By Mark Zalewski
Dave Chauner, CEO of Threshold Sports and organizer of the Pro Cycling Tour, announced today that this year's San Francisco Grand Prix will not include a women's event, due in part to T-Mobile not renewing as a sponsor and the prohibitive costs to running two races on the city streets of downtown San Francisco.
"T-Mobile elected not to renew its title sponsorship for strategic reasons," said Chauner. "Part of T-Mobiles commitment was the requirement to add a women's race in 2003, the first year of their title sponsorship. It was important for [T-Mobile] to host a women's race... without their support and the costs and time required with additional TV time made it cost prohibitive this year. The time requirements for using the city roads preclude us from running two races. We are going back to the original format the city approved the first couple of years."
Bob Stapleton, team manager for T-Mobile's women's team, told Cyclingnews that he is very upset about the decision to cut the women's race from the event. "It's a real loss to women's cycling and to the entire event as a whole. It's the best women's event anywhere."
Stapleton said that T-Mobile had a two-year deal with the race organizers and that the company decided to spend it's marketing money in other areas this year. "T-Mobile had a two-year deal to sponsor the race. They thought they could put the money to use elsewhere. T-Mobile is one of, if not the, largest sponsor of cycling in the world - they are not the issue."
Race organizers and the City of San Francisco have been back and forth over the issue of money surrounding the race for some time now. Much of the problems originate with former mayor Willie Brown forgiving a loan to the race from the city to pay for security. The same problems plagued the race in recent years culminating with the organizers threatening to move the race to another west coast venue. Proponents cite the substantial increase in revenues the race generates while opponents point out the huge bills that run-up each year.
This prompted the new mayor, Gavin Newsome, to create a special waiver that would reduce the city fees for the race by one dollar for every two dollars the race generated in revenue. In short, this meant the cost of running the race would drop from more than $300,000 to less than $90,000, with the agreement continuing through 2007. The waiver was narrowly passed on April 5, 3005 by a 6-5 vote of the city's board of supervisors.
This brought mixed reactions from a variety of people, including city board supervisor Chris Daly, who cited the fiscal crisis the city budget is facing as a major reason to tighten city purse strings. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that some in San Francisco, including Daly, are also suspect of the relationship that local businessman Thomas Weisel has with the race organizers and other stakeholders. Chauner stated to The Chronicle that he "has never asked Tom Weisel for a penny for this bike race."
As it currently stands, the San Francisco Grand Prix's men's race seems to still have a green light with new sponsorship arrangements reportedly in the final stages. "We are going to make an announcement July 15," said Chauner. "We are in negotiations with a couple of really good sponsors right now."
But for the women, they will have to watch from the sidelines this year as another prominent event is erased from the calendar.