World Rowing Championships breaks even, with overall expense of about $9.1 million, executive director tells the Sarasota County Commission

Audited financial report due to world governing body of rowing as well as Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court by February

A slide shows a variety of final numbers for the 2017 World Rowing Championships. Image courtesy 2017 World Rowing Championships

As it was anticipated to do, the nine-day World Rowing Championships broke even, the event’s executive director assured the Sarasota County Commission this week.

Its overall budget was about $9.1 million, Meredith Scerba told the board during her Nov. 28 presentation.

Ticket sales brought in about $688,000, Scerba reported, but all of that went into producing the Championships. The event incurred expenses not only for building out temporary facilities — such as the grandstand and luxury suites on the west bank of the lake at Nathan Benderson Park — but also for transportation to get the athletes to and from their hotels. The latter expense was about $1.6 million, Scerba said.

Private contributions and in-kind services rounded out the budget, Scerba has explained during past presentations to the board. Additionally, both Sarasota County and Manatee County committed to pay up to $2,782,000 each for the event.

When Commissioner Nancy Detert asked whether the $18,650,300 in direct spending in Sarasota and Manatee counties linked to the Championships was about evenly split between the counties, Scerba replied that she could not provide a definitive number for each county. However, Scerba pointed out, more participants stayed in Sarasota County hotels than in Manatee County facilities. For example, Scerba said, the Hyatt Regency Sarasota was sold out and the new Westin “was almost completely full.” Six other downtown Sarasota hotels were primary locations for attendees, she added, and all the accommodations near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport were sold out.

The overall economic impact the event had on the state was $22,613,500, Joseph St. Germain, president of Downs & St. Germain Research in Tallahassee, told members of the Sarasota County Tourist Development Council (TDC) on Nov. 16. His firm undertook the analysis for Visit Sarasota County.

Meredith Scerba. Image courtesy 2017 World Rowing Championships

“We are thrilled with the outcome,” Scerba said on Nov. 28, noting that when Sarasota and Manatee counties submitted their bid for the event several years ago, they were expecting an economic impact of approximately $25 million.

By February, Scerba explained to the commissioners, an audited financial report on the World Rowing Championships will be delivered to FISA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron), the world governing body of the sport of rowing, as FISA requires. According to terms of the bid Sarasota and Manatee counties submitted for the Championships, she added, the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA) — which manages events at Benderson Park — had to keep a separate set of financial records for the event.

When Detert asked whether the County Commission would see that final report, as well, Scerba told her that a copy would be provided to the Office of the Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller.

Each month, Scerba pointed out, representatives from both Sarasota and Manatee counties reviewed the World Rowing Championships budget and approved it. “There has been a lot of time, energy and blood, sweat and tears” put into that work, Scerba added; the budget was “fine-tooth combed and really managed in a very proper way.”

Detert also asked whether the athletes paid any registration fees or won any prize money.

“There are no registration fees at all” for the World Rowing Championships, Scerba explained. The teams just had to pay for their travel expenses and for the shipping of their equipment to the United States. Further, she said, “They do not get any dollar earnings because they are considered amateur athletes. … They receive medals.”

Commissioner Charles Hines joined Detert in expressing a desire to see the final financial report for the event. Economic impact figures “are tough” to justify, he indicated. “We do want to see the nickels, the dimes and the pennies and the profit/loss statement. … There’s nothing wrong with that request. … The reason is we’re dealing with taxpayers’ dollars. … I’m not offended by someone asking for that transparency.”

Additionally, Hines pointed out, the commissioners will need to discuss how to proceed with use of Benderson Park in the future. “It is a public park owned by Sarasota County,” and the arrangement the county has with SANCA is a public-private partnership, he added.

A graphic shows attendance for each day at the event. Image courtesy 2017 World Rowing Championships

From worries to relief

About two years ago, Hines continued, commissioners “got a little nervous because there was a lack of urgency that [the World Rowing Championships] was a big deal.” In the end, he told Scerba — who was hired approximately two years ago — “you all over-performed.”

A graphic provides more details about the event. mage courtesy 2017 World Rowing Championships

One major concern he had prior to her employment, Hines said, was that if the event did not draw the necessary number of volunteers, “we would have had a problem. … We were [going to be] on the world stage like never before in this community, and the last thing we wanted to do was embarrass ourselves.”

As it turned out, about 1,900 people signed up to assist with the event, Scerba noted.

Regardless of the accolades the region has received “from all across the world” about how well the Championships went, Hines added, some people still are critical of operations at the park. “Personally, maybe they don’t like it or they don’t like the people involved,” he said, referring to Benderson Development Co. (Nathan Benderson, who founded the firm, is the person for whom the park is named.)

Commissioner Detert and Chair Paul Caragiulo also applauded Scerba for her leadership.
“No. 1,” Detert told her, “I would say that you’re a brilliant organizer, planner, manager. You exceeded my expectations …” Detert added that she knew Scerba was “brought in late in the day.”

Scerba said Dec. 1 would be her last day in her position, as she was hired on a two-year contract. She will be relocating to Tampa, she added, to work with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.