate boon for local business and tourism. They were disappointed. City reports concluded that the overall revenue from sales tax was minimal and that hotel occupancy numbers didn’t experience a significant rise, although some downtown businesses—mainly coffee shops and restaurants—did see substantially increased profits the day of the race.
This year, Santa Cruz once again hosts Tour of California on Tuesday, May 18. The Stage 3 finish line will be located on Beach Street, directly in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. As race day approaches, local coordinators and city officials are confident that hosting again this year will prove beneficial to Santa Cruz in the long run, though they warn not to expect any short-term miracles.
“Last year we really were not able to track anything significant directly in terms of overnight business,” says Maggie Ivy, CEO and executive vice president of the Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Center. “But the race was held in February, in a particularly bad month economically.”
But Ivy, and City Councilmember Cynthia Mathews, says that the point of hosting a leg of the race in Santa Cruz is to boost visibility for the city and encourage outdoors-based tourism. “The main objective we have in mind this year is positioning Santa Cruz, through visibility in this major race, as a destination for active recreation,” Mathews says. “We do anticipate there will be some immediate positive economic spin-off, but in the longer term we see it as giving us incredible visibility.”
But visibility comes with a hefty price tag. The budget for hosting the race this year has risen $120,000 from 2009, to a total of close to $200,000—the higher costs reflects 200 additional hotel rooms purchased by the city for racers, overtime staff costs for the city, and the price of providing additional police officers from Santa Cruz and surrounding cities on race day, among other items. At least $60,000 of that money will come from City Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funds, says Tina Shull, city council affairs manager, with another $30,000 in reserve if needed. “We’ll use the $30,000 if necessary, but I don’t think we’re going to have to go there,” she says.
In fact, the vast majority of the budget has been raised in other ways, says Jennifer Karno, the head coordinator for the race’s Santa Cruz leg. “We have had three main streams of funding, and all of them have been successful,” she says. “Sponsorship, events, and merchandise. Our goal is that with all these income streams, we can slash the amount that the Redevelopment Agency has contributed. The days leading up to the tour will be our big selling push.”
Karno, too, believes that the real benefits of the race are difficult to measure in purely monetary terms. “Bicycle racing is one of the most heavily spectated sports in the world,” she says. “It’s hard to have a measure on the incredible international and national exposure that Santa Cruz gets from this tour. It’s difficult to say, for example, how many people will plan on coming to Santa Cruz on vacation because they saw us on the news—you can’t pay for that kind of marketing.”
Ivy agrees, but says it will take three to five years before the results are seen. “In terms of long-term positioning and name recognition, it’s a phenomenal opportunity,” she says. “The imagery of last year’s race, where cyclists rode across the Golden Gate Bridge and landed less than two hours later in this coastal community—that’s incredible exposure for us from a marketing perspective.”
Despite the scope of the opportunity, officials say it is too soon to know whether the city will be able to host again next year. “It’s very expensive to put this on,” says Karno. “It’s an enormous amount of work from really just a couple of key members in the city making this happen. It’s a lot for the city to bear.”
Amgen Tour of California, Santa Cruz Events
Spring Bike Week: May 9-15
Amgen Fun and Fitness Festival Saturday, May 15, 2010 – 9:00am
“Race Across the Sky” Amgen Tour of California Movie Night
Sunday, May 16, 2010 – 7:00pm
Stage Finish – Lifestyle Festival Tuesday, May 18, 2010 – 11:00am
Stage Finish – Boardwalk’s Beach Bandstand Entertainment
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 – 11:15am
Enjoy special FREE entertainment on the Boardwalk’s Beach Bandstand throughout the day:
11:15am- Watsonville Taiko Drummers with Scotts Valley Tae Kwon Do Academy
12:15pm- Mountain Bike Stunt Show with Mike Steidley & Casey Holm presented by Kenda & Haro Bikes
1:00pm- Watsonville Taiko Drummers with Scotts Valley Tae Kwon Do Academy
2:00pm- Mountain Bike Stunt Show with Mike Steidley & Casey Holm presented by Kenda & Haro Bikes
Stage Finish – Breakaway Mile Tuesday, May 18, 2010 – 2:30pm
Stage Finish – Bicycle Trip After-Party
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 – 4:00pm
See Listing of area events >