Despite the initial hype and high expectations that it would bring thousands of visitors to the city, the Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Pete Half Marathon will not be returning to St. Petersburg next year.
Competitor Group, which puts on similar races across the country, announced today it is canceling the Feb. 9 race, and offered refunds or vouchers to runners who had already registered. Organizers say they’re shutting it down largely because of the event’s low turnout in 2012 and 2013, which they blame on a profusion of popular road races throughout the state during the winter months.
“Florida is a very competitive market with many well established local races and then a few key national draws with both ING Miami and Disney in January,” said event spokesman Dan Cruz said in an email.
It was a quiet end after a controversial beginning for the 13.1-mile race after Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg gave a combined $130,000 in cash and in-kind services, such as security and maintenance, to Competitor Group in 2012 and 2013.
City leaders and tourism officials had touted the course as a major running event that would fill St. Petersburg hotel rooms and pump millions of dollars into the local economy. The inaugural event had about 7,000 runners, about half of the initial turnout estimate, in 2012. This year, fewer than 4,500 runners finished the half-marathon.
The financial stake — and the race’s scheduling near that of other area long-distance events — drew criticism from local organizers of nonprofit races at the time.
“There was some displeasure from the community about the local funding they received,”said Nick Zivolich, CEO of the Best Damn Race, a road race held that same month in Safety Harbor.
St. Pete Beach Classic director Al Johnson said he lost nearly $7,000 on two 5-kilometer races he organized in St. Petersburg benefited the nonprofits Mike Alstott Family Foundation and Athletes for Hearts Foundation. Event organizers had to cover the same costs the city absorbed for Rock ‘n’ Roll.
“My bone of contention wasn’t with the competitor group and rock and roll it was the way they were treated by the CVB and the City,” he said. “Here they are not supporting two local charities, but here they are throwing a ton of money (at R&R).”
Members of the running community also say the event lost favor of local runners because they had to pay to park at Tropicana Field and for a shuttle service to get them back to their cars after the race, which ended a couple of miles from the starting point.
“A lot of it had to do with all the fees. A lot of the runners were upset with the fees,” said Gary Robinson, president of St. Pete Road Runners and a manager at local running shoe chain Fit2Run, which had numerous booths and sponsored runners in both years. “They force you to pick up your packet at Tropicana Field, but you gotta pay 15 bucks to park.”
The Rock ’n’ Roll races distinguish themselves from other running events by featuring musical acts along the way to cheer on participants. This year’s race featured singer Sean Kingston, and the debut in 2012 was headlined by rapper Flo Rida.
The Competitor Group said it will focus resources on two other Bay area events in November, the Women’s Running Half Marathon in St. Petersburg and the TriRock Clearwater Triathlon.
“We thank our local partners, including the St. Petersburg Clearwater Sports Commission and the city of St. Petersburg, for all the hard work that has been accomplished over the past two years,” the website said. “St. Pete is a tremendous destination with an active endurance community, and we look forward to growing those two world-class events in the future.”
Runners registered for the Rock ’n’ Roll St. Petersburg event can transfer to the Women’s Running Half Marathon, apply it to another Rock ’n’ Roll race or get a full refund.
The city and county both say they plan to maintain a strong working relationship with Competitor Group because of the other two events.
“Truthfully, we’re disappointed to see any event go, but we respect Competitor Group’s business decision,” said Beth Herendeen, a spokeswoman for the city of St. Petersburg.
Competitor Group also announced it is canceling its Pasadena, Calif., run, and Cruz said Competitor Group may also consider backing out of some of the event’s other “underperforming” markets. Last week, Competitor Group announced it will be eliminating its sponsorship of elite athletes at its North American endurance events to cover lodging, travel and endurance fees for professional athletes, which it had previously funded to the tune of $475,000.