Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has outlined her vision for a “sports bid fund” that would use the $5 million approved last year to try to attract major sporting events to Orlando, like January’s NFL’s Pro Bowl Game, which was snagged last year in an ad-hoc manner leading to the desire create such a formal fund.
That means Orange County and Orlando will have up to $5 million available to spend to bid on big sporting events, or small ones, for that matter.
Jacobs’ released a memo and an outline of fund rules Monday afternoon, a work day after the next opportunity for a sports event bid came to light, and too late to do much about it. Nonetheless, on Friday she and the rest of the Orange County Tourist Development Commission pushed forward an interim plan that could make up to $350,000 available to organizers to try to attract the 2019 Major League Soccer All Star game to Orlando.
The Orange County Sports Bid Fund would tap into tourist development tax money set aside for the opportunities. Last November the county approved $5 million for start-up money, and committed $2 million a year for subsequent years.
“This level of sports incentive funding significantly increased the county’s commitment in attracting major athletic events,” Jacobs declared in her memo.
The idea emerged last year when Jacobs found herself in a spring- and summer-long battle with tourism leaders and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer about how how to spend the county’s robust tourism money, which the county controls, but which the city and various sports, arts, convention, entertainment, tourism marketing, and hospitality organizations want more of. During that battle Orlando and Orange County got the chance to attract the NFL Pro Bowl Game away from Hawaii, and did so. But the infighting led to a rework of the county’s tourism tax plan.
That rework included the notion of creating a permanent fund to go after such sporting events with dedicated money, and presumably with less bickering and more concrete process.
Under Jacobs plan unveiled Monday, the fund would be available for sports organizers to request, to cover promotion, marketing, programming, advertising, bid fees, and direct incentive payments, and to backstop certain event losses. It could not be used for general expenses, capital costs, debt, hospitality functions, travel and lodging costs, or transportation.
Events would be judged on their potential to draw visitors and add to the economy. Small events, those that project less than $10 million in economic impact, could seek up to $25,000 in tax dollar assistance. “Regular” events, those that project $10 million to $50 million in economic impact, could be eligible for up to $137,500. “Signature” events, those envisioning more than $50 million in economic impact, would have no explicit limits on what they could seek, and would be funded on a case-by-case basis.
Event attendees and hotel room nights also would be factored into the equations to determine how much money an event organizer could seek. Also to be considered are media exposure prospects, broadcast reach, social media opportunities, hotel capacity at that time of the year, and any incentives for future events.
The MLS All Star Game bid organizers, including the Central Florida Sports Commission and the Orlando City Soccer Club, came in last week asking for up to $350,0o0 guaranteed, to backstop potential losses, should they attract the 2019 MLS All Star Game. The timetable for that bid is too tight for the entire process Jacobs introduced Monday, especially since she delayed release of the Sports Bid Fund guidelines for months. So she and the council agreed to ask the Orange County Board of Commissioners to consider the request at an August meeting.
She also expects the framework she released Monday to be adopted at that meeting.
After that, such requests would go through a Sports Bid Fund advisory board Jacobs outlined.
She caught criticism Friday when word got out that she was intending to announce the program this week, after it had sat in limbo for months, and too late for it to be fully used for the MLS All Star Game opportunity.
Jacobs had defended her decision Friday, and did so again Monday in her memorandum, by saying that the Florida Legislature was considering proposals this spring that could have affected how tourist tax money could be spent. So she wanted to wait until the Legislative Session and the Special Session ended before launching it.
“I would like to point out that the Sports Bid Fund evaluation criteria contained in this memo are based on strong accountability and transparency measures as were discussed during the 2017 Legislative Session,” she wrote in the memo. “We now are at a point where we can start to provide the necessary structure for this new program.”
The framework she released outlines what she called accountability, transparency and governance rules, which she said would include “robust reporting and post-event audit requirements.”
The guidelines also outline the goals, which include attracting “best” events, supporting the tourism industry, and bringing events for local citizens.
An advisory council, which would report to the Orange County Board of Commissioners, would hear the proposals and oversee their evaluations. The council members are to include a chair appointed by the mayor, and six specialists appointed by the commission: a citizen representative, a theme park representative, a financial or accounting representative, a Visit Orlando representative, a Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association representative, and an International Drive Chamber of Commerce representative.
Critics on Friday questioned why she