As the economy is tanking, how does one generate millions of dollars in revenue? Apparently, put on a free bike race.
According to a study by IFM, a global sports marketing firm, the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, held throughout Colorado August 22-28 and won by Levi Leipheimer, generated $83.5 million in economic impact for the state. Over one million spectators from across the country and the world viewed the race in Colorado.
"It was a wonderful first year," says Shawn Hunter, CEO and co-chairman of the race. "I have to thank the people of Colorado, the state, the communities for overwhelming support, over a million spectators. I think all of us kind of pulled together and put about two years of work into six months. It aged us all a little bit, but here we are, and we're deep in planning for 2012."
More than $67 million of the impact came from direct spending by spectators. The remaining money came from vendor, team and event spending, as well as state and local taxes and impact on local businesses. Hunter says IFM surveyed at each stage of the race and received responses from about 2,000 spectators.
Two points of pride for race organizers are that over 22 percent of responders traveled from outside Colorado to view the race and 94 percent plan to return next year. From the poor grammar department, 95 percent of those surveyed answered "good" or "very good" when asked their satisfaction with the race.
"The thing I was struck by was how many people from out of state were there, what a great time they were having and how excited they were to come back with more friends," Governor John Hickenlooper said during a press conference held today at the State Capitol. "That was the thing I heard again and again: 'This was great. This was fabulous. Better than I expected. I'm coming back.'"
According to the study, spectators came from at least 39 states and sixteen other countries. Over 20 percent of those surveyed live in Colorado, but traveled more than fifty miles to attend the race. Among those who traveled from out of state, over 71 percent said the race was the main reason for visiting Colorado.
Immediately post-race, many of the race organizers talked about how the race served as a post card for Colorado, and to that point, 85 percent of out-of-state visitors said they are more likely or much more likely to return to Colorado based on their visit during the race.
"People that might have come here just for the bike race, the cycling enthusiasts, might come back to ski," says Hunter. "Where our race falls on the calendar is perfect for tourism, and in particular the ski industry. Our numbers in Europe are phenomenal. A lot of the Europeans like coming over here and skiing places like Breck, Vail, Steamboat and Aspen. That's where we're going to see a lot of the indirect benefits. It really was a commercial for not just the state, but each community."
The average spectator attended 2.9 stages, 68 percent attended multiple stages and more than 20 percent made it to five or more of the seven stages. And the event seemed to draw families, as the average size of a traveling party was over five people.
Those not able to attend could have caught up to 24 hours of national television coverage on Versus and NBC. The race was also broadcast to 161 countries and territories across the globe. Both of those numbers are likely to increase for next year's race.
"We're happy to say that NBC wants to continue, and continue on a long-term basis," says Hunter. "We've also seen interest from two other networks. NBC was a wonderful partner and now that Versus is called NBC Sports, they are, right now, the home of cycling in America. They have the Tour de France, the Tour de California, and a lot of big races. They want us back and that's a great thing. It is highly likely you will see us increase the amount of hours that are televised not only domestically, but internationally, and that's really being driven by the networks."
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Hunter says the the race has received bids from thirty to forty cities around Colorado to host stages of next year's race and he will announce the host cities just before Thanksgiving. As much of a success as the race was in its first year, organizers want it to become bigger and better in years to come.
"I think the race, our community partners, will all be ahead of the curve when it comes to promoting the event and promoting individual communities and promoting week-long race packages where people can plan their vacations far in advance," says Hunter. "So I think the tourism impact will be even greater in 2012. What we're looking to do with our community partners is build some legacy events, some legacy monuments in each community, so that when you visit a Steamboat or you visit a Breckenridge or a Salida or a Vail you know the race was there and was there in the inaugural year.
"We want our race brand to live nationally, but we also want it to live year-round," he continues. "The race will always be in Colorado, it will always be the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, but you will look to see us do, around the year, one-day events in other places. So you might see a USA Pro Challenge Dallas or a USA Pro Challenge Richmond or a USA Pro Challenge New York. But the mother ship will always be here in Colorado."
More from our Kenny Be/Comics archive: "USA Pro Cycling challenges the entire state of Colorado: Kenny Be's Worst-Case Scenario."