Regatta sponsors signed
In The Balance
festival will go on
with or without Unlimiteds, officials say
of Belterras sponsorship has officials scrambling
(March 2002) MADISON, Ind. - With a deadline fast approaching,
Madison Regatta Inc. members are scrambling to find a new sponsor
or multiple sponsors for this summers Unlimited hydroplane
race weekend after past sponsor Belterra Casino Resort pulled out.
Belterra Casino Vice President and General Manager Alain
Uboldi notified Regatta board president Tony Steinhardt in a Feb. 5
letter that the Florence, Ind., casino would not be able to sponsor
the event this year because of its own financial demands. Instead, the
casino executive has elected to contribute a smaller amount to the Regatta
and to two new Madison festivals, the Bluegrass on the River on June
7-8 and the Madison Ribberfest on Aug. 16-18. The latter festival will
involve a balloon race, barbecue cooking contests and blues bands performing
on the Madison riverfront.
This was not an easy decision to make but it was a necessary one
from a financial standpoint, said Uboldi, 55, a native of Monte
Carlo who has spent much of his career in the hotel and casino industry,
and the last 18 years in Las Vegas.
Belterras only other significant sponsorship commitment is to
fulfill the third in a three-year deal with the Kentucky Speedways
Indy Racing League event Aug. 11. Regatta officials, meanwhile, have
been mailing sponsorship kits and calling companies in the region to
try and replace the lost $50,000-plus package that Belterra provided.
Belterra was a great sponsor; they said this was purely a business
decision, and they will still be involved in this years Regatta
as a supporting sponsor, Steinhardt told the Madison Regatta Inc.
membership Feb. 5 while announcing the bad news. He spent much of that
evening in closed door sessions with the Regatta board of directors
in planning their strategy for salvaging the Unlimiteds for the July
The Regatta board still plans to stage limited boat racing 2.5
stocks, 5-litre and 7-litre classes plus vintage hydroplanes
at the summer event. The latter will include 16 vintage hulls and four
Jersey Speed Skiffs, which will offer rides for $20. The Regatta board
had earlier hoped to expand the race schedule into three days this year,
with 10 Unlimiteds reportedly ready to race.
Should the Unlimiteds schedule be scrapped, it would mark the first
time in the 51-year history of the modern event that the Regatta would
be held without the big boats on the water, according to unlimited hydroplane
historian Fred Farley. That string dates to 1950.
As each week passes, the pressure builds for Steinhardt and his board
members. Officials at Belterra and Hydro-Prop, the Florida-based Unlimiteds
circuit new owner, are trying to aid in the sponsorship search. They
have until early March to find one because of a requirement to notify
the U.S. Coast Guard 110 days prior to the event.
Regatta board member and past president Herb Parker said a decision
on bringing in the Unlimiteds will likely be made at the March 6 board
of directors meeting. As of late February, Parker said he was still
optimistic that a title sponsor could be found to support the committees
$350,000 annual budget.
A lot is still up in the air; its not a definite no. We
have to keep beating the bushes to find some money somewhere,
Belterra had sponsored the event the previous two years with only a
year-to-year commitment. But two administrative changes at Belterra
since July left the Regatta committee having to re-introduce the sponsorship
benefits to new personnel.
That requires time to build a relationship, and we havent
had that kind of time with the new folks up there, Parker said.
Uboldi took over at Belterra in December.
Steinhardts crew must also locate sponsors for other Regatta festival
events, such as the Saturday night fireworks show, the Friday night
parade, the bed race and the 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
Uboldi and Steinhardt met in mid-February to discuss other partnering
opportunities, including a golf tournament that may be held about a
month prior to race weekend. We may do some things with the Regatta
that would involve our hotel and their boat drivers, Uboldi said.
Pinnacle Entertainment reported that Belterra had a loss in the fourth
quarter and an annual loss of $5.1 million in 2001 despite a before-tax
income totaling $107.6 million.
Regatta officials, meanwhile, have been promoting the recently released
results of a Purdue University study conducted last year that showed
a $1.5 million economic impact on the community generated by the annual
event. The study also showed an equivalent of 42.4 jobs and $436,916
in wages and salaries produced by the Regatta. Of those polled during
last years race, 26.4 percent were attending the Regatta for the
first time, and 94 percent of them were non-residents.
Given the odds of finding a sponsor this late and in this poor economic
climate, and armed with the results of the Purdue study on the Regattas
economic impact, Steinhardt and other Regatta officials are considering
approaching the Jefferson County Commission for some of the casino admission
tax money to at least get them through this year. Jefferson and Crawford
counties were projected to receive $1 million annually in casino tax
sharing revenue, while Ripley County was to receive $500,000 from Belterra
and additional money from Grand Victoria Casino.
Its not something that we want to do, but we are considering
it, Parker said. And why not? The economic study speaks
Commissioner Steve Lyons, however, said it is unlikely the commission
or the seven-member county council, which grants fiscal approval to
such requests, would support the idea of bailing out the Regatta. It
would set a bad precedent, plus I dont think the people of this
county would stand for it. That money has always been earmarked for
improving the countys infrastructure and roads, and I dont
see anything thats going to change it.
As of late February, Jefferson County had received $689,830 in Belterra
casino tax money since the facility opened in October 2000 as part of
the revenue sharing agreement, according to county auditor Fred Koehler.
The Jefferson County Commission in 1995 decided to set aside 10 percent
of all casino money received for economic development through the Madison-Jefferson
County Industrial Development Corp (MIDCOR) and another 10 percent for
historic preservation. The latter is to be allocated by a seven-member
historic preservation board created by the commission. In December,
the commission spent $5,000 on upgrades to the Jefferson County 4-H
Fairgrounds and $50,000 on a new roof for the Jefferson County Highway
Garage. That leaves a balance of $496,864, much of which will be used
to pave roads, Lyons said.
Even without such help, many believe the Regatta will survive.
The Regatta committee has been in this position before and was
able to pull through, so Im confident they can do it again,
said Madison Mayor Al Huntington. But weve got to be realistic
because its getting tougher to do, especially with the impact
were seeing from the Kentucky Speedway and other events going
on in the area. Its not just here, the entire sport is being tested.
Its very expensive to hold these events, and time is getting short.
Considering the current economic climate, the challenge of finding an
11th hour title sponsor looms large, especially considering the difficulty
other cities are having in landing sponsors for their events.
Steinhardt acknowledges the challenge but remains undeterred. He has
been marshalling community volunteers and recruiting new Regatta committee
members to pull off a successful event, with or without the big boats.
The Madison Regatta just wouldnt be the same without the
Unlimiteds, but were going to do everything we can to bring them
back, said Regatta board member Mike Adams. The little boats
are fun, but the Unlimiteds are what everyone comes to see.
Losing the Unlimiteds in Madison would also stymie Hydro-Props
quest to expand its schedule from six to eight stops, according to Hydro-Prop
CEO Bart Garbrecht.
We dont want to lose a race, especially in Madison with
the history it has in the sport, said Garbrecht by telephone from
Hydro-Props office in Winter Haven, Fla. Anyone who was
there last year saw history (with Miss Madison winning). Weve
been working with Tony to explore potential sponsors all over the region.
Weve got a good ESPN2 package to offer that has 76 million viewers
nationally, not to mention the exposure regionally.
Hydro-Prop plans to race the Unlimiteds at the same six sites as last
year and could possibly add St. Petersburg, Fla., to the list on Oct.
18 in conjunction with its off-shore boat races, Garbrecht said. Other
cities that are working on potential races in 2003 include Owensboro,
Ky., Sanford, Fla., and Toronto.
Hydro-Props entry into the sport last year was hailed as a sign
of strength, based on the track record of its owner, Gary Garbrecht,
who proved himself with the popular Formula One circuit. But in Madison,
hydroplane fans are just hoping to preserve their day at the races
before time runs out.
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