With the clock ticking, fundraising push intensifies for World Rowing Championships in Sarasota

Sept. 23 ceremony at Benderson Park will begin the year-long countdown to the 2017 event

Benderson Park will host the World Rowing Championships in 2017. File photo
Benderson Park will host the World Rowing Championships in 2017. File photo

With Friday, Sept. 23, officially marking the start of the year-long countdown to the opening of the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, the event’s executive director said this week that more than 500 international, domestic and local companies have been identified “that we will be going after for corporate partnerships.”

Meredith Scerba told the Sarasota County Commission on Sept. 20 that those partnerships would range from $10,000 up to $1 million; they will be made possible, she explained, because of the ability to televise the Championships nationally and internationally.

In referencing the naming of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key as honorary chair of the event, Scerba noted that he “will be a great asset to us and help as we continue to go after corporate partners.”

Because the event is required to break even, under the terms established by Sarasota and Manatee counties, the fundraising firm her team hired — Shamrock Sports & Entertainment — is also pursuing trade partnerships, Scerba continued.

“Budget-reducing items are just as good to us as cash,” she said. Those are valued at $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000, she added. The partners will receive “lots of marketing, ticketing and other opportunities as a grand package” in return for services, Scerba noted.

The Benderson Park Foundation website lists these donor opportunities. Image from the website
The Nathan Benderson Community Park Foundation website lists these donor opportunities. Image from the website

When Commissioner Christine Robinson asked for an explanation about how the Nathan Benderson Park Community Foundation’s use of Shamrock will function in conjunction with the World Rowing Championships’ employment of the firm, Scerba replied that the original plan called the Foundation to work with one company to help raise money for infrastructure at the park, while the World Rowing Championships team would hire a separate firm to help secure partnerships it needs. But “we were very fearful that we would start potentially stepping on each other’s toes out in the community.”

Therefore, Scerba continued, the two entities agreed to seek one company that could handle both types of work. They found that in Shamrock, she added. It specializes in both corporate partnerships and securing philanthropic support. One of the firm’s employees is a long-time Lakewood Ranch resident of with a NASCAR background who “knows the corporate side of the sports business.” At the same time, she said, the firm’s chief operating officer previously was COO of the Make A Wish Foundation, headquartered in Atlanta, so he understands the philanthropic side.

Employing a company with that dual expertise is not unusual, Scerba explained. Having Shamrock on board will enable the Foundation and the World Rowing Championships team to be able to secure whatever type of support a partner might want to provide. “There’s a full-target approach,” she added.

Meredith Scerba. File photo
Meredith Scerba. File photo

Another firm that has been hired, she continued, is SP + Gameday, which will handle all the transportation for the 2017 event, including moving the expected 1,700 athletes between the airport and their hotels and between venues and special events for up to 12 days. It also will handle transportation of guests for the event, the bid information says.

In response to a question from The Sarasota News Leader, county spokesman Drew Winchester said Scerba told him the SP + Gameday contract, awarded on July 22, is for a maximum of $1.8 million. The amount is likely to decrease, he added, based on final itineraries.

The firm, she pointed out to the commissioners, handled the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the last 16 Super Bowls. “[It] will provide our guests and our athletes a really seamless experience.”

An advisory task force comprising transportation experts in Sarasota and Manatee counties enabled her and her team to put together a Request for Proposals that ended up with the hiring of SP + Gameday, she noted.

Tickets and training

In other news, Scerba reported that her office already had “a soft launch” of tickets for the Championships, with “a large amount … already sold.” Ticket packages “officially on sale” offer two-, four- and eight-day passes for the grandstand, beach seating and the Championship Pavilion on the west bank of Nathan Benderson Lake, she told the board. They range in price from $50 to $200. Day passes will be available closer to the event, she added.

These ticket packages are already available. Image courtesy 2017 World Rowing Chamionships
These ticket packages are already available. Image courtesy 2017 World Rowing Chamionships

In response to a question from Commissioner Charles Hines, Scerba reported that the goal is to have 65 nations participate in the Championships. Some will have far more athletes than others, she pointed out. For example, she said, Great Britain’s team already is booked, and it will total 250 athletes. However, some nations will not send more than five or six, she noted.

When Hines asked whether she will provide regular updates about the booking of teams, she told him, “Absolutely.”

In her comments about Buchanan, Scerba also explained that he “will continue to help us spread the excitement not just in our region and the state of Florida but Washington as well.” Additionally, he will be able to help with visas and other matters related to the travel of international teams to Sarasota and Manatee counties, she said.

Athletes can come to the United States up to 13 days ahead of the start of the Championships, she explained, so they can acclimate themselves to the weather and the time change.

“Our first initiative is to fill all of the training times at Nathan Benderson Park,” she said, and then fill slots at six other venues in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Meredith Scerba invited the public to begin buying event merchandise. Image courtesy 2017 World Rowing Championships
Meredith Scerba invited the public to begin buying event merchandise. Image courtesy 2017 World Rowing Championships

The second initiative, she continued, is to coordinate training arrangements at other sites in Florida, including those in Ocala and Jacksonville, where hotel rooms have been booked for some of the athletes.

In response to another question from Robinson, Scerba explained, “We’re booking [the training locations],” but that effort is being coordinated through the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), which manages Nathan Benderson Park.

When Robinson asked for a list of all the local venues, Scerba replied that Blackburn Point Park in Osprey and Fort Hamer Park in Parish in Manatee County are two of them; she promised to get a full list to Robinson.

Hines told Scerba he was pleased to know that her office and SANCA are keeping records of all the places the athletes will be staying and training. “We have to prove sales tax benefit across the state,” he pointed out, as part of a grant agreement with the state.

What about those regular updates?

This week — as she has several times since May 11 — Commissioner Carolyn Mason called for the CEO of SANCA to join Scerba in making monthly presentations to the board.

Commissioner Carolyn Mason. File photo
Commissioner Carolyn Mason. File photo

“When you come and bring these reports,” Mason told Scerba, “it’s really beneficial to the commission.” Mason added, “I do firmly believe that the SANCA board president should be here at the same time you are here, giving the commission an update, side-by-side, so that the public hears what we have heard in our [one-on-one meetings with him and Scerba]. … I don’t think there’s any conspiracy,” Mason continued, “but to try to beat down those theories before they happen, I think, side-by-side, the two of you should be providing your updates.”

Scerba replied that new SANCA CEO Robert Sullivan has been on the job only three weeks, and he was “on the road” during the first two. “He is on the docket to start doing these reports, as well,” she added, beginning Oct. 27.

A SANCA announcement in August said Sullivan would begin work on Aug. 15.

Kickoff event

On Sept. 23, the ceremony marking one year from the opening of the World Rowing Championships will begin at 10:30 a.m. and conclude about 11:30 a.m., Scerba said. Commission Al Maio will preside over the event at Benderson Park, she noted.

“I’ll never be able to match your enthusiasm,” Maio joked with Scerba.

Artwork commissioned locally, featuring a digital countdown clock, will be unveiled, she added. After the Championships concludes in 2017, Scerba said, the clock will be replaced by a commemorative plaque.

In the meantime, she told the board, the clock will “keep me on my toes for sure.”