BY ANDREA SIEDSMA
The Red Bull Air Race World Series, which flies into San Diego on Sept. 21-22 at Embarcadero Park, is expected to bring tremendous exposure to San Diego, plus attract thousands of people and dollars to the region.
The daredevil races will help kick off Fleet Week San Diego, a string of activities held from Sept. 17 to Oct. 27 to honor local men and women in the Navy, Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard.
San Diego is one of two U.S. locations for the Red Bull Air Race World Series this year. Monument Valley, Utah, is the other.
“The United States is overall a very important country for any global sport,” said Adriaan Thierry, director of marketing and sales for the Red Bull Air Race World Series, which is based in Austria and is independent of its energy drink parent company. “San Diego stands out because of its long history with aviation and the great backdrop the city provides.”
Red Bull pilots will race on an aerial track above San Diego Bay north of the Coronado Bridge and south of Seaport Village. Dubbed as a motor sport, the races require pilots to fly through inflatable “air gates” that form a slalom course in the sky. The international event has gained rapid popularity since the first race in Austria in 2003.
Besides San Diego offering a perfect venue for the Air Race, local government and community leaders, including the Port of San Diego, gave event organizers full cooperation in terms of helping with permits and closing waterways and spectator areas for the races, Thierry said.
The Red Bull Air Race World Series brings in about 300 people of its own for the event; Thierry said the event has drawn up to 10,000 outside spectators in other cities. In fact, he said some races in Europe have drawn up to 600,000 viewers. The overall economic impact of the Air Race has tallied about $10 million in other cities, he said.
Some of the direct spending comes in the form of services and products needed such as catering, fencing, toilets, containers and security. One local contractor for the Air Race is San Marcos-based Diamond Environmental Services, which will be supplying temporary fencing and portable toilets. The privately held, 150-employee company provides services to contractors and other special events such as golf tournaments at the Torrey Pines Golf Course, Street Scene, Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and the Carlsbad Street Fair.
While Diamond Environmental’s contract for the Air Race is less than $50,000, founder and Chief Executive Officer Eric De Jong said this type of high-profile event will help raise its visibility in the business community.
“This kind of contract is good for repeated business,” De Jong said. “It’s good for the company because construction has slowed and we needed to look at other avenues to keep the business going. People know the Red Bull name so it looks good on our resume.”
The races will be broadcast on Fox Sports Network in the United States, as well as on TV stations in 130 other countries, making it a global platform for host cities. About 40 different cities from around the United States have already sent in applications for the 2008 races, Thierry said.
“More and more cities are applying to host next season’s races,” he said. “Cities see this as a great way to market themselves. It is one of the best ways to promote a city because the race is happening in the middle of the city.
“People in Poland may have never heard of San Diego, but after watching the race on TV they will know that San Diego is a nice city with a nice backdrop and a history of naval aviation.”
One organization instrumental in landing the races was the San Diego International Sports Council, which also served as the host committee for San Diego’s two Super Bowls. The council began courting Red Bull two years ago. Some council members even traveled to San Francisco (the site of the races last year) to meet with officials. The council also worked closely with the Port, Navy and city of San Diego officials to ensure the series would take place here.
“The biggest challenge that international event organizers have when they walk into this city is they’re not sure, for example, who controls the Bay,” said SDISC Council President Joe Moeller. “What we do is serve as a liaison who talks to the Harbor Police, Coast Guard and the Port for the event.”
Moeller said San Diego is the perfect venue for an alternative action sport like the Air Race.
“Southern California attracts a very nontraditional sports fan by nature,” he said. “Some of the world’s best action sports competitors live here. Today, we view the Red Bull Air Race as an extreme sport but their goal is to make it a mainstream event.
“There’s been so much energy about the air races that competition to host the event will get really stiff,” Moeller added. “It’s going to be like the Super Bowl.”
The other eight Red Bull Air Race locations for 2007 include Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Istanbul, Turkey; Interlaken, Switzerland; London, England; Budapest, Hungary; Porto, Portugal; and Perth, Australia.
Besides the air races, Fleet Week will also include a Padres game, golf tournament, Miramar Air Show, Sea and Air Parade, Coronado Speed Classic, Football Classic and Navy ship tours. In its 10th year, Fleet Week San Diego has become the largest salute to the military in the nation. Fleet Week organizers estimate the event generates a total economic impact of $10 million for the region.
Fleet Week Ramped Up
Having the races here elevates Fleet Week to another level, according to Tom Caughlan, executive director of Fleet Week.
“Unlike other Fleet Week events in San Francisco and Seattle, San Diego is a Navy homeport,” Caughlan said. “It’s our job to help the ordinary citizen appreciate what these great young men and women do. There is a lot of publicity surrounding the air races so it will increase the attention Fleet Week and San Diego get nationally and internationally.”
For David Peckinpaugh, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, hosting two major events simultaneously , Fleet Week and the Red Bull Air Race World Series , is a double whammy for San Diego in terms of current and future tourism dollars.
“The fact that these events are happening at the same time builds more energy around the city,” he said. “Anytime we can get an international audience to see those vistas as the cameras pan around this beautiful city, all it can do is help bring more visitors here. I equate it to hosting the Super Bowl here. They do a great job of showing the city. It’s priceless.”
In particular, events like the Red Bull Air Race World Series will help San Diego attract more international visitors, Peckinpaugh said. ConVis recently launched a three-year plan to attract more international visitors.
“We’ve lost significant visitors from the international marketplace since 9/11,” Peckinpaugh said. “Anything we can do to help rebuild the interest in our destination is really important.”
Freelance writer Andrea Siedsma is based in Encinitas.