They ran a Grand Prix through the streets of Charm City recently, and if you looked closely, some people say, those were dollars you saw spewing from the exhausts of those high-performance engines. Those are the kinds of dollars that spread all throughout the downtown area, to local establishments and small businesses. Soon, we'll begin to hear the story of the economics of the Izod IndyCar event. I'm told we should be interested in that story — the one about economics and racing.
However, the real story is not about the cars, the race or even the dollars. It never is. It's the picture of the Big Fish that Baltimore hooked. Did you see the picture?
What picture, you say? A mentor of mine once provided this valuable learning experience about sports business. He asked: "Have you ever walked into someone's home or office and they show off their prized photo — you know, the one of the guy standing on the dock proudly holding the big fish at the end of the hook?" "Sure," I said.
He continued, "Now, have you ever had someone show you a picture of their 14 small fish on the same hook?" I said, "No, not ever."
"That's just the point, it's about the big catch. That is always the story that gets talked about for days, weeks and maybe years. It's a story that spreads."
Baltimore just landed its newest Big Fish.
In the coming weeks and months, there will be a blizzard of facts and figures provided regarding the "impact" to the surrounding area from the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix. Economic impact studies, attendance and spending estimates, you name it; we are bound to hear about it. Someone may proclaim the impact is $50 million. Another will say, "No, it's $65 million." I can see the stand-off now, when those on each side of the issue present their respective studies. We might even be treated to dueling studies — something like "white papers at 20 paces."
And none of it will matter — not one single sheet of recycled paper.
Sporting consumers don't read about such facts. All of the feature and benefits statements will go for naught. No one has the time anymore to digest that information. For the lack of impact these studies may have, those who write them might as well be using the ink from the "Harry Potter" movies, the kind that transfigures anything written in it to become invisible.
It's not the numbers; it's the story. It's what's new, what's fresh. What is today's story?
What Baltimore had with the Grand Prix, in abundance, were stories. Danica Patrick? Heck, she's Taylor Swift in a Nomex fireproof racing suit. If you were in the paddock where they work on the cars, you might have witnessed what I mean. Little girls and boys, moms and dads in close quarter behind, hunting Danica for the elusive autograph. She passes the test of being certified by parents of being worthy of the wall poster. She is petite, well spoken and "made in the USA," even without the label. Despite those Go Daddy commercials, she's family friendly. The crowd of moms and dads along the rope lines told me so.
I saw kids walking around with autographed parts of damaged race cars. And there are lots more stories just like those.
People who are involved with this event would be wise to start telling, and retelling, those stories — right away, today, not this winter or next spring. Don't wait for the impact studies to land on someone's desk.
Looking ahead, we will all be eagerly waiting to see if someone can articulate just where those dollars all landed as they exited from the exhaust of the IndyCars as they charged toward Harborplace.
I won't be listening or reading, though. I will be too consumed collecting fish stories.
Marty Conway, a professor of sports industry management at Georgetown University, is the head of Way Forward Associates LLC, a sports consulting company. His email is email@example.com. Twitter: @MartyConway.