Thursday, January 06, 2000

City says no to more funds for football game

'Classic' boosters sought $400,000

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        River Front Classic & Jamboree supporters might have a date for their next football game, but they don't have the money.

        A request for $400,000 in funding was rejected by Cincinnati City Council as too expensive.

        “It appears to have priced itself out of the market,” May or Charlie Luken said Wednesday. “It far exceeds the capacity of the city to go to a 400 percent increase for a football game.”

        Council members — who killed the request without discussion — said they might be willing to consider giving the same $100,000 they gave last year, but certainly no more than that.

        “We killed it,” Councilwoman Minette Cooper said. “None of us was willing to give them that much money.”

        John Pace, president of the River Front Classic Corp., which puts on the game, said he was surprised by the council's reaction and wants to negotiate.

        “We wouldn't say that is unacceptable, but it would be a disappointment,” he said. “If you look at the actual tax base that we brought in to the city, it is over $400,000.”

        Pointing to a new study analyzing the local celebration, Mr. Pace said the Classic is a business with financial muscle that, if flexed, could bring about $24 million in actual spending to the region.

        “We're not a social service agency,” he said.

        The three-day celebration was anchored by a football game in September at Cinergy Field between two historically black schools. It pumped about $12.3 million into Cincinnati's

        economy, more than double the $6 million event organizers had predicted, according to a study conducted by Ketra Armstrong, an assistant professor of sports marketing at Ohio State University. The independent study was paid for by the Columbus Post.

        More important, the event's sponsors said it's helping them reach their goal: Attract other black organizations and business groups to hold regional and national conventions linked to the jamboree.

        They're hoping that the River Front Classic will become the same tourism and business magnet that the Coca-Cola Circle City Classic in Indianapolis has become to that area.

        Mr. Pace said the event last month received a commitment from the Midwest Physicians and Dentists Caucus for its convention here this year. It's expected to draw 600 African-American doctors and dentists, pumping at least another $400,000 into the economy.

        Mr. Pace said organizers will use the classic's success as ammunition to sell the city to the physicians and doctors group and plans to use it to attract other black business and trade groups.

        “The private and public sectors often underestimate the economic clout of African-Americans, but events like this illustrate how dynamic it can be and what market potential there is,” he said.

        The main feature: a football game between Howard University and Bethune-Cookman College.

        Mr. Pace said the game attracted 24,600 spectators. The event also attracted another 7,000 people who did not attend the game, but attended other related events such as dances by college Greek organizations and alumni events.

        Mr. Pace said those individuals — coupled with those who came primarily for the game — illustrate the spending power and economic clout of African-Americans.

        “By 2003, we hope to have five to six conventions and an economic impact of $15-$20 million tied to the classic,” he said.

        While council members said they support the event, they said classic organizers should talk to other sponsors rather than rely on the city for the entire $400,000.

        Mr. Pace contends that other sponsors, including the county — which has promised the use of Cinergy Field Sept. 9, provided the group repays $27,000 owed from last year's event — have made significant contributions.

        The $400,000 from the city was planned for marketing the event to a broader audience than could be reached last year.

        “Generally, we support the classic,” Councilman Paul Booth said. “It was a tremendous boost for the city, and there's no other event like it in the city.”

        The problem is the city doesn't have additional money, he said, and the focus in last month's budget hearings was on cutting programs and departments.

        “The issue was on the amount,” Mr. Booth said.

        Ms. Armstrong of Ohio State said the River Front Classic will have a lasting economic impact on Greater Cincinnati.

        “It will become an event that will be a staple for black consumers and sports enthusiasts and will benefit not only Cincinnati, but the broader Midwest region,” she said.

        Gayle Harden-Renfro, communications director at the Greater Cincinnati Visitors and Convention Bureau, said the classic is another way the city can target and benefit from African-American consumers, much like it does from the Coors Light Festival and Midwest Black Family Reunion.

        “The success of this year's event will give us more ammunition to sell Cincinnati as a destination site to other groups,” she said.


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