Esplanade closure begins February 1st

‘Grand Prix’ will bring big-time bike racing to Portland, if sponsors step up

Posted by on December 10th, 2014 at 11:16 am

Detail from GP of Portland fact sheet.

The most high-profile cycling race to ever hit Portland won’t happen unless organizers can find a few deep pockets willing to sponsor it.

Nonbox Sports, the Portland-based company that owns the Grand Prix of Portland, announced yesterday that the event has been added to the official Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) calendar for August 29th, 2015. In a fact sheet, Nonbox said their race (which has been given a category ranking of 1.1) will bring in “elite riders from the best teams in the world.” They’ve also lined up two hours of prime-time television coverage on NBC Sports.

But their plans will only become reality if they can find sponsors to offset an overall event budget of about $2 million.

Nonbox co-owner Jack Toland, who helped bring the US PRO Road Race Championships to Philadelphia, told us in an interview this morning that a race of this caliber is an “expensive enterprise.” “You can’t attract World Tour teams if you can’t put them up.” In addition to housing teams, race organizers would need to fund a headquarters office, a prize purse, appearance fees by some riders, city/state permitting fees, staging areas for televisions crews, and a host of other expenses.


Toland and his partners in Nonbox, former Nike executive Ian Hamilton and Steve Karakas, a marketing expert with experience in professional golf, are running into a similar issue that has plagued the corporate sponsorship outlook for Portland Bike Share: there just aren’t that many major companies based here. “One of the challenges we face is that we’re just the 29th largest city so there’s only so big of a sponsorship opportunity pond,” Toland said. (For more on the challenges of funding professional bike racing in the U.S. see this article in Sports Business Daily).

While the Nonbox team is busy making sponsorship presentations, they’re also working with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ office to secure a route. Toland said the race will start and finish on Naito Parkway, but the rest of the course is still being hammered out. It will be a circuit with laps from 12 to 16 miles long. He was mum on specific streets but assured us it would feature several climbs up into the West Hills.

Another challenge of planning the route, Toland says, is the presence of light rail and streetcar tracks and Portland’s “compressed geography.” Then there’s the community engagement that has to happen on residential streets through the West Hills. On that note, Toland said the Mayor’s Office has been “tremendously supportive.” “My hat is off to his policy directors, they have off-the-hook enthusiasm and everyone is behind this.”

They have reason to be enthused. A similar race, the 2005 San Francisco Grand Prix, generated an estimated $36 million for that city’s economy. A week-long stage race in Colorado this past summer had a $130 million economic impact.

In addition to the pro race, the GP of Portland will feature a “Velothon” Gran Fondo-type event in which the public would get a chance to ride the closed course prior to the main race. A major concert and an expo in Waterfront Park are also in the plans.

Nonbox hopes to have sponsor contracts signed by March 1st.

— Learn more about the event via this fact sheet (PDF).

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  • Champs December 10, 2014 at 11:54 am

    The only thing to perk my ears on a 12-16 mile circuit of the West Hills would be the chance to ride some of their unfriendliest roads. You know, the routes that the Ronde avoids. If I had to guess, the chance to ride *up* Burnside is the most I can hope for.

    Here’s the fondo I want: access to Rocky Point, Logie Trail, and Cornelius Pass without a gauntlet of road debris and buzzing traffic. I don’t blame the salmon on the shoulder of US30.

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  • dan December 10, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I’d love to see that here, but…yeah…who’s going to pony up $2M? Even 20 businesses covering $100k each doesn’t seem like a slam dunk.

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  • dave December 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    To bad it has to be a circuit race. I’d love to see something that started downtown, then snaked out the east side to the Bull Run area, out Marmot Road, and eventually finish with the climb up West Leg Road to Timberline. Should be under 100 miles, and you could work in a ton of Portland landmarks with just rolling road closures, and really give a great picture of the whole area to a national TV audience.

    But I guess going in circles in NW is OK too.

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  • Nick December 10, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Amgen produces EPO. Seems like a natural sponsor.

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    • dan December 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      I might change my tune on Uber if they were so civic-minded that they threw down to bring this to Portland. Anyone at Uber listening?

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  • J_R December 10, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Maybe the sponsors of Portland’s bike share. Who is that now?

    How about the City of Portland Income Tax/Street Fee?

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  • Slow Joe Crow December 11, 2014 at 10:44 am

    How about the Nike Grand Prix of Portland? Phil Knight could probably find $2 million in his pocket change

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  • random_rider December 11, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Introducing the Grand Prix of Portland!


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  • lunchrider December 11, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    time for the Nike’s, Addias, Columbia, Intel’s of the portland area to step up and do the right thing.
    also, would be good to have a women’s race too!

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