Resort To Contribute $75K For First-Year Bull Riding Event

Resort To Contribute $75K For First-Year Bull Riding Event
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OCEAN CITY – Professional bull riding will make its inaugural appearance in Ocean City in June after resort officials this week signed off on a funding arrangement including a revenue share of ticket prices.

Earlier this month, the Ocean City Tourism Commission got an update on the professional bull riding event set for a portion of the Inlet parking lot on June 3-5 and learned the promoter was seeking an additional investment from the town for the first-ever event to offset unforeseen costs. The tourism commission voted to send a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and Council, who heard the pitch and learned more details from the promoter during Tuesday’s work session.

The promoter, Triple Creek Events, was seeking a $75,000 upfront contribution from the town’s tourism development grant (TDG) fund in exchange for a $5 per ticket revenue share from the three-day event. The bull riding competition would include roughly 4,000 tickets sold for each event including Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

The tourism commission recommended either the full $75,000 contribution with the revenue share or something more in line with $30,000, but no revenue share. On Tuesday, Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo outlined the proposal for the Mayor and Council.

“The tourism commission met in April to discuss the tourism development grant funding for the professional bull riding event in June,” he said. “The request was in the amount of $75,000 in exchange for a revenue share of $5 per ticket. We are recommending participation from the tourism development grant. There is ample funding to handle this.”

The event is a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Bull Riding and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeo. An arena and bleachers will be constructed on a portion of the Inlet parking lot. Several truckloads of dirt will be hauled to the Inlet lot in advance of the bull-riding event in June, creating an eight-inch surface on which the rodeo will be held. Event organizers will haul the dirt back out of the Inlet lot and restore it to its pre-event condition after the rodeo is completed.

The bulls themselves will be housed off the island during the event and trailered in on the days of the competition.

Councilman Mark Paddack questioned how many seats for the event were planned and how many had been sold with the bull riding event now about five weeks away. Paddack said he was coming around to the idea of the town forward-funding the event.

“Originally, I had some reservations about this, but think overall it can and will be a good program,” he said. “I know it’s in its infancy. Right now, how many seats are you planning to have in your bleachers?”

Triple Creek Events representative Bobby Vesper said the promoters had run into some cost overruns, which is why they were seeking additional support from the town.

“We’ve had two major obstacles that were unforeseen,” he said. “One is the scarcity of the equipment due to corona[virus] and the other is how the fuel costs are going up so moving the steel, in many cases from around the country, have affected our costs.”

Vesper said the promoter was creating a different VIP section with higher ticket costs to offset some of the unanticipated promotion pricing obstacles.

“We’re still going to have the same number of seats, but what we did to offset some of the costs is we’re going to have the arena seats in the bleachers, but also a back area as an elevated VIP section with higher ticket costs,” he said.

Vesper said ticket sales for the event were going well, but he anticipated sales really ramping up in the weeks leading up to the bull riding competition.

“We have sold about 1,500 tickets as of two days ago,” he said. “We are on pace with our other sold-out events. With a general admission event, what we’ve learned is most of the seat sales occur within the last three weeks.”

There was discussion about the impact of the event’s footprint on the Inlet parking lot revenue in June, but Vesper said there was a contingency plan in the works.

“One of the things that is open for discussion is we’ve reached out to the casino to ease the burden on parking in the event footprint that we might take from you and they were nice enough to allocate 300 spaces to us,” he said. “The dilemma is how to we shuttle the people back and forth?”

Paddack asked if the promoter had considered a different set of dates possibly later in the year.

“Have you considered the possibility of having this event maybe later in the fall to allow you to buy some time to sell more tickets?” he said. “If there was a window a little bit later in the fall where we could move this event. You’re looking at 4,000 on Friday, 4,000 on Saturday and 4,000 on Sunday. That’s 12,000 and you’re now at 1,500.”

However, Vesper said the Ocean City event is part of a larger PBR series that has already been locked in.

“This is a national presence,” he said. “We can’t move it and pivot that easily. There’s a schedule all over the country that was set in motion months and months ago.”

Vesper said Triple Creek Events and the PBR had larger plans for Ocean City beyond the proposed June event in the resort.

“We’re committed to this venue for three years with professional bull riding coming,” he said. “In addition to that, if we create an atmosphere here where we do bring in that demographic that is different than what is currently coming here, we’re already in discussion about bringing in other events like a full rodeo.”

Mayor Rick Meehan allayed concerns from a citizen during the public comment period about stacking events in early June on top of what is already a busy time in the season. The Jellyfish Festival will be going on in the same general area near the pier at the Inlet.

“I think this is an exciting event and an exciting opportunity,” he said. “I actually think the two events will support each other with one on the north side of the pier and one on the south side of the pier, and I think the Jellyfish Festival is geared more toward country music this year and that really plays into this. I think we’ll be able to handle those crowds with the existing parking, the other lots downtown and the Park-and-Ride, which could really be used well for this event.”

Meehan recommended a hybrid option of sorts, including a $50,000 contribution from the town along with the $5 per ticket revenue sharing plan.

“That seems realistic to me,” he said. “If this event is going to be as successful as everybody thinks it’s going to be, that gives you the upfront investment to work with. I think we can make this a very good weekend with two simultaneous events.”

However, Councilman John Gehrig said if the funding was available, he recommended providing the full $75,000 requested along with the ticket revenue sharing plan. He said he did not want to hold up the event over $25,000 if the funding was available.

“There’s another option,” he said. “If we’re going to be committed to making this work, I don’t want $25,000 to be in the way. I’m willing to invest to get this event off to a great start. We’re talking about multiple events, so the balance can be covered in future events.”

It was pointed out the planned VIP section would have higher ticket prices. After considerable debate, Gehrig amended his motion to include the $75,000 contribution with a ticket revenue sharing plan of $5 per seat sold or 10% of the entire ticket sales based on the VIP section sales. The motion passed with a unanimous 7-0 vote.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.