Racers Grand Prix organiser Glen Mills is staring at a US$1-million bill to stage the premier athletics event next month. But while he doesn't appear to be panicking, having already received commitments from some of the world's top athletes that they will compete, Mills is hoping to attract more sponsors to prevent the meet from falling off the calendar.
"You can get all the stars you need, but remember, the bigger the star, the bigger the money," Mills told reporters and editors at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange. "When an athlete's appearance fee is over US$100,000 ($15.5 million), we can't afford that."
Pointing out that there are many cost considerations when trying to attract high-calibre athletes, the legendary track and field coach said, "The greatest challenge is that, with the athletes who come, you have to provide them with accommodation, airfare, the prize money, and appearance fees are all US dollar expenditures. So that pushes up the financial demand even more."
The meet, scheduled for June 3 at the National Stadium in St Andrew, has three main sponsors, one of which is the Ministry of Sport, through the Sports Development Foundation.
"The support of the Minister (Olivia Grange) is fantastic," Mills said. "She does everything she can to help us, and I guess she's gonna have to do a lot more this year to stop us from drowning."
The other main sponsors are equipment partner adidas, also a sponsor of Mills' Racers Track Club, and luxury watch company Richard Mille. However, Mills said that while adidas has increased its sponsorship this year, Richard Mille's funding has lessened.
"It's a big blow because the US dollar is $1 to J$155," he said.
Among the big name athletes already confirmed are world champions Jamaican Shericka Jackson; American Noah Lyles; Nigerian Tobi Amusan, the 100m hurdles world record holder; Olympic champion Hansle Parchment; former Olympic champion and 400m hurdles world record holder Dalilah Muhammad of the United States; former Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk, the 400m world record holder from South Africa; and American world champion Christian Coleman, who last Sunday clocked a wind-aided 9.78 seconds to beat Nyles (9.80) and Jamaican Akeem Blake (9.87) in the 100m at the USATF Bermuda Grand Prix.
Racers Track Club's Oblique Seville and Zharnel Hughes will also be competing over 100m and 200m, respectively, with Seville going up against Coleman and Hughes taking on Lyles.
The meet, Mills said, will feature between 65 and 70 international names, which is close to the usual number of participants each year it was staged.
Racers Grand Prix returns after a three-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before then, it was ranked by World Athletics as a part of its Continental Gold category of meets. It is now a silver category event, but this does not faze Mills, the man who coached Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt, who still retains world records in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.
The most important thing, Mills said, is the staging, as it also provides a platform for athletes just beginning their professional careers.
"We understand the economic challenge right now, coming out of the pandemic, but despite the difficulties, we didn't want to allow inertia to stop us from doing anything," he said. "We figured that once we got started it would make an impact.
"When we started the grand prix we had the same difficulty the first year that we're having now. But as we staged it, corporate Jamaica came on board in a big way over the period, so we never had the challenge we have now. So I am hoping that history will repeat itself. If we get through the first one, it will get corporate Jamaica thinking to put it on their agenda for next year and so on," he said.
Asked if he had approached the Jamaica Tourist Board to have the meet placed on the island's events calender and, as such, receive promotional support overseas to attract visitors to Kingston, Mills said 'yes'.
"We have tried to engage them over the years, but so far we have not gotten the response or the enthusiasm about it. It would be nice if they would undertake to use the meet as a tool to advertise tourism," he said and pointed to the Bermuda Grand Prix as an example.
"Bermuda's meet was shown on NBC Sports because their Government used it as a means of advertising the country. If you watch the meet, you'll see that Bermuda was being significantly advertised â€” the beaches, and so forth. Grenada does that too. They pay ESPN to televise the meet and advertise Grenada as a product. We're hoping that one day we'll be able to get something like that," Mills said.
His reference was to a three-year agreement the Grenada Government signed with ESPN in 2018 for rights to televise the Grenada Invitational in the Caribbean, the United States, and on ESPN digital platforms.
Racers Grand Prix is the only senior international meet on the local athletics calendar as the Jamaica International Invitational Meet has been on hiatus since 2018.
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