Second Grand Prix of Baltimore draws smaller crowds, generates less money for city

The second Grand Prix of Baltimore sold 30,000 fewer tickets and generated $5 million less for the local economy than the first race.

But a economic impact report completed last week and released publicly Thursday has nevertheless emboldened J.P. Grant, a partner in Race On LLC.

"We pulled that off in 100 days, so it really is the floor of what we can do," Grant said. "We had a 60-page playbook and could only get through the first three pages. There's much more we'll do this year."

Grant has already started sharing the report with local business leaders, generating what he said was a positive response. He'll begin pressing for sponsorship support soon and has called on the local business community to show faith in the event after a trouble-free six months. He also hopes to have tickets on sale in time for Christmas as proof to skeptical fans that the race is on stable ground.

But he and partner Greg O'Neill have yet to reach a deal with Andretti Sports Marketing, the Indianapolis-based company hired to run the most recent race. The companies remain in near-constant negotiations as they try to figure out a way to divide the workload.

Just as Grant stepped in to rescue a race his considered to be a boon for his city, Andretti's company took on the job because it felt the Baltimore race was important for the health of IndyCar.

In the end, both groups were strained by the short window to plan the race.

"There was a lot we learned, and we're looking at a lot of ways of moving forward," Grant said.

Andretti Sports Marketing chief marketing officer John Lopes said the company was encouraged by the results of the economic impact study and anticipates working with Grant in some capacity this year.

"We're all in agreement that some aspects of the work are better handled by local companies," he said. "We jumped in last year so that we could really establish what this race might look like and set a blueprint for how it could be run."

The study estimates more than 131,000 people attended the three-day weekend, compared to 160,000 in the first year, and that their economic impact on the city was $42.3 million.

Forward Analytics, which also conducted a study last year paid for by the city, found $24.9 million in direct spending to the Grand Prix crowd, down from $27.6 million a year ago.

Grant, a Columbia-based financier and partner in Race On, has said he commissioned the report to establish a "baseline" for assessing the success of the event. His group had about 100 days to organize the race after two other organizations failed, and he believes ticket sales and sponsorship money — Race On generated only $800,000 while the inaugural race raised $3 million — were hurt by the uncertainty surrounding the race. Much of the signage around the course this year showed national brands who signed on to support the race because of Andretti's involvement.

"Our motto this year is 'Embrace the race,'" Grant said. "We've shown we can do it."

Victor Matheson, an economist and professor at the College of Holy Cross who has studied the impact of large-scale sporting events on host cities, said the Forward Analytic report accurately calculated the money spent by race goers in Baltimore but criticized it for failing to examine ways in which the race may have hurt the economy.

"It does a good job of adding and multiplying, but not subtracting," he said. "A race like this has a major impact on a downtown area. It is a huge disruption, and there are consequences of that."

Matheson also questioned the report's conclusion that the Grand Prix puts Baltimore "on the map" as a destination for visitors, businesses and potential residents.

"Mega events do help cities," he said. "But you really have to question whether this is anything close to that sort of event."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, a champion for the race from its inception, issued a statement Thursday lauding Race On's effort.

"This year, in less than 100 days, Race On put together another terrific weekend event with a significant, positive economic impact for Baltimore," it read. "Today's report shows the great opportunity for growth in the years ahead now that the event has been stabilized and as Race On has more time to plan, market and conduct the event."

Grant has admitted to losing money on the race, but said he believes it has a long future in Baltimore.

"It really is about leaving Baltimore with a signature event, with something positive that people associate with the city and that brings people to the city to see what it is really about," he said.