As a sport, offshore racing uses several metrics to gauge its own success. Within the sport itself, boat counts reign supreme. That’s an easy one, and while it doesn’t tell the whole story of any given race—much less the overall health of the sport—it is a solid measurement tool, especially if averaged over an entire season.
But gauging fan attendance and interest? Thanks to the open-gate nature of offshore racing venues, that’s a lot trickier because there typically aren’t any ticket sales to tally.
Counting everyone on the beach on race day as an “offshore racing fan” is as silly and as it is delusional. Trust me, the surfers in the water during the upcoming SBI season-opener May 18-20 in Cocoa Beach, Fla., won’t be there to watch the powerboat races.
Television viewer numbers would be easy to track, as such numbers are the coin of the realm for TV ad sales, if the sport actually had television coverage of the recurring kind. The likely extinct NBC TV Sports special series covering the Super Boat International Offshore World Championship is Key West, Fla., is a different animal than recurring coverage programming. (Don’t get me wrong—it was a cool series, lots of fun to watch. I’m going to miss it.)
But from an offshore racing venue organizer’s perspective, the kind Kerry Bartlett, the executive director of the Space Coast Super Boat/Thunder On Cocoa Beach group knows well as the race heads into its ninth season, the metrics of success are simple. And the most irrefutable of these is “heads in the bed.”
How many visitors stayed in the venue’s hotels, and were those hotels at or near full capacity, during the event? That’s a no-sense, real-world measure of actual value—and one that’s looking good for Bartlett and his fellow Cocoa Beach event organizers in the wake of the Superboat-class exodus.
“Hotel rooms in town are close to being sold out,” said Bartlett. “Last week, I attended a hotel association meeting and I was told there is a 20- to 25-percent uptick in room reservations over last year for the weekend of our race. Ticket sales for our VIP parties are at record numbers, and all of the party venues have raised their games with better—and a lot more—food and entertainment.”
According to Bartlett, since the news of the Superboat-class defection broke he has received hundreds of phone calls, emails and text messages of support and commitment from racers, sponsors, fans and even Ed “Smitty” Smith, the head of Offshore Powerboat Association, which has its season-opener in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., scheduled for the same weekend.
“He actually tried to change the dates of his own race to bring 21 boats here to support Cocoa Beach, but there wasn’t enough time,” said Bartlett. “That is the kind of team-building and support needed in this sport.
“The Miss GEICO team reached out and is coming—with their motorcycles for the first time—and at least three other boats in their class are coming,” he continued. “The Second Amendment team is coming. Their old boat was supposed to be in retirement. Trent Weyant of TnT Racing is coming. It’s definitely been an honor to have so many people reach out to support Cocoa Beach.”
To date, the only confirmed Superboat-class team heading to Cocoa Beach is the FB Marine Group outfit, with three new sponsors for the 2018 season, owned by Randy Sweers. Reports of other teams in the class possibly participating could not be confirmed, and reached via text message Cleveland Construction team owner/Supercat Racing owners group representative Mark Small said that no other teams from the group are coming.
An entry list for the event has not yet been released by SBI.
“Cocoa loves all of the racing teams,” said Bartlett. “And all of the teams are welcome here.”
Regardless of the final boat count or number of fans—real or fictionalized—who end up on the beach, Bartlett said that he and his fellow organizers are expecting to the host the best Thunder On Cocoa Beach event to date.
“The amount of effort his entire community is putting forth to ensure we have a successful event is amazing,” he said. “Everyone is going over and above to make sure we have a great show.”
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.