Promoter Unable To Resolve Problems With Date, Financing
April 27, 2007
By MARK PETERS, Courant Staff Writer
Professional powerboat racing won't be returning to Hartford, even though its debut last year drew promising crowds.
Race organizers wanted the ChampBoat Series event back on the Connecticut River for a second year, but said the promoter, Grand Prix Hartford, struggled with settling on a date and finding a way to guarantee financial success.
They're now looking for the race to return to Connecticut in 2008 as the series tries to build a Northeast audience.
"Hartford is really ideal for what we are doing. ... It's growing pains, I guess," said Mike Schriefer, CEO of the North Carolina-based racing series.
Organizers said the boat race held last September was a success. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people came to watch the sleek boats whiz around a course near the Charter Oak Bridge. The ChampBoat series received exposure outside its traditional markets, and Hartford got some publicity through cable TV broadcasts of the race.
But paying for the event was another story. Problems in financing the event helped push Hartford off the 2007 schedule and left at least one supplier unpaid by Grand Prix Hartford, organizers said.
Grand Prix Hartford planned to use promotion and sponsorship money to pay for the event. After last year's race, the company approached officials in Hartford and East Hartford and said it needed to charge admission to riverfront parks to make the event profitable, said Joe Marfuggi, CEO of Riverfront Recapture, which promotes access to the Connecticut River and was involved with the event last year.
But Riverfront Recapture and municipal officials balked at the idea of charging $25 a person for admission to public parks.
"We have built these parks with public money, and they're public spaces," Marfuggi said.
Because of that, Grand Prix Hartford decided not to sponsor the local event, ending the city's chances of having the race this year because the promotion company says it has exclusive rights, Marfuggi said.
But Grand Prix Hartford hasn't given up on holding ChampBoats races in Connecticut, in Hartford or elsewhere. The company has pitched the idea of running the race on the Long Island Sound off Stamford, and city officials there expressed some interest, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said.
Anthony Romano, president of Grand Prix Hartford, said the company won't need to charge admission to everyone to hold the races again. Instead, he would like to have a free area and set up paid VIP areas and corporate sponsorship tents.
Schriefer, the series CEO, likes the idea of holding the races in Hartford. The ChampBoat Racing Series has been trying to expand into New England and the New York metropolitan area after having annual races for years in places such as San Diego and St. Louis.
One way to get the races back may be partnering with the city or Riverfront Recapture instead of going through a promotion company, Schriefer said.
"I am very confident we will be back there in the future," he said.
Romano says the race was not profitable in its first year, but that with more sponsorship and special sections in the park, that could change.
GrandPrix still has bills to settle from last September. Barker Specialty Co. in Cheshire says it's owed more than $13,000 by the promotion company for T-shirts and temporary tattoos it rushed to deliver in time for the race.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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