With a few stipulations attached, the Aspen City Council on Tuesday pledged $15,000 in sponsorship for next year’s MotherLode Volleyball Classic.
As part of an agreement made with council members, organizer Leon Fell must match the city’s $15,000 with private sponsorship. In addition, Fell must cap his salary for the event at $15,000, and any profits above operating costs would go to the city until it is repaid.
A week before this year’s MotherLode, Fell requested $35,000 from the city. But after locking up a late sponsor, he lowered that amount to $10,000, which the council denied, based on the request’s last-minute nature.
With October’s budget review wrapping up at Tuesday’s work session, Fell requested $25,000, an amount council members batted around until finally settling on the conditional $15,000.
Fell, who has produced the MotherLode since 1972, estimates that the event brings between 3,000 and 4,500 people to Aspen every Labor Day weekend. He said in order for the tournament to keep pace with similar volleyball events around the country, it needs more funding.
“The sponsorship pie is getting smaller, and it’s getting pretty tough to break into for this particular sport,” he said. “Although we’re working hard to keep our sponsorship up, quite honestly, it’s time to have a partnership between the city and this event, as it has with other events.”
Council member Adam Frisch responded that he loves the MotherLode, recalling his days at the University of Colorado at Boulder, when his classmates would travel to Aspen for the event. But he questioned the MotherLode’s $136,000 budget proposed for 2014. Citing a packet provided by Fell, Frisch pointed to the MotherLode’s $80,000 budget in 2012, when Aspen granted Fell $12,500.
For 2014, Fell has included an additional $32,000 in prize money.
“In order to keep the spectators coming, we have to be able to draw a certain caliber of player,” Fell said, adding that he wants to be able to stream the event online to increase its visibility.
After council member Dwayne Romero offered the conditional $15,000 solution, Frisch added the stipulation that the MotherLode should be treated as a nonprofit, which would require Fell to pay Aspen back with any profits. Romero’s proposed cap would reduce Fell’s salary from $16,500 in 2013 to $15,000.
While council members Art Daily and Ann Mullins were on board, Mayor Steve Skadron was adamantly opposed, saying to Fell, “I don’t know why you didn’t ask for $100,000. It sounds like you could have gotten 50.”
Skadron pointed to a successful MotherLode event in 2013, one that saw zero funding from the city.
“What we saw was an event that was able to run more efficiently, yet we still saw the same number of attendees and happy people,” Skadron said, suggesting that the city only grant Fell $5,000 for 2014.
Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said that a spreadsheet Fell provided on the event’s budget is slightly inconsistent with the totals he provided in the packet. In the past, the council has communicated to Fell that with city funding comes an expectation of due diligence.
“My preference is for the higher dollar amount with the higher strings,” Frisch said. “I’m confident that this is not going to be a windfall financially for anyone.”
“I don’t like the precedent this sets,” Sakdron said. “I don’t like these one-off requests. I haven’t liked these things for years. I think this is falling into an old model, and I think we have an opportunity to set it straight right now, and we’re not doing it. I don’t think we’re managing the public’s money appropriately, based on the information given.”
Frisch regarded the event as a “slam dunk” for Aspen in terms of return value. He said he has concern about oversight but trusts in Crook’s judgment to handle the numbers.