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Some Tampa Bay sporting events will miss out on tax dollars

Big-time sports events can fill hotels and showcase Pinellas County to a national television audience of potential tourists.

Officials who oversee tax dollars that are used to promote tourism have traditionally written six-figure checks to organizers who put on the games, races and tournaments. But in these budget times, even bowl games can't count on getting that cash.

The national decline in business and leisure travel has cut into local hotel "bed tax" collections. On Wednesday, members of the county's Tourist Development Council had to split a smaller pie among more applicants — so they cut some out entirely.

Instead of dividing their $600,000 among six applicants, members voted to renew just three current sponsorships: the Tampa Bay Rays ($250,000), the Grand Prix in St. Petersburg ($250,000) and the Ironman triathlon in Clearwater ($100,000).

Left out were two previous recipients, Tampa's Outback Bowl and the year-old St. Pete Bowl. The Transitions PGA Championship at the Innisbrook Resort, applying for the first time, also was passed over.

"Every one of them has become part of the tourism landscape," said Pinellas County Commission Chairman Calvin Harris. "But with just $600,000, it creates a little angst."

Tourism council members based their picks on which events attracted the most out-of-town visitors staying in local lodging. They also like that Ironman and Grand Prix are unique events that help dispel the county's stereotype of seniors playing shuffleboard.

Just under $1 million was in the county's tourism budget for sports sponsorships in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But bed tax collections were down 8.6 percent for the six months ending in May, with no signs of a quick turnaround.

This year's tourism department budget of $31 million is expected to drop to $25 million for next year. Tax proceeds are split three ways to pay for tourism promotion, beach renourishment and to construction debts on Tropicana Field and spring training stadiums in Clearwater and Dunedin.

Council members had set aside $600,000 for sports sponsorships next year and invited the Rays and event organizers to apply for up to $250,000 each.

College bowl games didn't get good reviews Wednesday. Members thought the St. Pete Bowl didn't do a good job of promoting its first game in December. The Outback Bowl was seen as a Hillsborough County event.

By contrast, members said, the Grand Prix and Ironman put "heads in beds." They also received national television visuals of downtown St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach.

The Rays offered a package that including the Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater logo on the rotating sign behind home plate, 50 television ads and radio spots in all 162 game broadcasts. And it was $10,000 cheaper than the same deal this year.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Pitches for sponsorship

Five area sports events and the Tampa Bay Rays made pitches for sponsorship money from the panel that allocates proceeds from the Pinellas hotel tax. Here's a rundown of the competitors:

IronMan

What: An international field of about 1,200 qualifiers last year biked, ran and swam in the 70.3-mile triathalon held in Clearwater and Pinellas County.

Benefit: $1.1 million in hotel room revenue; NBC television coverage.

This year's sponsorship: $100,000.

Next year's sponsorship: $100,000.

Grand Prix

What: The three-day race through the streets of St. Petersburg attracted more than 100,000 spectators this year.

Benefit: Resulted in "near-full occupancy" in county hotels during event; ABC, NBC and ESPN coverage.

This year's sponsorship: $300,000.

Next year's sponsorship: $250,000.

Outback Bowl

What: The New Year's Day matchup between Southeast conference and Big Ten teams at Raymond James Stadium drew 55,000 fans last year, most from outside the Tampa Bay area.

Benefits: Attracts an average of 40,000 visitors to the area, more than any annual event; ESPN coverage.

This year's sponsorship: $110,000.

Next year's sponsorship: $0.

St. Pete Bowl

What: The inaugural game last year drew an announced crowd of 25,205 to Tropicana Field.

Benefits: ESPN prime-time coverage.

This year's sponsorship: $175,000.

Next year's sponsorship: $0.

Tampa Bay Rays

What: The team attracted 1.8 million fans to Tropicana Field in the 2008 regular season, including a significant number from outside the area.

Benefits: Regular season games brought an estimated 250,000 overnight visitors to Pinellas last year.

This year's sponsorship: $260,550.

Next year's sponsorship: $250,000.

PGA Transitions Championship

What: A golf tournament at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor. In March, officials estimated through parking and ticket sales that it was the best-attended tournament in its nine years as a PGA event.

Benefits: Coverage on the Golf Channel.

This year's sponsorship: $0.

Next year's sponsorship: $0.

Some Tampa Bay sporting events will miss out on tax dollars 07/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 10:58pm]
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