World Rowing Championships on target to break even, executive director tells the Sarasota County Commission

Meredith Scerba says 57 teams have secured hotel rooms already, and ticket sales are on track potentially to exceed the goal set for them

Benderson Park will host the World Rowing Championships in September. File photo

With 73 days to go until the start of the World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, the event’s executive director told the Sarasota County Commission on July 12 that she feels sure of bringing in sufficient revenue to cover expenses, with 97% of the fundraising goal already achieved.

During an update for the board before it began its five-week summer break, Meredith Scerba said that 57 teams already have made hotel reservations, and 12 more are “in our pipeline … trying to figure out their finances …” The goal was a total of 60, she added. Altogether, 15,000 hotel rooms have been blocked, with another 10,000 being held in expectation of team deposits, she noted.

The 7,000 ticket packages sold to-date have brought in $335,000 of the $500,000 budgeted for them. Yet, most of the teams have not purchased their tickets yet, she noted. In fact, she continued, she is growing concerned about whether the venue will have enough space to meet the demand.

When Commissioner Nancy Detert asked about specifics of the ticket sales, Scerba explained that people can choose eight-day, four-day, two-day and single-ticket packages. “There’s actually a pretty large tier of options,” Scerba added. Asked about the cost, Scerba replied that it is $150 for eight days of grandstand seating and $100 for eight days of beach seating. All the packages are featured online, she said.

The single-ticket sales began June 1, she noted.

Meredith Scerba addresses the County Commission in November 2016. Rachel Hackney photo

She just returned from the World Rowing Cup III event in Lucerne, Switzerland, she told the board, where teams had their last opportunity to qualify for the World Rowing Championships. As a result, she continued, she and her staff anticipate “a very large” pickup in ticket sales among family members and friends of the athletes who will be coming to Benderson Park in September.

Although Scerba said early in her presentation that the budget for the event had not been finalized, Detert asked her if she felt the World Rowing Championships would break even.

“Total break even,” Scerba responded.

“Personally, I’m not against break even,” Detert said. “I would consider that a win.”

During the commission’s June 21 budget workshop, Detert posed a number of questions to Carolyn N. Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, about the county’s financial commitment to the event. Brown told Detert that Sarasota County and Manatee County each had committed to paying a maximum of $2,782,000 toward the World Rowing Championships expenses.

Benderson Park is a Sarasota County park, but Manatee County committed to participation as a co-host of the championships, because teams, family members and fans will be staying in accommodations in that county, as well.

Scerba voiced “special thanks” to the three chairs of the event: U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key (in an honorary capacity); Ed Chiles, CEO of The Chiles Group; and Rod Hershberger, CEO and chair of PGT Industries. They have been working behind the scenes, she said, “making a lot of things happen for us.”

Along with cash payments, she pointed out, many in-kind contributions will help defray expenses. For example, she said, Detwiler’s “just donated over 10,000 pieces of fruit.” She noted that the event will have to provide more than 6,300 meals for the teams, and many restaurants have offered their assistance, as well.

Scerba also reported that 13 television stations from outside the United States will join the NBC Sports Network in broadcasting the competitions. Additionally, credentials have been provided to about 300 members of the media through FISA, the World Rowing Federation.

Within 45 days — at the end of August — the construction of the grandstand will begin at Benderson Park, Scerba said, and containers with team equipment will begin arriving.

She further reported that 65% of the volunteers needed for the event have registered. Each of them will undergo three required training sessions, she pointed out, with the first set for Aug. 28 at the Polo Grill in Lakewood Ranch.

Transportation and a trial run

Construction continued on the Finish Tower in early January. File photo

As for transportation: After all the teams have registered, Scerba explained, staff will finalize the plans for transporting the athletes between their hotels and Benderson Park for training and for the competitions. She and her staff also have been working with Sarasota and Manatee counties’ transit employees on public transportation options for fans, she noted.

Commissioner Alan Maio recently represented the board at two events at the park, he told his colleagues. One of them was the US Rowing Youth Nationals, which was held June 9-11. “A big event [that] overflowed everything out there,” he said.

“Many of the high school seniors decided to miss their walking for their diplomas,” he continued, because of their desire to participate in it. A replacement commencement was held for them at the park, Maio added.

The World Rowing Championships website features these details about seating for the event. Image from

“That was a great opportunity [for a trial run of equipment],” Scerba pointed out. For example, the new Finish Tower — which houses the viewing area for the judges, along with the timing systems — was used for the first time during the Youth Nationals. “We got a double thumbs up,” she added. “FISA is thrilled with our progress.”

When Detert asked about security measures, Scerba explained that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has undertaken an assessment of the planning. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office will be the lead law enforcement agency, she added, with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office assisting as needed. Additionally, she noted, a private security firm will be providing around-the-clock service.

Scerba also discussed the opening ceremony, which will be held on the night of Sept. 23, featuring a circus theme. It will include a parade of the teams with the flags of their countries, she told the board. Pedro Reis, CEO of the Circus Arts Conservatory, and Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, have been organizing the performances, Scerba said. Fireworks will conclude the ceremony, she added. “You really don’t want to miss [it].”