Team confirmations and ticket sales picking up for World Rowing Championships, executive director says

Meredith Scerba also tells the County Commission she is optimistic the event will break even

Social media is being utilized to spark international interest in the 2017 World Rowing Championships. Image courtesy Sarasota County

One hundred twenty-three days out from the start of the World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, the executive director of the event told the Sarasota County Commission this week that about 22 teams have selected their hotels and are putting down their deposits.

Altogether, Meredith Scerba said on May 23, her staff has been in contact with 44 teams, and another 38 are on the list to be contacted.

Among those confirmed are the teams that will represent the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, Norway, Australia, Canada, France, Ireland and Germany, according to a chart she provided the board.

Those that have been in initial contact with her staff — but are not at the booking stage yet, she noted — represent Israel, Cuba, Brazil, Nicaragua and Belarus.

Marketing efforts to raise cash or trade opportunities for the event also remain underway, she said. “We continue to close in on that gap to … being financially break-even, as well.”

More than 70,000 tickets already have been sold, she added. “We’re really starting to hit our stride …”

Volunteers still are being sought for the event. Image courtesy Sarasota County

One key need, she said, is a total of 1,833 volunteers committed to three shifts each; more than half the necessary number have signed up.

Scerba asked the board members to spread the word in the community, encouraging groups and individuals to register online. Three training sessions for the volunteers have been scheduled, beginning on Aug. 30, she noted; each person needs to attend just one session.

“Our volunteers are our front line of defense,” she explained. “We’re making sure that we’re equipping them with the best customer service [skills].”

Each volunteer will receive gear for the event, Scerba said, and all will be “well-fed” and provided plenty of hydration.

Noting important milestones in preparation for the event, Scerba told the board that during almost a full week in early May, about 120 people — including Emergency Management personnel from Sarasota and Manatee counties — participated in a “tabletop exercise” to address seven different disaster scenarios, such as a hurricane strike, that potentially could occur during the World Rowing Championships.

A chart shows the hotels booked for a number of the teams. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Yet another critical milestone, she continued, is scheduled from June 9 to June 11. That is when FISA — the governing organization for world rowing — will have representatives on hand during the USRowing Youth Nationals at the park to test nine systems vital to the success of the World Rowing Championships. Those range from electronic ticketing at the front gates to the timing and other systems in the Finish Tower to traffic patterns on the lake itself, she said. “[We are] so looking forward to putting ourselves to the test.”

Then in late August, Scerba noted, containers with team boats will begin to arrive at the park. Soon thereafter — on Sept. 5 — “the venue will actually start getting built out,” with the grandstands and restrooms, for example, going into place.

Team training will occur in early to mid-September, she added. Then, on Sept. 20, she said, the venue officially will open for the World Rowing Championships.

Other teams are in the process of choosing hotels or have indicated they plan to participate in the event. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The opening ceremony — which will feature representatives of a number of community arts organizations, she pointed out — will be held on Sept. 23. The competition is set to begin on Sept. 24, with the last events on Oct. 1.

Along with NBC Sports, she noted, nine international TV stations will broadcast the races.

When Scerba asked whether anyone had questions, Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out that when Scerba provided an update to the Sarasota and Manatee county commissioners during a joint session in March, “we talked about busing people around.” At that time, Detert added, the focus was just on transportation for team members, “not the general population. … Has anything changed along those lines in order to prevent gridlock?”
Scerba replied that she and her staff have talked with representatives of both Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) about promoting the bus lines. However, she continued, “we are not required to move family and friends to the event,” according to terms of the bid with FISA.

The transportation of the athletes from the airport to hotels and to and from the park is “one of our largest line items,” Scerba explained. That is expected to cost more than $1 million.

She and her staff also will promote the use of bicycles from nearby hotels to the park, she said, as bike lanes are readily available.

Finally, she added, she and her staff are working with Sarasota and Manatee counties’ traffic control engineers to ensure the buses carrying the athletes can take the most expedient routes.

Chair Paul Caragiulo told Scerba he was not certain how many more updates she would be able to provide the board before the event begins. Therefore, he continued, “my very simple question to you is, Do you have everything that you need?”

“We do, indeed,” Scerba replied, adding that she was most appreciative of all the support leaders and employees of the two counties have provided for the event.

“Fantastic,” Caragiulo told her.