OCEAN CITY — A divided Ocean City Council this week approved a request for the resort to be an official sponsor of OC BikeFest with all of the advertising and marketing benefits it would provide to the tune of $25,000.
During last week’s Tourism Committee meeting, Tourism Director Donna Abbott presented a request for a sponsorship opportunity for the town for OC BikeFest at $25,000. Abbott recommended the sponsorship as a means to promote the town’s other fall special events during OC BikeFest, which is clearly the most attended of shoulder season events each fall.
Abbott explained the $25,000 sponsorship would put Ocean City’s tourism banner on all OC BikeFest websites and social media platforms with links to the town’s other special events and goings-on around the resort. In addition, the Ocean City banner would be displayed on all OC BikeFest signage at events in addition to a two-page color advertising spread in the OC BikeFest guide. The Tourism Committee voted to send a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council and Abbott pitched the idea to the town’s elected officials on Monday.
“All we’re trying to accomplish with this is to promote all of our fall events,” she said. “OC BikeFest is right after Labor Day and we want to get the word out on all of our special events. We’re hoping to bring back the bikers that enjoy that event and get them to come back with their families and enjoy our other fall special events.”
Not all were keen on the idea of spending another $25,000 for a sponsorship opportunity for OC BikeFest. Councilman Wayne Hartman pointed out the town already made a substantial commitment to OC BikeFest. He also pointed out the Mayor and Council just a week ago reversed an earlier decision and voted to allow alcohol sales at OC BikeFest’s Inlet events in addition to beer and wine sales.
“Last year, we gave them $10,000 in seed money and then this year they come back seeking $25,000,” he said. “I think we gave them all of the seed money they need when five of us last week approved liquor sales at their Inlet events.”
Hartman said allowing alcohol sales at OC BikeFest’s events at the Inlet already provided the special event with a fiscal shot in the arm in terms of sales and sponsorship opportunities.
“I just think there are cheaper ways of getting the word out about our special events,” he said. “When we gave them liquor sales, we gave them a sponsorship opportunity that is worth probably four or five times more than the $25,000 they’re asking for.”
Last year, the Mayor and Council approved a $10,000 request from OC BikeFest to help offset the rising cost of providing live entertainment at the events. Councilman Tony DeLuca on Monday asked what the fundamental difference was with this year’s sponsorship request.
“What’s the basic difference between this year’s request and last year’s request?” he said. “Maybe if we look into this we can see the value in being a sponsorship partner with OC BikeFest.”
Abbott explained the proposed $25,000 contribution would provide some real benefit for Ocean City in return in terms of marketing and promotional opportunities.
“In the past, Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) money was used to offset the cost of entertainment at OC BikeFest,” she said. “This year, this request would allow us to tap into their website, their social media platforms and all of their printed advertising including a two-page spread in their program, which allows us to promote our other special events.”
Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out the town often signs on as a sponsor with other major events including the Maryland Municipal League (MML) and the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO), for example.
“It’s not unusual for us to support conventions and events,” he said. “I know we do it with the Firemen’s Convention, MML and MACO. This is a way to get information to the people who are already here. I think that’s just good business. It’s a good way to stay connected and let them know what else we have coming up.”
Hartman pointed out the town has a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with OC BikeFest that spells out the town’s contributions to the event, both monetary and in in-kind services.
“What’s the value of everything we do for them already?” he said. “I think it’s around $85,000. If we’re working with them in that fashion, I’m surprised they’re asking for this. It’s a partnership and we’re already providing services for them. We’re helping them already and it seems like a one-way street.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight pointed out the proposed $25,000 sponsorship was different because of the direct benefit to the town in the form of marketing and promotion for other special events in the fall and even Winterfest.
“This is a totally different program,” she said. “This allows us to reach out to their thousands of participants about our other special events and things going on in town. I think there’s a real value in that.”
Councilman Dennis Dare said OC BikeFest does attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, but comes with other expenses that other special events don’t require.
“The difference is, this is one event that costs us a huge amount of overtime, we have to bring in extra law enforcement from all over the state and we even had to pass a trailer ordinance,” he said. “We don’t have those same issues with MML, MACO and the Firemen’s Convention to name a few.”
Hartman said it appeared the writing was on the wall with the expected vote on the issue, but urged his colleagues to at least look at the expenses incurred by the town spelled out in the MOU.
“It’s clear how this vote is going to go,” he said. “I just ask that we wait until we get some of the information back from the MOU on how much we already contribute before we tack on another $25,000.”
Councilman John Gehrig pointed out the economic impact of OC BikeFest on the resort.
“They have 150,000 attendees, so investing $25,000 in this certainly doesn’t seem unreasonable,” he said. “This generates $69 million in economic impact from one event including $2 million in room tax. They already pay us $100,000, so it’s not like they’re getting a free ride.”
The council voted 5-2 with Dare and Hartman opposed to approve the $25,000 investment in the Bike Week sponsorship opportunity.