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Key West: Looking back, looking forward
(August 4, 2009) Arguably the most scrutinized keelboat event in North America is the annual Key West Race Week in January. Great weather and elite race management has made it the place to be for both the grand prix and club racer, with new boats and products on display throughout. However, when concerns about the economy arrived last fall, all eyes focused on how the 2009 event would weather the storm.
Indeed it suffered, with entries down 40%, and quickly all event organizers grew concerned for what lay ahead for them. Some events have fared better than others this year, and it is with optimism that the pendulum will swing back for the sport in 2010. Scuttlebutt contacted Key West event organizer Peter Craig of Premiere Racing for an update:
The 2009 event was a down year. When did you see that coming?
Our entries start coming in mid-September. As you may recall, people put a lot of plans on hold last fall as the global economic crisis unfolded. People weren't sure what was going to happen next and the rumor mill was out of control. We knew the event would be impacted and it was Oct/Nov when we accepted the fact that fleet size was for 2009 going to be down and the final number was anybody's guess at that point.
Was there a predominant reason for the lower numbers?
For sure it was the uncertainty and the unprecedented happenings in the world markets. One would think that expenses and financial where with all would be # 1 reason, but that wasn't the case. A second common reason we heard was boat owners "doing the right thing". With layoffs on the rise and the ongoing air of uncertainty - heading to sunny Key West for 8-10 days of sailing wasn't perceived by many company owners and business leaders as a prudent action.
The 2010 event will be without title sponsor Acura. How will that affect the event?
The short answer to your question is that it will not affect the 2010 Key West event - we're fully committed to producing a high quality, classic regatta. Just as we did in 2009, holding to our standards and schedules with owners and sailors getting exactly what they received in previous years. Unfortunately, however it will affect my staff and me! There's no question that the loss of Acura is a blow, but we're working hard to fill that sponsor position and have some real prospects in the works.
Key West is a for-profit event. At what point does the business model no longer work for Premiere Racing?
There is no precise point where the model doesn't work. It comes down to the number of entries, sponsorships and our industry partner program really. While our event expenses and overhead don't fluctuate in a big way, losing critical mass and taking a hit with sponsors and partners is a tough combination. Entries were clearly down last January but our sponsors and partners remained strong. An ongoing effort here has been for Premiere Racing to diversify a bit by taking on work elsewhere - be it the VOR, or race management work in Europe. But there's only so much of that I can do with the year round effort that the Key West and Miami events require.
Do you sense the pendulum is ready to swing back yet, or are people going to spend another season in local waters rather than take the trip to KW?
The major international events that require substantial time commitments and resources for crew travel and shipping boats will still be impacted by the current global economic environment. Fuel costs and exchange rates also impact people's decisions. But, looking forward, we definitely expect better numbers next year. We're hearing good things from boat owners and classes, as some of the uncertainty about what will happen in the short term has subsided. We're hoping to get halfway between where we were in 2008 and 2009 and believe that getting over 200 entries is a realistic projection for the 2010 edition of Key West Race Week.
Any evolution or innovation to look for in 2010?
As you know, we're open to doing things differently and actively seek out feedback every year from boat owners. But it if ain't broke... Our racing format is what sailors are looking for and we'll maintain the high standards with our professional race management. The popular shoreside component with 6 nights under that big top will remain in place with no scaling back. That being said, we always look to adapt to the changing racing scene. For example, we're doing some research to see if there might be interest in a sport boat handicap class - that seems to be a popular arena as of late.
There is a huge media contingent that covers the event, and they get pretty thirsty. Would it be a problem if Scuttlebutt brought a blender into the media room to make margaritas?
No need for that - we already have one on order. Did I mention that we actively seek feedback!
How do you like your Scuttlebutt - in the morning or the evening?
I wish I could tell you mornings, but I find myself on the computer most nights so it's usually my last bit of reading at night.
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