By Amy Silverman
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Kennedy warns that unless the race generates a larger public following--especially by Phoenicians--it will become so unpopular the city council will be obliged to give Ecclestone a "thanks, but no thanks" when it's time to renew the contract.
None of this was news to officials in Detroit and Long Beach, who laughed when told of Phoenix's dilemma. They had heard it all before. As Yogi Berra once said, "It was deja vu all over again."
"When it looked like we were going to get taken to the cleaners [by Ecclestone], we said, `Adios,'" said Eric Dueweke, director of operations for the Detroit Renaissance, a group of downtown business people who promoted the Grand Prix there. "It wasn't worth it to us."
During renegotiations of the Detroit contract, Ecclestone demanded new facilities which neither the city nor the downtown development group was able to supply. When Ecclestone's insistence level began a crescendo, the group pulled the plug on his speaker phone and bade him farewell, Dueweke says.
Are they sorry Formula One split town? "Not at all," Dueweke says. His group is much happier sponsoring the American alternative to Formula One called the CART Grand Prix because it controls the race activities and has found these promoters cooperative. Even the tradeoffs--lower attendance and less international exposure--have not dampened the enthusiasm. Detroit has signed an exclusive TV contract with the CBS network to show its race nationwide.
"There's no comparison," Dueweke says. "We have more exposure in the U.S. and less overseas. We're not unhappy we made the change." There are significant distinctions between the Phoenix and Detroit Formula One contracts. Detroit Renaissance received cash from Ecclestone. Phoenix doesn't. Detroit split the ticket proceeds to help pay for promotion. Phoenix gets nothing from ticket sales. Detroit was able to control the promotions within the city through a board of business leaders. Phoenix city officials say they can't even hold a golf tournament during the Grand Prix if Ecclestone doesn't give the okay. Detroit's only expense was an $880,000 street-resurfacing job compared to Phoenix's $8 million, five-year ticket.
HOW DOES ECCLESTONE respond to such allegations? New Times tried to contact Clare or Ecclestone at their London office, but has had no response. The promoter's front man in Phoenix, Scott Winn, says "You have to understand, he's extremely busy. If you'll send a FAX, I'll see if I can get London to FAX you a response." So far, the London FAX hasn't talked to the New Times FAX.
Ecclestone, a 53-year-old former motorcycle and used-car salesman, is notorious for not responding to inquiries from anyone in Phoenix, including City Hall, insiders say.
But the city is over a barrel, officials concede. They want to keep the Grand Prix--badly. They've already invested nearly $5 million and they think the race is a smashing success in terms of currency inflow and advertising outflow.
Tourist interests have been calling daily for next year's race date. They see green--wads of it. Jack Tevlin, the mayor's chief of staff is being pestered by local hotel managers and restaurateurs for the next scheduled Grand Prix date tentatively set for Saint Patrick's Day, March 17, 1991. Apparently, international tourists fork out incredible amounts of money to be entertained, Tevlin says he's been told. "They spend like nobody else. It's excellent business for [the local establishments]."
And if the race is promoted better, it could be a major cash cow for the city's tourism industry.
Cluxton gave himself as an example. He had just returned from the British Grand Prix in Silverstone, two hours from London. More than 350,000 people packed a former World War II air base to watch the F/1 race.
Cluxton stayed at an "upscale Holiday Inn," fifteen miles from the site, and paid nearly $175 per night. His ride to the race, a thirty-seat helicopter, flew fans to the event from the hotel at a $468 round-trip price. He said F/1 fans are used to astronomical prices.
Additionally, city leaders salivate over the worldwide TV coverage, 235 million viewers watched last year and the audience is getting bigger. "It's cheap for international exposure," Kennedy says. "And, it's not just the numbers of people we reach, it's the kinds of people." Officials yearn that Phoenix become a mecca for jet-setting developers. This type of advertising is essential for that purpose.
Film crews from Japan, Italy, and France came to do segments not only on the race but on the city itself. An Italian TV crew showed a half-hour special on Phoenix and covered the event for a week building up to the race.
"People in those countries were exposed to Phoenix for weeks," gushes Jerry Giger, one of the city's promoters. "You can't buy that type of publicity. I can't imagine anything that rivals that magnitude."
The city will spend $2.5 million this year to attract tourists and $550,000 for an economic development staff, but neither has the power nor the bang of the race.
To keep the cash, the council must keep the race. To keep the race, the council must appease Phoenicians. Politicians are worried voters will look at this as one more city boondoggle.
"This is a watershed year," Kennedy says. "If we're not successful in dispersing this throughout the community, we'll lose the political support necessary for the event. Unless this has popular support, this won't work and rightly so."