PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Jones / INDYCAR.
In what one could see as a reflection of how much the Baltimore Grand Prix will have to overcome in year two, the city's Board of Estimates gave the green light to a new five-year contract for the race by a narrow 3-2 vote according to Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun.
That means the IZOD IndyCar Series will make a second visit to the Inner Harbor this September -- much to the happiness of racing fans in the Mid-Atlantic and to the chagrin of those sour on the race after last year's financial debacle involving the previous promoter, Baltimore Racing Development.
BRD racked up $12 million in debt, including a $1.5 million amount in unpaid city taxes and vendor fees. New promotions group Downforce Racing is on board to take over the Grand Prix, and will have to report monthly financial reports to Baltimore City.
In addition, the City's new contract with Downforce features a ticket surcharge of $3 per ticket that will go into a "lockbox" account meant to help shield the city from financial losses. However, a report from Mark Reutter of the online-only Baltimore Brew says that even if the second BGP brings in last year's paying attendance of 110,000 (the event brought in 160,000 overall), the lockbox surcharge won't completely cover the expected taxpayer cost of the 2012 running.
As we've stated here, the BGP was a smash hit in terms of attendance and also brought in a good amount of economic revenue for the city. Unfortunately, upon news of BRD's debt problem, all of that positive publicity got washed away. As a result, I'd venture to say that the group of people wanting to see the race go away has grown in recent months.
Showing the naysayers that a properly-managed Grand Prix can be a long-term help for both Baltimore's image and bottom line may be the true barometer of success for Downforce in its new role -- bigger than a title sponsor, bigger than an arm's-length list of associate sponsors gained, bigger than increased attendance and TV ratings (although all of those things would be quite nice). BRD's role in the inaugural Grand Prix has left Downforce with no margin for error; as series CEO Randy Bernard stated in a recent trip to Charm City, the pressure is on, as they owe it to the city to get it right.
But as I wrote recently for INDYCAR Nation, there's still some positives for the new group to build upon as it tries to burnish the race's overall standing. You don't bring in 160,000 over a weekend with a mediocre product and from what we saw last fall, the Baltimore Grand Prix looked anything but mediocre. It looked like a fabulous party. And more important for INDYCAR, it looked like Baltimore/Washington was a legitimate place to plant some roots.
Personally, I hope that Downforce is the right team for the job and that Baltimore will stay on the schedule for years to come. As a former resident of the region, I can say that while Baltimore has great things going for it, it has some pretty grim areas like most major cities do. If done correctly, the Grand Prix has the potential to not only be a lucrative, image-changing showcase for the City, but also a revitalizing force that can be able to help those in need.
At least, that's how I see it.