Reeling In The Big One: Netting the figures

PHOTO PROVIDED BY BASSMASTERS

BY: W.T. Eckert
On an unseasonably cool, early June afternoon, sitting on a bench at Whitaker Park, the wind blew south off the St. Lawrence River. The park, like the village, was as it is most of the year, quiet, peaceful. The quiet, broken only by that of a passing vehicle on Route 37, the squawking calls of seagulls, and a singular, Mercury-engined powerboat that hummed along the mostly empty seaway, it’s occupants, a man and his son, docking the boat. 
 

    As the waters behind their vessel rippled, the sun danced on it, making it glimmer like that of silver, or, like the more appropriate riches below the water, the scales of the bass that will be bringing in an expected 25,000 to 36,000 people when the Bassmaster Elite Series shatters the silence of this bedroom community from Aug. 15-18. 

    And although it’s silent leading up to and following the massive event, politicians, business owners and tourism experts said they see the long term economic impact the event leaves on the area.  

    Waddington Mayor Janet Otto-Cassada said anytime such a large pilgrimage of people flock to an area, money will be spent and it will bolster the economy. 

    Mayor Otto-Cassada is also the director and president of the organization SLC North Country Events Inc., a nonprofit created just for the purposes of organizing the Bassmaster tournament.     

    “It’s easy to talk about it because it’s just common sense,” she said. “You bring anywhere between 25,000 and 36,000 people into a region in a four-day weekend, there’s gonna be benefits. It’s just that obvious. It doesn’t have to slap you in the face.”  

    With the sales tax alone that the event generates, every single town, village the city of Ogdensburg and the county sees an increase in its sales tax revenue, leading to neighboring towns and villages to donating toward the host fee of $60,000, she said. 

    “Because they know, if for nothing else but the sales tax jump they get every sales quarter during this event, they see it,” she said.  

    Between Massena to Ogdensburg, along Route 37, restaurants and places of respite have reaped the benefit of the tournament. 

    What was a 21-site campground 16 years ago when Lisbon Campground Director Michael J. O’Neil took over has expanded to about 100 sites, 18 of which were installed since the start of the tournament in 2013, at a cost of $200,000. 

    “We just didn’t have enough room for them,” Mr. O’Neil said. “So now we can accommodate them and hopefully we can get everybody in. We have done very well since the Bass Masters had come.” 

    In 2013 he said two of the pro fishermen and their families stayed at the campground; now there are upward of 30, which is about what he is expecting again this year. 

    “Definitely worth it,” He said. “I look at the overall picture as being a big plus for Northern New York.” 

    It’s that kind of attitude, pride, hard work and desire to host the event that B.A.S.S. Director, Events and Sponsorship Activation Eric G. Lopez, said keeps them coming back.  

    That and it continues to be the largest tournament they hold, he said. 

    The Bassmaster Elite Series tournament was first held in Waddington in 2013 and then again in 2015, and after that consecutive tournaments were held in 2017 and 2018. 

    It was at the end of last year’s nationally televised fishing event that Mayor Otto-Cassada officially signed an unprecedented contract that would bring the elite series championship back to Whitaker Park for three more years. 

    Through the contract, the host fees for the B.A.S.S. Elite Series would decline from $60,000, to $50,000 to $40,000 from 2019-2021, respectively, and then in 2022 they would pay $10,000 for the B.A.S.S. National Regional Tournament. 

    This August’s event will mark the first year in that three-year deal. 

    “That first event in 2013 was one of our latest events, ever,” Mr. Lopez said. “All the events that we’ve held in Waddington have been over the 30,000 mark, in terms of spectators, over the four days, which is just phenomenal for bass fishing. All the events that we do in Waddington are record breakers . . . and they do such an excellent job.” 

    The event goes beyond the four days it is actually held. People around the region talk about the fisherman coming up months in advance to feel out the best places on the water to fish prior to the event and return after to ice fish, hunt and take advantage of the outdoor activities St. Lawrence County has to offer.  

    Along that Seaway Trail is the Seaway Diner & Smokehouse, and owners Kevin D. and Kelly R. Liddell said that all throughout the year they see returning customers who come in from out of the area, from within and outside the state. The journey for these returning customers began with the Bassmaster tournament. 

    “What we look at is the long-term effect. You look at the area here and you look at the river and you look at the scenery and you ask yourself, why is there not more, for lack of a better word, tourism? And the Bassmasters is a good venue to do that,” Mr. Liddell said.  “You’ve got fisherman who come here not just for Bassmasters, but we see them during the winter, we see them in the spring, in the summer and the fall.” 

    Mrs. Liddell, a secretary and director of SLC North Country Events, Inc., agreed, saying that this isn’t an event that makes anyone rich, but that it is beneficial for the community and could lead to potential economic growth for the county. 

    “Unfortunately we’ve been watching all the community ideas washing away. It’s just got to grow bigger and then everybody can get a piece of the pie,” Mrs. Liddell said. 

    The St. Lawrence County Legislature in April approved $30,000 in funding, half the host fee of the tournament.  

    Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, the legislative chairman, said the event is a window of opportunity for future development in the county. 

    “It is a lot of people from throughout the state that come in here, so the overall picture for tourism and relating that to . . . Bassmasters being a window to what happens in St. Lawrence County or what’s available in St Lawrence County, absolutely, and that is why we subsidize the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce to the degree that we do –which is significant in dollar terms – to be our tourism promoter and come up with plans and ideas and ways to bring tourists and tourism into the county.” 

    Chamber Executive director Brooke E. Rouse said the funding received from the county shows investment. 

    “We just got funding to really focus on events for this exact reason and this has shown that there’s a lot of value as an economic engine to attract these large-scale events,” Mrs. Rouse said. “Then there are a lot of indirect impacts, such as second homeownership, a huge part of the north country tourism industry. People come here to fish or to watch them, now they want to buy a second home here.  

    “We consider that within the tourism industry because they’re paying taxes, they’re here part of the year, they’re here on a long term visit and essentially contributing to the economy in that way.” 

    William E. Dashnaw, another director and the treasurer of SLC North Country Events Inc, said the national attention the area is getting is driving and expanding the fishing industry here and pointed to the growing fishing industry as a direct result of the Bassmaster tournament.  

    From June 18-21 Clarkson University’s bass fishing club will host hundreds of collegiate fishermen in the Northeast Regional Competition of the 2019 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops.The first two days will be held in Waddington and the “grand ending” held at Clarkson, Mr. Dashnaw said. 

    Four more tournaments are being held in Massena, including the Bass Nation Tournament, Cashion Rods Tour, the FLW Costa Series Tournament and the Big Bass Blowout.  

    “Our main goal was to have this fishing industry, the fishing tournaments, grow,” he said. “Especially with national attention and it appears to me that’s what it is doing.”  

    He was hoping fishing industry businesses will sit up and take notice and said there has already been interest from the hotel industry, something that part of the county is lacking. 

    Michael R. Kenny, owner of Sweeter Creations Sugar House on route 345 in Waddington and director and vice president of SLC North Country Events Inc., has put up fisherman during the event and said not only has he fostered friendships, but his business has been promoted and he has received proposals from national chains. 

    “So impact for us is substantial, because we are selling more product,” he said. “We’ve had Bass Pro Shop approach us about our Bourbon Barrel Syrup . . . But we haven’t done anything substantial with them yet.” 

    But it’s all about the attention, something Mr. Dashnaw said the area deserves. 

    “This fishing thing is the hottest thing. It’s something that we have not tapped before. This fishing industry thing, in the nation, is huge and as I said before, we have this unbelievable resource in our back yard that I believe hasn’t been tapped on a national level before and so now it is getting the national coverage that it deserves. 


Netting The Figures

In an attempt to get a better understanding of how the Bassmaster Elite Series fishing tournament in Waddington fiscally benefits St. Lawrence County, a partnership was forged between the county’s Chamber of Commerce and SLC North Country Events, Inc., the committee that organizes the event. 

    William E. Dashnaw, a director and treasurer of the organizing committee said there are no hard numbers to show the direct or indirect financial impact on the county. 

    Along with St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce President Brooke E. Rouse, they presented the St. Lawrence County Legislature with an expected economic impact of the event when asking the county to fund the $60,000 host fee for the event. 

    According to the 2019 predictions from the four day event, the impact accounts for an estimated 35,000 attendees with 1,750 of those people staying overnight. 

    At two adults per room at $80 a night for two nights, an expected $140,000 would be spent on lodging with $9,800 going to local direct taxes. 

    The prediction was that $150,000 would be spent on gas food and retail if each of those 1,750 people spent $60, with $4,200 of that going into local taxes. 

    The total revenue tallied was $245,000, with $14,000 of local tax revenue; $13,160 in indirect tax revenue; and $27,160 in subtotal tax revenue. 

    According to the report, “day trippers” are anticipated to spend a total of $498,690, of which $19,948 was listed as going to local tax revenue; $18,751 in indirect tax revenue; and $38,699 in subtotal tax revenue. 

    The total revenue to the St. Lawrence economy was projected to be $743,690, with the local tax revenues in the county totaling $65,859. 

    St. Lawrence County Legislative Chairman Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said there is no real evidence to support the figures and that there is really no way of knowing where the people that arrive for the event come from. 

    “As far as what it does economically for the area? That is hard to quantify,” he told a Times reporter. “It is hard to quantify because you really don’t have a great idea or a good idea of where the people that come to attend the Bassmasters tournament come from.” 

    He said while he had “no facts or figures to document” what he was saying, he believed that half of the estimated 35,000 people came from out of state and that of the half that come from in state, a good portion of them came from within St. Lawrence County. 

    “So St. Lawrence County people that are coming up to the Waddington, Massena, town of Lisbon area and spending their money, that probably, under normal circumstances, would have been spent back in their hometowns and home areas,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “So as far as seeing any big boon in revenues from sales tax as a result of Bassmasters, I know that they will tout that increases that and we see a big bump in it. We don’t see a big bump in sales tax attributable to the Bassmasters, but the fact remains that it draws people up there . It does result in revenue coming into the county in the form of sales tax; I don’t think to the degree that the Bass Masters people tout it as being, but it certainly does come in and itt increases tourism and tourism in St. Lawrence County.” 

    The county did authorize, in April, providing $30,000 to help support the professional tournament’s return to Waddington Aug. 15 to 18. 

    Mrs. Rouse said the request for the funding is an investment and called the assessment presented to the legislature “a very conservative, economic impact assessment.” 

    “It’s not a survey, it’s not a scientific research project, but when we went with the proposal to the county, I used an event model and broke down a very conservative outlook for what the break-even of $60,000 investment was and it’s easy, even if they estimate over 30,000 people attend, ours was much more conservative than that.” 

    But Waddington Mayor Janet Otto-Cassada, who is also the director and president of the organization SLC North Country Events Inc., said it shouldn’t matter where the attendees come from and people have to get out of their own way to allow economic growth. 

    “Does it matter where people are coming from, as long as they are coming and they are spending money and they are doing it in St. Lawrence County? That is the question. Does it matter? No. It doesn’t,” she said. “Why is that a determining factor? It doesn’t matter where these events happen, as long as they’re here, as long as they are enjoying themselves and spending money.” 

    She said while the event isn’t the “be-all, end-all for the county,” it is a stepping stone to further economic development. 

    “It’s a matter of looking ahead instead of always looking behind,” she said. “It’s a matter of looking at it as a region and not just a town. It’s a matter of actually coming together as a cohesive group to promote what we have in a positive, ful-throated, one-unified voice, because it doesn’t matter if the tournament is in Waddington or Potsdam or Massena or Black Lake or Ogdensburg or wherever it is, it needs to be here in St. Lawrence County.”