Changes afoot for Tour de Georgia

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

After four years as the Dodge Tour de Georgia, the six-day race will have a new title sponsor for 2006 after Dodge did not renew its $1 million sponsorship. And that is not the only change for the race. The State of Georgia has licensed the race entirely to Medalist Sports of Tyrone, Ga. This gives the sports marketing firm complete control of the event - a departure from its previous role of only logistical planning. The firm will need to find and secure a new title sponsor and take over the marketing and media relations aspects of the event.

The state will still own the race via the nonprofit Georgia Partnership for Economic Development (GPED) and a portion of the proceeds will still benefit the Georgia Cancer Coalition, according to Medalist Sports managing partner Chris Aronhalt. "The race is still owned by a nonprofit a 501(c)6 entity, but we and the board have reached an agreement," Aronhalt told Cyclingnews. "The state is still a major sponsor of the event. The structure will be the same, we just took more of the responsibility of the event."

He and partner Jim Birrell have provided logistics for the three previous editions of the race and are confident that they can assume total control of marketing the event as well. "We are always striving to improve the race - our focus now will be in terms of marketing and value back to the corporate partners."

The first and biggest problem the firm is facing is finding a new title sponsor to replace Dodge. Finding cycling sponsorship is certainly not the easiest task for race promoters in the U.S., and finding one to foot a seven-figure race that has ties to both the local economy as well as national or even international marketing ambitions is even harder. In previous editions, the sponsorship money has been a last-minute ordeal, leaving the other race plans in the air. But Aronhalt assures that a sponsor deal is in the works and that an announcement is forthcoming early this fall.

"We anticipate announcing the title sponsor and the race route at the same time around the end of September," Aronhalt said. "One of the big improvements is to make [the race] a consistent property." A sure approach to make that possible is to sign a sponsor to a multi-year deal, which is another goal for Medalist. "We are looking for a multi-year sponsor with a Georgia and Regional focus, but with a national and international background and platform."

Craig Lesser, commissioner of the Georgia Partnership of Economic Development, said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "...the race provides great visibility for the state and brings the spotlight to several different communities. In fact, more than twenty-five cities and towns are bidding to hold the event in 2006, and about a dozen will be selected."

Lesser also commented that the state should not be involved with the operation of the race, rather only serve in a sponsorship capacity. "I don't think the state should be managing and operating a bicycle race. But we should continue to support it financially and in any other way that helps make it successful."

However, this has some worried since GPED will no longer be able to provide the checks and balances it could in its more supervisory role. One of the founding principles of the race was a mandate to bring economic growth to parts of the state that were under-served in terms of tourism and other income, yet the majority of the stages have remained in the northern parts of the state, and have followed many similar routes in its previous three editions. "The board will continue to have responsibilities to make sure the performance measures are met, so the owner will still have oversight," said Bill Todd, president of the Georgia Cancer Coalition and a GPED board member. "It's a privatisation in effect."

The Georgia Cancer Coalition, the beneficiary of the race, will continue to benefit from the proceeds. 2005 was the first year the race turned a profit and the donation amount has yet to be determined. With the new arrangement, Medalist will receive a percentage of any profits in addition to fees. "It is a profit-sharing arrangement," explained Todd. "The sponsors making a contribution [to the GCC] will be protected, and any money they designate will go to it 100 percent, but the operating will produce a shared benefit like any business and a percentage will go to the [firm]."

In regards to the stage routes, Aronhalt says the goal for Medalist is to work towards expanding the Tour de Georgia but not necessarily for 2006. "We do look to expand - it's of interest while at the same time [the current race] is a successful business plan. It's a nice blend right now."

Medalist is also involved with the logistics and planning of the inaugural Tour of California, slated for early next spring, giving the firm a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. "Specifically, like we have done with the Tour de Georgia the past couple of years, it will be logistics with hotels, meals, wheels and the team invitations. Everything but the marketing, but we do have a consultant role."

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