The city of Richmond forked over $7 million to land the Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships. But how will anyone know if it was money well spent?
Various data will tell the big story: The number of actual spectators — especially from out of town — along with hotel bookings, tax receipts for meals, worldwide viewers on sports television, webpage visits and so on.
Dollar expectations are high. From its inception in 2012 to its Sept. 27 finish line, the nine-day event is expected to deliver $21.3 million in cumulative economic impact, according to race sponsors. Local and state taxes should be $3.8 million and $5 million, respectively. Total income in the state is estimated at $158.1 million.
There may be early results, but it likely will take a couple of months for hard numbers to come in, says Paul Shanks, director of communications for Richmond 2015. Comprehensive information is due in an extensive report by early next year.
The big picture “is what the global exposure is like,” Shanks says. The race is scheduled to air in 168 countries on the likes of Sky, ESPN and the BBC. Although such exposure is more difficult to quantify than tax receipts, he notes that Richmond could get a huge boost if it’s viewed around the world as on the same sporting plane as New York, Miami or Los Angeles.
How Richmond looks through that lens has been the subject of considerable angst. How will the Confederate monuments be interpreted? What if everyone stays home, afraid of the crowds? And will the closure of schools, business and other shifting schedules conjure up images of a ghost town — or that residents couldn’t care less?
For an idea of how a comparable UCI race panned out in money terms, consider the bike event held in Hamilton, Ontario, in October 2003 — the last UCI race held in North America. The area on Lake Ontario, about an hour from the Toronto metropolis, is about one-fifth smaller in population than the Richmond area.
“The race was a success,” says Steve Milton, a sports columnist for the Hamilton Spectator newspaper. “It wasn’t a roaring success — no one made millions,” but downtown hotels were full and the area was set up for future international sports events, such as curling.
“The economic impact was significant,” says Sharon Murphy, a business development consultant for the city of Hamilton. “All the hotel rooms were booked and people were able to go to Toronto or Niagara Falls with ease.”
When it comes to overnight stays in Richmond, a number to compare is last year’s occupancy rates for Richmond-area hotels. That average was 61.1 percent, says Richmond Region Tourism, citing Smith Travel Research.
In Hamilton, it took several months for final figures to come in. A 2004 report by the Canadian Sports Tourism Alliance cited 230,000 spectators — about half as many as are expected in Richmond. Police reported crowds of 104,000 watching final events.
The race attracted 950 athletes from 57 countries and 900 media people from 33 countries. Numbers for outside visitors seemed somewhat modest. The report noted that there were 23,800 spectators from outside of Hamilton, including 13,850 from Canada and 7,150 from the United States But only 2,760 came from overseas countries.
Combined spending was reported to be $19.7 million with total spending of $48.3 million in Ontario.
The best way to consider the Hamilton race, Milton says, is how it positioned the area for what could follow and enhanced its reputation. “The large legacy is that this became a cycling area for much of southern Ontario,” he says. Besides curling, the region also attracted international competition in hockey.
That could be Richmond’s hole card in its bike-race ploy. “We want people to have rave reviews of the city and its nightlife as well as the race,” Shanks says, noting that it sets the city up for future events. If it hits a financial high from the nine-day event, so much the better.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly located Hamilton, Ontario as being on Lake Huron. It is on Lake Ontario.