Bozzuto hammers out deal as Baltimore claws way to spotlight Promotions director promised crab feast


Barbara Bozzuto waited until after all the presentations and tours were complete to make her boldest move.

She was the host of a dinner that night in 1990, and the featured guests were the site-selection committee that would help pick the city to hold the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, the most hotly sought-after of the pre-Olympic events.

At the end of the crab cake dinner, Ms. Bozzuto leaned over to U.S. Gymnastics Federation executive director Mike Jacki and said that if the trials came to town she intended to take the most promising athletes, their families, friends and coaches to a crab feast.

A mallet-wielding, orange-fingered, claw-flying crab feast.

"The authentic way to celebrate in Baltimore on a spring night is a crab feast," Ms. Bozzuto explained to her startled guests, who were more accustomed to grand banquets, paid for by their hosts, at the end of competitions.

It must have worked.

More than 40 of the nation's top artistic and rhythmic gymnasts will begin competing Saturday at the Baltimore Arena for 16 slots on the U.S. team for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

It is the culmination of more than two years of effort by state and private officials to woo the event to town. Organizers estimate that the seven-day event will draw thousands of fans and result in $15 million in spending on hotels, food, tours and other businesses.

It's the first time an Olympic trial has been held in Baltimore, and state officials consider it an important step in their efforts to market Maryland's sports resources. Besides Baltimore, the other finalists for the trials were Columbus, Ohio, and Memphis, Tenn.

"It's one of the premier sporting events in the country and it only happens every four years," said Joshua Waldorf, sports marketing specialist for the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.

"It says to the rest of the sports world that Baltimore has arrived," Mr. Waldorf said.

NBC plans five hours of broadcasts. Generally networks arrive in advance of such broadcasts and get shots of area attractions to show between events, said Gil Stotler, assistant director of tourism and promotion for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

"You can't really put a dollar value on that," Mr. Stotler said. "This is one of the biggest national things we've got going on here this year."

Assuming 36,000 tickets are sold -- nearly a sellout -- and 6,000 people spend an average of four nights in hotels, the event could generate $15 million of direct and indirect economic activity, according to a highly informal estimate by DEED.

The city first got interested after a television production company in North Carolina contacted Ms. Bozzuto, then Baltimore's director of promotion, about holding several Olympic trials in Baltimore at one time. The idea was to package a sort of mini-Olympics with trials for gymnastics, boxing and kayaking/canoeing (an event already slated for Western Maryland).

That made-for-TV event never got off the ground, but the encounter got people thinking. At the urging of state officials, a local board of directors was formed by Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., head of Crown Central Petroleum Corp. Ms. Bozzuto, a veteran of Operation Sail, the Pride of Baltimore and other events, was named executive director of the non-profit U.S. Olympic Gymnastic Trials Inc.

Baltimore beat about 20 cities interested in the trials.

"The physical environment was very impressive to us," said Mr. Jacki, with the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, headquartered at Indianapolis.

"The bulk of the time is spent training and competing but there is some time when the kids want to get away, and in Baltimore there is shopping and the Inner Harbor and other things very nearby," Mr. Jacki said.

One of the tougher decisions was cutting the budget. Local organizers initially envisioned a $1.4 million budget, to be funded largely by ticket and concession sales and corporate sponsorships. DEED chipped in a $20,000 grant.

But fund raising came up short, and the budget was cut to $900,000, Ms. Bozzuto said. Luckily, some cost projections turned out to be high and many goods and services have been donated, allowing the budget to be reduced painlessly.

The group has raised $250,000 in sponsorships and $400,000 in donated services, such as free advertising or discounted hotel and airline accommodations. It hopes for $500,000 in revenues from tickets, which sell for $10 to $75.

"We're at a comfortable point now with what we've sold," said Ms. Bozzuto, who runs her own special events consulting firm, Bozzuto Consulting Group Inc.

The local organizers must pay for transportation, food and lodging for the athletes and their families and trainers. But they keep ticket revenues and most sponsorship money. The Olympics keep the television revenue, and the federation keeps a "rights fee" paid by the local committee.

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