The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is a folksy event that has also become a mature, sophisticated enterprise generating more than $2 million, perhaps as much as $3 million annually in shoulder season revenue for Island businesses.
“That’s why the derby was started. There was no shoulder season when the derby began as a chamber of commerce event,” derby president Ed Jerome said this week at the Wednesday morning weigh-in.
A review of derby-related numbers indicates that at least 90 per cent of the total derby-generated revenue goes to hotels, restaurants, food stores, bars, real estate rentals, gas stations and fishing-related enterprises including bait and tackle shops and charter boats. The current estimate is conservative, based on a 1999 poll of off-Island derby contestants who said they spent $1,200 to $1,500 on-Island while fishing the derby, generating more than $2 million. About 1,500 of the 3,000 contestants are off-Island visitors.
Derby officials received a 23 per cent response to the survey from its 1,500 direct mail questionnaire in 1999. A marketing industry rule of thumb defines a successful mailing as one that generates a three to six per cent response.
The ongoing success of the derby requires satisfied sponsors and most derby sponsors are longtime participants.
One happy 2007 sponsor is Vineyard Bottled Waters which will provide more than 1,000 free cups of coffee and tea at the weigh-in station by the end of the derby, courtesy of Danish coffee maker Keurig which provided a machine and individual servings of a half dozen coffee and tea blends. “It has been great exposure for us. We get at least one call a day from Islanders and off-Islanders. We’ve sold a couple of units as a result,” said Tom Seeman, owner of Vineyard Bottled Waters. The coffee makers sell in three models priced between $99 and $190. Mr. Seeman said his company began the practice at the agricultural fair in West Tisbury in August and carried the concept into the derby. “Yes, we’ll do it again next year. It‘s good for business but it’s also a great event to be part of,” he said.
As expected, bait and tackle shops love derby business. “It gives me another whole month of great sales, the equivalent of a great month in a very strong peak season,” said Cooper Gilkes of Coop’s Bait & Tackle in Edgartown. “I can’t imagine what it does for the real estate business. We are always referring callers to agents for housing rentals,” he said, Mr. Gilkes noted a trend among his customers to stay an extra week on Island after the derby is completed.
Island real estate brokers do not separate derby rental income from shoulder season rentals but several point to derby business as a key factor. “We love the derby,” said Alan Schweikert of Ocean Park Realty in Oak Bluffs. Analysis indicates that real estate rentals total in the $250,000 to $300,000 range for the derby season, using average weekly rental fees during the shoulder season and assuming 50 houses per week are rented over a five-week period.
Janice Cramer is a lucky rental broker for one set of derby fishermen.
Two years ago a house she rented for Linda Bassett Real Estate Vacation Rental and Sales in Edgartown housed two grand prize derby winners. “Now they rent the same house for the same two weeks,” Ms. Bassett said. The Bassett agency rents 15 to 20 houses to derby contestants each year.
“We love the derby business and our homeowners love derby fishermen. They are here to fish, not to party or lounge around with their feet on the furniture,” said Tom Pallas, another Bassett broker.
Comments such as those are music to Mr. Jerome’s ears. He views the derby’s mission as one to strengthen the Island’s economic base.
The derby’s own financial goals are to cover derby expenses and to create a self-sustaining scholarship fund. Mr. Jerome said the derby covers its expenses each year. Any extra money seeds the scholarship fund. “That’s a big goal for us. We are flush at the end of the derby and begin investing the money for the next year so by the time the derby happens we are broke again. It’s almost like a seasonal business in that regard,” Mr. Jerome said.
Currently the derby scholarship fund has capital to fund $10,000 and raises the rest from corporate partners who contribute to the scholarship fund, including Vineyard Vines and an anonymous private trust. Last year, the derby raised its annual scholarship grants from $20,000 to $30,000. Grants go to graduating seniors at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
The derby aims to build community fellowship and rewards fishing success by age groups, gender, teams, by four modes of fishing and is affordable to virtually every person who wants to participate, Mr. Jerome said. Annual direct revenue to derby coffers totals about $150,000, including about $125,000 from registration fees and $20,000 netted from sales of 150 new Ray Ellis prints commissioned by the derby each year, for which there is a waiting list. The derby takes in $5,000 to $6,000 in magazine advertising revenue and several thousand dollars from sales of T-shirts and derby logo cap sales to nonentrants.
Direct revenues are not nearly enough to fund the $250,000 in prizes. To date, direct revenues cover direct expenses including $19,000 in magazine printing costs, $17,500 for derby hats, $20,000 in grand prizes among the expenses. To fund prizes, the derby has over time developed a deep pool of upscale advertisers and fishing-related local and national businesses who provide products for prizes in exchange for sponsorship of a premier event in a resort community. Sponsorship includes free advertising in the derby magazine and recognition in other derby related material and activities. As a result, the derby’s out-of-pocket expenses for prizes are a fraction of the total.
Derby committee members are constantly reexamining how they do business. “We paid $17,500 this year for hats that we give to contestants with their registration. We considered not doing it. We could save a lot of money, obviously, but we concluded that the hats are an important part of the derby community culture,” Mr. Jerome said. In addition to the scholarships, the derby also contributes $7,500 to $10,000 to Island conservation groups, supports the Boys’ and Girls’ Club and the Red Stocking fund and partially funds boating safety for Island children. The derby also earmarks $2,500 to send 12 Island children to a summer camp of their choice.
“The derby is not just an event. It’s an expression of Island life,” said Mr. Jerome.