Report: Scottsdale funding more than polo event warrants

Scottsdale will spend up to $75,000 in taxpayer funds on a polo event, despite a consultant’s report that said the city should lower the amount because it is not getting enough in return to justify that amount.

In true Scottsdale style, the championships will include polo matches plus skills challenges, cars and a “Dog and Pony” fashion show. The lineup includes top polo players in the country, as well as what will be the top women’s team in the world this year and a Gay Polo League team. It will preview the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and Phoenix International Raceway.

Jason Rose, co-owner and event producer, and his public-relations firm Rose+Moser+Allyn Public Online Relations, launched the championships in 2011.The attendance has grown from about 2,300 in the first year, to more than 12,400 last year.

In April, the Scottsdale City Council unanimously signed off on the public funding for the event of up to $75,000. It was approved as part of the council’s consent agenda, a routine listing of items typically approved in a single vote.

It will come from the city’s hotel-bed tax, approved by voters specifically for tourism.

Rose+Moser+Allyn produced a report, estimating the value and benefits of last year’s event at more than $2.3 million. The analysis included their estimated value of marketing ($2.25 million), as well as revenue to city-owned WestWorld.

But another analysis, by an outside consultant hired by the city, took a different view.

Phoenix-based Artigue Agency estimated the 2014event’s economic impact for Scottsdale at $31,400. This is how much the agency expects the city to bring in taxwise from visitors outside Maricopa County.

The marketing and communications agency recommended the Scottsdale Tourism Development Commission lower the tourism dollars for Horses and Horsepower, “perhaps at a reduced sponsorship of $50,000.”

“We just felt the $75,000 was a bit high in relationship to what the direct tax incremental and tax benefit was going to be to the city,” said Ray Artigue, agency principal and president.

Artigue said Scottsdale’s Tourism Commission asks the agency to “evaluate and gauge the value of an event.” He said is is “often before the event takes place, so it is a combination of estimates and some subjectivity.”

The agency also examined other factors, ranking the 2014 event “poor” in national and international exposure, but “good” in five categories, including its attractiveness to upscale visitors and sponsorship viability.

In 2010, Scottsdale voters approved an amendment to the city’s charter. It now says the city can’t give out any public funds “unless there is a clearly identified public purpose” and the city “receives direct consideration substantially equal to its expenditure.”

Scottsdale voters also agreed to raise the city’s bed tax in 2010 and dedicate the dollars specifically toward tourism, including events that pump more tax dollars into city coffers.

Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said the city receives a direct benefit that is greater in the case of the polo event.

“If the city is essentially buying an event, it’s getting an event,” she said.

Milhaven said events like Horses and Horsepower need “a couple of years to catch on.”

Rose said the city’s Tourism Development Commission unanimously recommended the maximum $75,000, and “didn’t seem to put much stock” into the Artigue report.

He argued the analysis had “some gross inaccuracies.” Rose questioned estimates of the number of people who could attend from out of town, as well as the composition of attendees and media values.

The Tourism Development Commission looks at many factors when considering eligibility, said Steve Geiogamah, Scottsdale’s economic development manager for tourism.

There are parameters to make sure the city is getting an equal return on its investment, he said. Producers are required to turn in reports after their events. They only receive funding if they meet their criteria, which will be determined after the event. The city does not award the dollars until after an event is over.

Geiogamah said the commission “puts a strong emphasis on the marketing value associated with the event.”

There is a three-year limit for eligibility in the new event program. Horses and Horsepower did not receive funds in its first year, so this is the final year it could get public dollars from that program, Rose said.

“Polo has really stepped up and done a very responsible job,” Rose said. “It’s voter approved (funds). It’s not some willy-nilly deal.”

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