White Marlin Open Fiscal Impact Exceeds $16 Million

OCEAN CITY – For years,
it has been widely speculated the annual White Marlin Open, held each summer
during the first week of August, was the peak of the summer season, generates
millions in direct and indirect spending, but a study prepared by the state and
released last week finally quantifies the economic impact of the event.

At the request of
tournament organizers, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic
Development (DBED) this year carefully researched and prepared an economic
impact report for the 2009 White Marlin Open and determined through the data
collected from a variety of sources last year’s event generated an estimated
$16 million in local expenditures during the first week of August. DBED’s
Division of Marketing and Communications-Office of Research recently completed
the study, which evaluated expenditures by visitors during the 2009 WMO,
measuring the total impact of those visits on statewide and local economies.

Tournament president and
founder Jim Motsko first broached the idea of a state-sponsored economic impact
study during Governor Martin O’Malley’s visit on the last day of the White
Marlin Open in 2009. O’Malley told Motsko he would get behind an economic
impact study for the annual event, which has been held during the first week in
August for the last 36 years, if the district’s local delegation in Annapolis,
in this case Delegate Jim Mathias (D-38B) did the legwork and went through the
appropriate channels. According to Motsko, Mathias, who served as mayor of
Ocean City, went to bat for the event and got the long-awaited study done.

“It’s something I’ve
been wanting to get done for a long time,” said Motsko this week. “They did one
for the Pirate’s Cove tournament in North Carolina a few years back, and I
always wanted to see what our tournament created in terms of economic impact.”

Based on attendance and
spending data provided by tournament organizers and DBED estimates, the 2009
White Marlin Open drew approximately 5,000 visitors from outside the state over
a period of up to seven days, resulting in 30,345 additional visitor days in
Maryland. According to the study, the 2009 tournament generated an estimated
$8.6 million in direct local expenditures, another $2.2 million in salaries and
created 70 direct jobs.

Based on those sales and
estimates, the tournament generated total state and local tax revenues of
$568,000. Including indirect and induced impacts, the 2009 WMO generated a
total of $16 million in local expenditures, another $4.9 million in salaries
and 130 jobs. The total impact on state and local tax revenues came in at
around $746,000, according to the DBED study.

The impact study was
based on last year’s tournament, which included 300 entries with an estimated
seven participants per boat. The study assumed about 25 percent of the
participants were local, with the remaining 75 percent out of state from all
over the east coast and the entire country. Dockage fee per boat came in at a
range of $2,500 to $5,000 for the week, while offshore charter costs ranged
from $1,600 to $3,000, depending on the size of the boat.

While the direct
spending associated with the tournament makes up the majority of the estimated
$16 million in economic impact, the indirect spending comes in at a similar
total. According to the study, $8.5 million is associated with direct spending,
while another $7.4 was credited to indirect spending during the tournament. The
WMO attracts an estimated 4,000 visitors to the host marina Harbour Island each
of the five fishing days and while a considerable number of those visitors are
local, the lion’s share are in the resort that week specifically for the event,
according to the study.

The large number of
out-of-state visitors in town for the event certainly shell out millions in
direct spending during the tournament, but they are also staying in hotels,
renting condominiums, eating at resort restaurants, patronizing the town’s many
bars and nightclubs, visiting the Boardwalk and taking advantage of the
countless other amenities Ocean City offers.

Now it’s important to
note the tournament does take place during the first week of August, which is
naturally the peak of the summer season anyway, but clearly the WMO is a major
part of what is annually the biggest week of the summer in Ocean City.
According to the town’s demoflush figures for the last 10 years, the first week
of August is always the biggest in terms of the number of estimated visitors in
Ocean City and it’s no coincidence those figures are recorded during the WMO
each year.

In addition, it’s
important to note DBED’s study was based solely on the 2009 tournament, which
was certainly not one of the biggest in recent memory. A sagging economy
coupled with high gas prices and a variety of other factors kept the number of
boats at 300 last year, the figure upon which the DBED study was based. As
recently as just a few years ago, the number of boats participating in the WMO
soared to nearly 450, or about 50 percent more than last year, which leads one
to believe if the same formulas were applied and extrapolated over the larger
number, the economic impact of the tournament would go up in kind.

Motsko said this week he
was pleased with the outcome of the study, which provides some quantifiable
numbers in terms of economic impact for the annual event, which has grown by
leaps and bounds since its inception in 1974.

“It was very gratifying
to see how it turned out,” he said. “I was told the state tends to be cautious
and conservative in their estimates when they do these studies, but it does
give you something to hang your hat on.”

After years of wide
speculation about the true impact of the tournament on the local economy, WMO
organizers now have something tangible in hand when it comes to extolling the
virtues of the annual event. Motsko said this week he hopes to leverage the
results of the study to gain more support from local and state governments.

“We’re hoping to get
more support from Ocean City, Worcester County and the state in terms of
tourism advertising and in-kind services to grow this event even further,” he
said. “Through our efforts, we’ve grown this thing into a major revenue source
for the local and state economy, and we can expand on that with a little more
help. The economic impact of this event generates tremendous benefits for the
state and provides significant revenue and jobs to our economy as well.”

However, Motsko was
quick to point out he realizes now is not the time to seek more money or
services from local and state jurisdictions, given the current economic

“This is something to
use way out in the future,” he said. “I don’t want to be unrealistic right

So, what does the
economic impact study mean for the future of the White Marlin Open? Motsko said
this week he has no intention of killing the goose that is laying the golden
eggs and will maintain the tournament at Harbour Island in Ocean City for the
foreseeable future.

“I’m signed up through
2012,” he said. “I was locked in through 2011 and I just signed a renewal for
2012 and that’s far enough out. I’m not locked in for life or anything.”