Last year's Grand Prix of Baltimore, the second running of the race, sold 30,000 fewer tickets and generated $5 million less for the local economy than the first, according to consultants commissioned by race organizers.
The consultants, Forward Analytics, reported that more than 131,000 people attended the three-day event last Labor Day weekend, compared to 160,000 in the first year. The economic impact, including direct spending such as hotel rooms bought as well as indirect spending, totaled $42.3 million last year.
Forward Analytics found $24.9 million in direct spending, down from $27.6 million a year earlier.
But the second Grand Prix avoided the financial fallout of the first year's race, which was organized under different management, Baltimore Racing Development LLC.
Even though the first race drew larger crowds, Baltimore Racing Development reported $12 million in debts to investors, creditors and vendors, and took a year to pay much of the money it owed the city and state in taxes and fees.
"My stress level is so much lower this year than in the first two years," said Councilman William H. Cole IV, a race proponent whose district includes the race course. "There's a stable organization, with a stable company behind it. Stability and ownership makes all the difference. Nobody's worried about bills not being paid."
Grant, who owns current organizer Race On with partner Greg O'Neill, said he is growing more optimistic about the event's long-term financial health.
"Ticket sales are well in advance of last year," Grant said. "Suite sales are well in advance. Sponsors are on tap already. We've learned from last year. This is a race I'm committed to. Every year it should get a little bit better and a little bit better."
Mayer said organizers have been running commercials in print, radio and television for nearly two months, whereas last year they ran television ads only in the final month before the event.
He recalled the trepidation he felt last year when racing champion Michael Andretti, whose company promotes the event, asked Mayer to take a gamble on the race despite the short preparation time.
"This very day last year, I was in Indianapolis meeting with Michael," Mayer recalled last week. "They were trying to persuade me to join them. I said, 'It scares the hell out of me. I'm in.'"
Grand Prix of Baltimore
When: Aug. 30 to Sept. 1
Tickets: Online at grandprixofbaltimore.missiontix.com; or by phone at 888-996-4774
Reserved grandstand seating: $30-$185
General admission: $5-$65