The Grand Prix of Baltimore will be run without a title sponsor for the third year in a row, leaving organizer Race On LLC without a seven-figure payout it had hoped would help cover operating costs.
"It's really not that much of a surprise to me," said Debbie Bell, the former Orioles employee hired by Race On as vice president for sales and marketing, on Wednesday. "I think people thought we had a wider window to work with than we really did. It's still a process, and we're getting closer and I'm confident that we are headed the right way."
The Labor Day weekend event did sign sponsorship deals with local companies Esskay, which makes meat products, and Maryland Live Casino, as well as several new national and regional brands. Bell said sales are up over last year — when Race On had only 100 days to organize the race after previous groups failed to do so — but would not say by how much. The 2012 race brought in $800,000 in sponsorship money, about one-third as much as the inaugural event raised in 2011.
The original organizers struggled to pay bills on time after a successful race, causing skepticism among business leaders wondering about its long-term future.
"What we've seen so far is a business community that sees an event that is on the right path," Bell said. "We've been strategic about picking the right partners for us, and that has worked very well so far."
Ticket sales for the event have improved over last year, a spokesman for the event said without disclosing an actual number. The first year of the race drew 160,000 fans over three days, while last year's crowd numbered more than 130,000. Tickets have been on sale since December; Race On did not begin selling seats for last year's event until the end of May.
The race weekend, anchored by an IndyCar event Sunday, lost money last year. J.P. Grant, the Columbia financier and managing partner of Race On, decided to continue supporting the race because he saw potential for growth in coming years.