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Sponsorships slow for events like Grand Prix, Artscape

Blake Goldsmith, CEO of Extraordinary Events

Baltimore will have an eventful summer, but the money to pay for it is slow in coming.

The Baltimore Grand Prix, Artscape and the War of 1812 bicentennial celebration are among some of the events looking for sponsorships. But organizers for all three say they have been having some trouble getting businesses and nonprofits to chip in money.

“We’re going to hit our number, just a little bit differently than we initially planned,” said Jay Davidson, CEO of Baltimore Racing Development, which is organizing the Baltimore Grand Prix. The event, which will be Sept. 2-4, hasn’t signed a naming-rights sponsorship deal, but Davidson said changing tactics for approaching sponsors has helped the organization get closer to its goal of about $2 million in sponsorships.

Blake Goldsmith, CEO of Extraordinary Events, was hired to help make that goal. Goldsmith said the key to getting hospitality sponsorships for the Grand Prix has been to make packages for companies customizable. Sponsorship packages range from $50,000 to $250,000, with the focus on “filling the bucket” for the event’s expenses, Davidson said.

Sponsorship is a way for businesses to reach an audience in an increasingly crowded market. But as companies and nonprofits emerge from the recession, the willingness to spend more on sponsorships has been slow, event organizers said.

“Some of it is the recession, we’re seeing fewer of the larger mobile marketing tours,” said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. The nonprofit city agency organizes Artscape and the Fourth of July celebration.

Out of the $389,000 the festival needs to raise in sponsorships, $158,400 has been raised, Gilmore said. The festival has a budget of $900,000, but much of that money will come from grants and exhibition fees, he said.

“We’re usually a little farther along than we are at this point,” said Kathleen A. Hornig, director of festivals for BOPA. “We’re out there hustling to raise as much money as we can.”

This year will be Artscape’s 30th anniversary when it runs July 15-17. And the Fourth of July celebration, which was in danger of being canceled last year, is waiting on a sponsor to keep it going. Ports America sponsored both the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve celebrations last year. Gilmore said BOPA has submitted a proposal to Ports America for the two events again this year, but has not received a response.

Some of the trouble may be from events competing for the same pot of money at the same time, said Eric Smallwood, senior vice president of Philadelphia-based Front Row Marketing Services.

“These marketing budgets may be drying up, and there may be less opportunity,” Smallwood said.

One of the state’s largest sporting events that usually attracts large sponsorships, the Preakness Stakes, will be run May 21. Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas was unavailable for comment, and spokesman Mike Gathagan declined to comment on sponsorships. But the event’s website lists 98Rock, ESPN3.com, Sinai Hospital, CBS Radio, Nutramax Laboratories Inc., and WBAL-1090 AM among its corporate partners.

For new events, it can be difficult to prove to potential sponsors that it will bring exposure to companies, Smallwood said. But BOPA, for example, provides prospective sponsors with evaluations of what kind of exposure previous sponsors got. Smallwood said that helps give companies an idea what they’re paying for.

The War of 1812 bicentennial celebration’s organizers launched a nonprofit to deal solely with fundraising for the 32-month-long event. The nonprofit’s goal is to raise $16.5 million for the celebration, which will cost the state $25 million.

While there have been conversations with local and national businesses for sponsorships and fundraising, there are no finalized deals, said Bill Pencek, executive director for the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.

But historic tourism events have the advantage of being attractive to niche sponsors, like the History Channel, Smallwood said. National companies will look for unique events, while it may be more difficult to find money regionally, he said.

Nearly 20 companies from different industries will sponsor the Grand Prix, and 35,000 tickets have been sold for the event, Davidson said. Baltimore Racing Development will coordinate sponsorship deals worth more than $100,000 with a few more large corporations before it will announce its array of sponsors. Davidson declined to say who the sponsors are and how much money in sponsorships has been raised.

In February, Baltimore Racing Development hired The Leffler Agency, CBS Radio and Extraordinary Events to handle marketing and sponsorships for the event.

“Unless there’s an act of God, the event is going on,” Davidson said. “We’ve certainly learned a lot, and it’ll be easier to run this in year two.”