Volvo Ocean Race heads for sixth stop in Miami
By Paola Iuspa
With racing yachts from around the world set to arrive next week at their temporary home port of Miami, local organizers predict thousands of visitors will flood downtown and boost business aching from a recent drop in tourism.
Miami will be the sixth port for the nine-stop Volvo Ocean Race, formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race, which came into port in Fort Lauderdale. On March 27, the seven participating teams are to sail their ocean racers, which can be 64 feet long and reach speeds in excess of 30 knots, to Miami from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The race, which takes place every four years, began Sept. 23 in Southampton, England, and is to end June 9 in Keil, Germany. After Miami, syndicates head April 14 to Baltimore/Annapolis, MD. At the end of the race, participants would have traveled 32,250 nautical miles.
During their stay in Miami, team members are to recharge their energy and fix sailing vessels at a temporary race village under construction between the American Airlines Arena and Biscayne Bay, said James McDonald, chairman of Ocean Race Miami, the nonprofit host committee created in 1999 to raise funds and stage the event.
The Miami host committee's $2 million budget is bringing tents, food vendors, performance stages, seating and boat repair trailers to the 4.5-acre site behind the arena. Floating boat slips are being built to cover the waterfront, said Mr. McDonald, an attorney with Duane, Morris & Heckscher.
Access to the race and its village activities will be free, said Lily Abello, the group's executive director.
Despite the Ocean Race Miami's public relations, some in the local boating community think too little is being done to promote the event and attract sporting enthusiasts.
"It is a major event around the world," said Jack King, an avid navigator and member of Miami Waterfront Advisory Board. "But the US doesn't see it as the rest of the world does. For everybody else this is a major event."
Mr. King, who has been involved in South Florida's sailing community 40 years, said he fears not enough marketing has been done in the past three years.
"It is not going to be a bad event," he said. "But a very successful one could have made Miami shine worldwide."
The 23-member Ocean Race Miami host committee has endured a bit of controversy. One former member said he was kicked off for being critical of race-promotion efforts and another resigned in November in disagreement with the organizing of the race.
With $100,000 of the almost $2 million budget earmarked for marketing, Ms. Abello said publicity includes using billboards, television commercials, print ads and street banners and creating partnerships with private and public organizations.
"They are just now buying ads in the paper and putting up banners," said Mr. King, who reflected the opinion of others interviewed. "I will be surprised if the Volvo comes back. Early on the committee contacted local members of yacht clubs and other boating association to participate in the preparation of this event. Hundreds signed up as volunteers. It was not until several weeks ago that they started to contact us."
He proposed several marketing ideas that were rejected to promote the Volvo race elsewhere, Mr. King said. One of those suggestions, he said, was to pay to be name sponsor at boat races throughout the state just to try to sell tickets, get sponsors and make other boaters aware of what would be coming to Miami.
He said his concerns were also based on a fund-raising party that took place in March 2001. Producing the long-day event cost the group about $187,000, according to an April 18 financial report. Revenues were $1,700.
"It was not well advertised," Mr. King said. "Not many people showed up."
Mr. McDonald and Ms. Abello rebutted that, saying Ocean Race Miami was running a well thought-out marketing campaign. Ms. Abello said the race would pour tourists into Miami in one of its slowest seasons, during and after Passover and Easter. The city would gain worldwide exposure each time ESPN commentators named Miami during the race broadcast, she said.
So far, she said, about 13,000 room-nights have been booked for those two weeks in downtown hotels, including the JW Marriott, Hyatt Regency Miami, Biscayne Bay Marriott Hotel and Marina, Sheraton Biscayne Bay on Brickell, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Miami and the Fortune House hotel and apartments. Smaller hotels on Miami Beach are also being promoted, she said.
"We estimate the event will attract about 30,000 spectators and generate about $60 million in revenues," she said. That projection, she said, was drawn from comparable events.
Ralph Marrinson, president of the still-existing Whitbread host committee in Fort Lauderdale, said his group never counted how many spectators attended the month-long event at Port Everglades in 1994 and 1998. When Volvo took over the race in 1999, the Broward County-based host committee did not agree with the new sponsor's conditions and decided not to compete as a host venue for the event, he said.
Others said Volvo brought the race to Miami because Fort Lauderdale did not do a good job marketing the event, Mr. King said.
Ferey Kian, director of finance of Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, the city's agency for promoting and underwriting sports events, said Ocean Race Miami never approached his authority for help.
"We would have analyzed the nature of the event and decided if this event qualified for our assistance," he said.
Ms. Abello said committee members took it upon "ourselves to do the marketing, and we have done it because we want the city and the county to be seen as a cosmopolitan place."
As of Friday, the race was not being advertised on the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau's website.
While fund-raising efforts continue at full speed, Ocean Race Miami has already received $300,000 from the county and $50,000 from the City of Miami and expects $30,000 from the Downtown Development Authority, Mr. McDonald said.
In-kind services received includes free use of the waterfront property, owned by the county and managed by the Miami Heat Group, which owes the basketball team that plays at the county-owned arena.
Additional details on funds raised were not available and Ms. Abello did not provide copies of the group's last financial reports after a written request.