[The embedded video is of the inaugural 2012 30A Thanksgiving 10K where we had 800 participants, brought significant revenue to local business in Bay and Walton County and raised $19,000 for a local charity]
Our beaches, coastal dune lakes, vast state parks, rolling country roads and favorable weather are an endurance athlete’s dream destination. Collectively our area has the resources to be one of the top fitness destinations in the world.
In the last decade, endurance sports such as cycling, triathlons and running have grown significantly in popularity. Unbeknownst to our Bay County commissioners, our visitor demographics are changing right before their eyes. Every year athletes from around the world come to our beaches to train and compete in world-class endurance events. They are here year-round vacationing with their families.
Our community leaders have clearly communicated that endurance events are a burden — residents and businesses have to suffer every time an event is held.
If our economy is driven by tourism, what is the issue with endurance athletes? There is arguably no better marketing demographic in the world. Statistically speaking, endurance athletes are high-wage earners, highly consumptive, highly passionate and highly philanthropic (most endurance events benefit a local charity). Endurance athletes are entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives. They are fathers, mothers, grandparents and grandchildren, and they love to travel.
Unfortunately, based upon recent and historical positions of our county leaders, endurance athletes and events are portrayed as a nuisance to our community. Spring breakers are a welcomed demographic to our community. During Spring Break in Panama City Beach from March 1 to March 15, 2011, police made 477 arrests, issued 1,200 citations and answered 4,200 calls. A city manager was quoted as saying “we run and hide” during Spring Break. Public sanitation, beer bottles, plastic cups and an abundance of litter on our pristine beaches are an overwhelming mess for our county to clean up and manage. Yet, Spring Break appears to cause less of a burden than 1,000 runners on Front Beach Road before most of our residents and businesses are awake.
IronMan Florida is ranked as the 25th most popular triathlon in the world according to Triathlete Magazine. We have more than 3,000 athletes from 44 countries come to our beaches to compete. IronMan Florida is so popular that the 2013 event sold out in 45 seconds! This is something that our community leaders should be proud of.
I am darn proud of it. We host one the greatest sporting events in the world and our community leaders see it as a nuisance. Athletes from around the world choose to come here. They bring their families and friends to celebrate personal achievement, and build lifelong memories while infusing significant revenue into our economy. Why is this not good for our community?
TDC President Dan Rowe and Richard Sanders have done something amazing by bringing another premier event to our area, the Biggest Loser Run Walk. Obesity in America is out of control for adults and youths, with more than 17 percent of U.S. children being obese. This is an event that our community and its leaders should embrace and support, not because it benefits a charity, but because Panama City Beach is instrumental in backing one of the largest and highest-profile fitness movements in the United States. Our commissioners should focus on how to grow the event and keep it in our community versus lobbying to relocate it to somewhere less burdensome in 2013.
The Bay County Commission said the Biggest Loser Run Walk will be disruptive and a nuisance. This is pure nonsense and short-sighted. If I owned a restaurant I would sponsor a water stop right in front of it. I would have my family, friends and employees handing out water and cheering on participants as they ran by. Tables and chairs would be set up so families and friends could watch the race while enjoying breakfast at my restaurant. I would hand out swag and coupons to race participants and my team would compete in the 5K run walk wearing restaurant T-shirts. My business would have a positive impact on the event versus a negative impact on my business. I would enjoy prime marketing exposure to 1,000 racers.
A more-balanced event venue location strategy is certainly a great discussion point. Our community can successfully support all events. With a little flexibility, positive leadership and creativity it can be a win-win for everyone.
I hope to see all five of our county commissioners step up to the Biggest Loser Challenge and participate in the 5K run walk. It would be an excellent way to experience how important these events are to our community, the participants and their families.