Kevin Savoree on the success of St. Pete
Grand Prix managing director Kevin Savoree will use the weekend to broach a new long-term contract with city officials. Sunday's Indy Racing League event is the first under a two-year extension invoked by Andretti Green Promotions and the city last year, and Savoree wants to secure a venue that now defers only to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in terms of popularity with teams.
"As an annual event, you only get a couple shots at this to really start talking about the future," Savoree said. "(Sponsors) like continuity, they like long-term, they like partnership and you can't do that one year at a time. Any organization will fail if their planning is only one year out. You have to have a long-term perspective, so certainly for us, we want to talk to the city about going out into the future."
But the Rays' plans for a $450-million ballpark on the site of Al Lang Field would have a major impact on the race course and its staging areas. Savoree said the ballpark "is going to have to be" part of his discussions. Rays officials have yet to contact AGP, though Mayor Rick Baker, a race proponent, has become an informal intermediary.
"I have talked to both the Rays and the Grand Prix about the proposal situation and I think both of them understand my position and that however the proposal is ultimately structured, if it's going to get my support, it's going to have to mean that the Grand Prix continues to succeed and thrive," he said.
Savoree said "it's our absolute 100 percent desire to own and promote this race. If the city lets us know something else, that will be their decision."
How is business?
Ticket sales are trending slightly ahead of last year, so I think for everything that’s going on, for that trend to continue, we’re just really excited about it.
Unification has been so big. This has been the first time in an IndyCar race than an Andretti, a Foyt and a Rahal will go at it, and to say that happened here is so cool. It’s just special. I think in any sport, that kind of tradition is cool to follow. There’s a lot of them that have followed their fathers or their grand fathers. We’re obviously thrilled to have them and to have Paul Newman and Carl Haas and some of the other great Champ Car owners here this weekend. That’s awesome.
We’re full. We’re past full and so we’re going to continue to have to be creative. We had to spend some money with the University of South Florida to rent some additional parking lots from them to fit some additional stuff in. Good for the university and it allowed us to add some paddock space adjacent to the racetrack. We had to be a little bit creative to fit six quarts in a gallon jug. We’re full. For us to be able to continue to grow we’re going to have to continue to grow.
Why are ticket sales up?
I suppose a couple big pieces of it are Helio Castroneves and Danica Patrick. To say that they are helpful names now is an understatement. Their stars are on the rise, so obviously that played a big part in it. I think, if you look at some of the trends in the American Le Mans Series, the TV ratings for Sebring and the Tampa-St. Pete market was one of the top markets in the country for the ALMS race. So again, I think there’s those kind of trends. And I think there’s event-goers that come out to see a concert or whatever. It’s just become kind of a great weekend for the city. zzzz
Is it gratifying that the IRL will make its pitch to potential title sponsors here?
I think you heard a lot of speakers say that outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this is a pretty cool place, and it is very rewarding. I think we have created this incredibly unique public/private partnership where the city and Andretti Green and so many corporate sponsors really have a way to partner together for the good of the city. People from all around the world are finding out about St. Petersburg and whether that’s on the IndyCar broadcast or the ALMS broadcast, its going all over the world, and I think that’s a big part of the story St. Pete wanted to tell. It’s a pretty fresh city. And that’s the message I think the mayor wanted to get out.