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Grand Prix Racing Comes to Charm City

2010 May 6
by Dennis Coates

It is a new day in Baltimore. To paraphrase the mayor, getting grand prix racing in Baltimore is a game changing event!

No longer will the city be in the top 5 in murders each year. Gone are the days of leading the nation in STDs. Say goodbye to the “no snitches” culture. All of that is a thing of the past because this is an “event that will bring a flood of money and visitors, while putting Baltimore on a worldwide stage.”

Over the five years that the city contract for the race will run, over $250 million will come to town “through ticket sales, hotel stays and restaurant business” producing in addition “$11 million in direct tax revenue.”

What will all this cost? “The city is dedicating $5 million in federal road maintenance funds to the racing project and is requesting a $2.75 million state loan for related improvements.” In other words, $7.75 million that could go to general improvements in city streets will go to make a small stretch of roads capable of handling grand prix race cars moving at 200 miles per hour 3 days a year. How anyone can drive through Baltimore and think that is a wise use of taxpayer money boggles the mind.

It is interesting also that the proponents have gotten community support for what will surely be an enormous inconvenience over those three days. I say this because a few years ago the Susan G. Komen Foundation held its annual Race for the Cure in essentially the same neighborhood. For about three or four hours one weekend morning, streets would be cordoned off so breast cancer survivors and their loved ones could run or walk through the streets to raise hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollar to support cancer research. THAT was such an inconvenience that the race had to be moved to the suburbs. But race cars roaring past row houses and restaurants, apartment buildings and art galleries, is ok.

My guess is that between regular citizens of Baltimore either hunkering down to avoid the race fans and the traffic problems associated with blocked off streets or skedaddling out of town to get away that neither those $250 million in ticket sales, restaurant meals and hotel stays nor those $11 million in direct tax revenues will materialize, that the great press about Baltimore and its charms will have little lasting impact on the perception of the city, but the waste of millions of tax payer dollars on this stupid idea will short change important and high value public works projects for years to come.

You can read the full story here.

6 Responses
  1. May 6, 2010

    Haha, I love how the article referred to the Indy Racing League as “world class” racing! I suppose they would also consider the MLS to be world class. Actually, that comparison is probably insulting to MLS.

    There have been so many city street races that have been huge money losers through the years, but new ones still pop up every now and then. Houston, San Jose, Denver, Phoenix, and San Antonio come to mind, but there are a lot more than that. I wonder if Baltimore even considered the failure of the D.C. ALMS street (actually I think it was the RFK parking lot) race back in 2002. At least the ALMS has interesting cars and puts on decent street course races. The IRL has…hmm…well…Danica? Heck, she might go to NASCAR full-time after this season. Maybe the IRL’s new CEO, up from the bullriding circuit (yes, seriously), will ride a mechanical bull on the frontstretch to entertain the fans. Yeehaw!

    One of the strategies implemented by the old Indycar sanctioning body, CART, was to “bring the race to the people” instead of expecting people to come to rural area permanent traditional racing circuits. Although it sounds good, I don’t think the idea works, but the IRL has adopted the policy. Indycars on street circuits produce very poor quality racing. Then again, IRL racing is pretty lousy on all types of circuits. The fans that come (who usually have free or heavily discounted tickets) go to the race for the party atmosphere and not the race itself. Although the series will get a nice sanctioning fee for a year or two, eventually the races fail and there are more empty spots on the calendar. Fortunately for the series (maybe), there are always more stupid mayors out there in the United States and abroad wanting a street race.

    The good news is that some areas do have at least some common sense. F1 has been desperate to get back to the United States even if they will never admit it publicly. They want to run in New York, but running in NYC proper would be a logistical nightmare that NYC wants no part of. There was a proposal to run a race at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, but the city shot down that proposal this week. Smart move. If they approved the race, any of the benefits (if there are any) would have gone to New York City (hotels, etc.) while New Jersey has to pay the costs for the race. NJ may not mind doing that for the Giants and Jets, but clearly they aren’t so keen for F1. Good for them because the F1 circus is very expensive and full of snakes.

  2. Jeremaih permalink
    May 7, 2010

    First of all, both the person who wrote this article and the person that posted here first are complete idiots. For the person who wrote this article, why don’t you call St. Petersburg or Long Beach and find out how rewarding those races have been for those cities! Especially Long Beach! That race brings a TON of money into the city. You are complaining about the money being spend to improve the roads. Have you not heard the phrase “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money?”. That is exactly what the city of Baltimore is doing.

    And for the poster before me. You really do not know anything about IndyCar racing do you? IndyCar is a very good product that has gained fans in its target demographic while Nascar and F1 are losing fans in theirs. IndyCar puts a great product on the track. Unfortunately, some people out there are still holding on the the idea that if there isnt 30 crashes per race then its not racing. Oh, and the IZOD title deal is for 6 years and worth over 100 million, and the first 5 races of the season have made the league and the track and the cities money.

    But ya, its a poor idea to bring a world class event to Baltimore, right?

    Some people will complain about anything.

  3. @ecogordo permalink
    May 7, 2010

    It is easy to take shots at money spent on sports. Sure there is a risk here, but the potential is there and hopefully it will bring bicycle racing to Baltimore in the future. Now that would be something to get excited about!

  4. Dennis permalink
    May 7, 2010

    Jeremiah,

    Investing in the city of Baltimore is a great idea. My recommendation is not that no tax dollars ever be spent on anything. Instead, my recommendation is that limited tax dollars be spent where they do the most good. Baltimore city schools are crumbling. Streets all over the city are in terrible shape. Water pipes all over the city burst on several occasions in the last few months because they have not been adequately maintained. Fire stations are being closed and police furloughed. Using public money on addressing any of those ideas will be far more beneficial for the average citizen of Baltimore than making a couple of miles of roads capable of handling race cars.

    On the benefit side, virtually every study that looks for impacts of hosting events such as the grand prix find that there is really very little. That new money they promise just doesn’t materialize. That is because those of us who do these things carefully consider what would have happened had the event not occurred as the standard against which the event must be compared. Not every dollar spent in a hotel or restaurant during the three days of the event is completely new expenditure. Every hotel and restaurant would have done business even if the event never occurred. In fact, studies of hotel occupancy rates surrounding events like the World Cup and Super Bowl show that there is very little difference between the event happening and it not happening. That is exactly why I am very skeptical of the projected impact of the Baltimore Grand Prix.

    So, if I am an idiot for basing my argument on actual evidence about the benefits and careful thought about the alternative uses of millions of dollars, then so be it. My feeling is that government could use more such idiots and a lot fewer people who take at face value the “analysis” bought and paid for by groups pushing for a specific policy that benefits them.

  5. May 7, 2010

    Yes, NASCAR ratings fell significantly last year, but so did IRL ratings. Granted, some of that is because their cable races are now on Versus instead of ESPN, but even the ABC aired Indianapolis 500 had a significantly lower rating last year than it has had in recent years even with Danica Patrick having one of her best races. The bottom line is that a run of the mill Sunday afternoon broadcast TV NASCAR race will still match or beat the Indy 500 in ratings. Comparisons between NASCAR and regular IRL events are not even close. NASCAR’s minor leagues are more popular than the IRL. Some of the IRL races on Versus races last year scored ratings in the 0.1-0.3 range. You can’t get much lower than that.

    I have not seen any evidence that F1 is facing decreased ratings, but if they are, they only have themselves to blame. Bernie and company have been too busy chasing big checks at lousy tracks in the Middle East and Asia while ignoring the core fans desire to see races at traditional tracks. Still, it is the 2nd biggest sport in the world. The IRL is like independent minor league baseball compared to F1.

    The reason for the IRL’s failure is simple: they have alienated the core fans they had 20 years ago. Forget about the split, it’s not about that. Indycar racing no longer has any relevance with gearheads. The IRL is running seven year old cars without any significant change! 7! And they are all the same models! And some of the proposed new cars are being designed by art school students! 20 years ago, new cars came out every year and there were different kinds of cars. Gearheads loved to see how the different and new models would compete against each other. It was a niche crowd, but a large one. More importantly, motor oil companies, spark plug companies, and so on invested money in Indycar racing because that’s what the gearheads watched on weekends. These companies essentially paid for the new cars each year.

    Instead, the IRL has focused on personalities and evening the competition in a failed attempt to make close races. As far as personalities go, gearheads could careless about Brazilian dancing wizards. It might work for NASCAR, but the Reality TV crowd would rather watch re-runs of “Deal or No Deal” than the pay-to-drive “personalities” of Indycar racing. It’s no surprise then that the motor oil companies and so forth are long gone from Indycar racing. As far as the competition goes, the IRL did have some good races in the early to mid 00′s back when they allowed some different cars, but the cars are so equal on the road courses that passing is rare. Street races are referred to as “street parades.” The races are often decided on pit road. People don’t watch racing to see the pit crews. (On the other hand, the ALMS, which has widely differing cars that are just as big and powerful, puts on pretty good racing on the street circuits because different parts of the circuit play to the strengths of each model of the cars. No wonder why they get some auto industry sponsors and not the IRL.) The oval races are all about which team can set the car up the best in the windtunnel. The racing then isn’t going to be very competitive when some (most) of the teams can’t go to the windtunnel very often.

    The notion of Indycar racing raising Baltimore’s international prestige is preposterous. Do they even have an international television deal anymore? I don’t think they did last year, but maybe they signed a new one. Heck, their domestic TV deal is pretty pathetic.

    Long Beach is a successful race, but for every Long Beach, there are 10 failure stories. Long Beach has great promotion and sponsorship. The Toyota Pro-Celebrity race attracts non-sporting media attention. The party atmosphere at the race is legendary. I doubt Baltimore can or will even try to match what Long Beach does. It’s easy to get celebs to Long Beach, but Baltimore is a little bit further from Hollywood.

    You say St. Pete is a success story, but I question that statement. St. Pete’s mayor, a big Indycar fan who used to live in Indiana, is the major supporter of the race. He has been in office ever since the IRL started running the race. If he leaves, I’m not sure if the race will stay for long unless the city is in such good condition that the public is willing to foot the bill for the mayor to get some TV time. On top of that, the race is partially run on an airport. It is not a traditional street course race like what will occur in Baltimore. People expect noise and air pollution from an airport. Businesses (aside from the airport) don’t have to close because all the roads leading to their offices are blocked off in their case. Baltimore is a different story. People will complain about the noise. People will complain about the roads being blocked. Businesses will lose money from having to shut down for the weekend. It happens at every street race. It’s what made the D.C. race a massive failure a few years ago.

    As for the IZOD sponsorship, how did the Pep Boys and Northern Light title sponsorships work out for the IRL?

  6. Zenon Zygmont permalink
    May 9, 2010

    Too bad The Wire is no longer in production. The Baltimore Grand Prix would have made a nice side story. Maybe the race route could have included Hamsterdam!

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