Team booking for World Rowing Championships exceeds original goal and is expected to climb, with more public ticket sales also anticipated, executive director says

1,500 athletes and members of 30 fan groups have reserved more than 12,000 rooms already

A graphic shows the countries (in blue) sending teams to the World Rowing Championships. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Twenty-four days before we welcome the world.” That was the timeline Meredith Scerba, executive director of the 2017 World Rowing Championships, noted as she stood before the Sarasota County Commission on Aug. 30.

When competition gets underway on Sept. 23, it will mark the first time in 23 years that the event has been held in the United States, she pointed out.

As of Aug. 30, 71 teams and more than 12,000 room nights had been booked, she told the board; 6,512 of those rooms are in 15 Sarasota County hotels. Altogether, approximately 1,500 athletes are expected, she continued. The United States team members were just announced on Aug. 29, she pointed out, so the room bookings are expected to climb.

The goal was to secure 60 teams, Scerba told the board. Five more were in the booking process as she addressed the commissioners, she continued.

Robert Lewis, the county’s director of community and intergovernmental relations, and his staff have been helping to resolve a couple of visa issues, she noted.

Given those statistics, she said, the event is on track to fulfill all the promises made when Sarasota and Manatee county leaders agreed in 2012 to pursue the bid to host the World Rowing Championships.

Organizers of the World Rowing Championships committed to these economic impact statistics in planning for the event several years ago. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Moreover, Scerba noted, 30 “team support groups” have committed to attending the event. She described them as fan clubs — for the British and Australian teams, for example — that will make up “a big piece of the puzzle” in terms of the overall economic impact on the two counties.

As for that impact: The event is still predicted to achieve the $25-million mark, she added. “We’re actually going off the chart with our participation numbers.”

The average visitor stay will be five nights, based on room reservations that have been confirmed, Scerba continued. Additionally, 20% of the teams will be arriving at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, which is a bigger number than originally anticipated, she pointed out, and that figure also is expected to rise.

Within seven days, Scerba noted, teams will start arriving to begin their training for the event at Nathan Benderson Park.

She showed the board a slide to illustrate the countries that will be sending athletes, with a vast swath of North and South America and Europe shaded.

A rendering shows the type of temporary grandstand a company will be erecting on the grounds of Nathan Benderson Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Furthermore, she continued, “We’re 87% to our ticket [sales] goal.” That translates — as of Aug. 30 — into $487,000 out of $566,000 planned in the budget, she noted. With the U.S. team members finally named, she said, USRowing representatives have told her and her staff to expect “big numbers” in additional sales for people who will be coming to the community to watch those athletes compete.

Regarding the park itself: “The construction has begun,” Scerba said, referring to the erection of the grandstand; tents will be arriving shortly, too. Only one of the 10 Championship Suites that will be placed along the water remains unsold, she noted.

As for the permanent infrastructure in the park, Scerba noted that the Attenuator Bridge and Starter’s Pavilion were the “last two components” necessary to the competition, and they have been completed and have received the “sign-off” from FISA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron), which is the governing body of the sport of rowing.

Thanks to Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, and his staff, she said, she and her staff have received the necessary Temporary Use Permit to pursue all the final preparations to host tens of thousands of international visitors.

Other parts of the event ‘puzzle’

A graphic shows the Attenuator Bridge and Starter’s Pavilion that have been constructed at the park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Sixty-five percent of all the services the World Rowing Championships will use have been sourced either locally or in the region, Scerba told the board.

As for partnerships: “We’re about $100,000 shy,” she reported, referring to the goal of securing 500 partners paying $1,000 each in cash to support the event. That has been part of the effort to meet budget revenue projections, she explained. However, she continued, “Trade or value in kind has been a huge emphasis on our sponsorship team.” In-kind services and trades add up to almost $1 million, she said, though not all of them are “fully budget-reducing.”

More than 100 vendors have been confirmed for the Expo Area, Scerba added: local, regional, domestic and international companies that have committed to be on-site for the full nine days of the Championships.

Among the other facets of the event, Scerba pointed to a slide naming the four catering companies that will be serving the athletes, who need to consume about 6,000 calories a day. Those companies are Fete, Mattison’s, Milan and Der Dutchman.

Not all of the 26 hotels that teams have booked “are full service,” Scerba explained. Therefore, the catering companies are putting up temporary infrastructure at those locations — such as tents and coolers — so they can provide meals for the athletes at those accommodations “for almost 15 days.”

Scerba also noted that event banners have gone up in downtown Sarasota and they will be put up in Bradenton, as well. Tampa International Airport, along with Sarasota-Bradenton International, will have “lots of visuals, lots of signage” to greet the visitors, she added

On Sept. 1, Scerba continued, an event app will launch, so everyone involved with the event can get regular updates.

Hospitality and entertainment

A chart shows the daily themes for the nine days of the World Rowing Championships. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Thanks to 13 international television companies, she said, more than 300 hours of the Championships will be televised around the world, with NBC Sports handling the domestic coverage. Additionally, she told the commissioners, FISA will live-stream the competitions each day.

Scerba also stressed the importance of volunteers to ensure the event is successful. “We’re just under 200 positions still left to fill,” she added, out of 5,500 shifts. Altogether, she noted, more than 2,000 people are being sought. Referring to herself and her staff, she noted, “We are a 15-person team. We can’t do it without the help … of the volunteer group.”

She thanked Commissioner Charles Hines for signing up and getting nine friends to do so, as well. When Hines mentioned that number had grown to 20, she laughed and then replied, “I love it!”

Three training sessions are being provided for those volunteers, she pointed out, with the first scheduled for that evening. The sessions will focus on an overview of the World Rowing Championships, specialized customer service training and position-specific training, she explained.

People may register online to assist with the event, she noted.

Finally, for those attendees who are not necessarily big fans of rowing, Scerba continued, each of the nine days will feature themes and “a really nice assortment of entertainment.”

Only one of the Championship Suites remained to be rented as of Aug. 30. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Lightning also have committed to having players and cheerleaders come to Benderson Park during the Championships, she pointed out; autograph-signing sessions will be featured during their appearances.

Further, her staff has worked with the Ringling College of Art + Design on the production of graphics and vignettes to enable attendees to learn about the individual athletes who will be participating, she said.

As she wrapped up her presentation, Scerba offered “another huge sincere thank you” to the commissioners and to all the county staff members who have been assisting with the preparations.

“Please keep taking your vitamins to keep your energy level up over the next month or so,” Hines told her.