Twice a year, Dover welcomes NASCAR and tens of thousands of race fans to town. This year, sandwiched between last weekend’s NASCAR visit and its next in September, Dover will see another major weekend event as Dover International Speedway tries its hand at hosting a music festival. This week, DFM News’ Larry Nagengast examines July’s Firefly Music Festival. Today, how will Firefly’s economic impact compare to a typical NASCAR weekend?
While Firefly seems likely to rank as Delaware’s biggest music festival ever, its economic impact, however great, will pale next to a typical Dover NASCAR weekend.
The projected attendance figures tell much of the story. Firefly promoters are hoping for up to 40,000 ticket sales, but even that number represents only one-half the crowd at a poorly attended NASCAR race at Dover International Speedway.
Attendance at the May 2011 Sprint Cup race was estimated at 82,000, bottoming out a slide from sellout crowds in excess of 135,000 in 2007. Last October’s Sprint Cup race attracted a NASCAR-estimated attendance of 83,000, and Sunday’s FedEx 400 drew an estimated 85,000 spectators.
How much of an economic impact Firefly will have remains a big question mark, but there’s no disputing that it will be much more positive for the Dover area than not having Firefly at all.
Firefly Festival: Can Firefly provide a NASCAR-like economic boost?/h3>
Kent County Tourism executive director Cindy Small discusses Firefly’s potential economic impact.
“It’s going to pack a punch we haven’t seen in July in a long time,” said Cindy Small, executive director of Kent County Tourism.
“Any time there’s a dollar from outside the area that gets spent inside the area, regardless of which sector it’s in, it ultimately benefits the entire area. Those dollars cycle through,” said Jim Waddington, Kent County’s economic development director.
Looking at the roster of bands scheduled to perform at Firefly, Linda Parkowski, state tourism director, said “we have really stepped up the game. This is a festival of acts that could be performing on Saturday Night Live.”
The greatest beneficiaries will be hotels and restaurants, Parkowski said.
Next in line to benefit will be gas stations and convenience stores, Small said. “And liquor stores — beer and wine go great with music festivals.”
What happens beyond that is a good question. “We’re trying to guess what patterns will develop,” Small said. “We hope we’re overwhelmed.”
Putting a dollar amount on economic impact is problematic because the last study commissioned by the Speedway was completed in 2001. That report, by Imap Data, pegged the impact of two race weekends at $94 million, said Gary Camp, senior communications director at the Speedway.
In 2012 dollars, that equates to about $122.2 million, or just over $61 million per race. If it attracts one-half of a recent NASCAR crowd, Firefly could trigger an infusion of as much as $30 million into the local economy.
Parkowski offers a more modest estimate — a potential impact of $12 million.
“It will be a great weekend,” said Vic Shimp, general manager of the Dover Sheraton. But, he said, the Sheraton won’t necessarily maximize its benefit from the festival because he had booked a convention into the hotel for Firefly weekend two years ago. “We will get some business out of it, but it’s not like we’ve got all three days open,” he said.
Parkowski said she hopes most Kent County hotels will be fully booked for the festival weekend, and she expects some spillover hotel business in New Castle and Sussex counties.
With Firefly organizers planning music from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. for all three days, that doesn’t leave much time for music lovers to venture onto Route 13 and seek out the retail, dining and entertainment hot spots of the Dover area.
“I’m not sure that the people who are coming are looking for retail shopping opportunities,” Waddington said.
However, Small and Parkowski added, when out-of-state visitors (and Firefly has already drawn reservations from 45 states) find out about Delaware’s tax-free shopping, that could spur some of them to spend some time at the mall or checking out specialty shops.
Clothing and “small carryables,” like jewelry and electronics, are especially attractive to visitors to Delaware’s tax-free shopping environment, Small said.
Parkowski and Small are hoping that Firefly visitors decide to arrive a day early or decide to stay a day longer and use that time to explore the Dover area. Among the nearby attractions that Parkowski believes will appeal to festivalgoers are the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base, the First State Heritage Park in downtown Dover, portions of the Delaware History Trail and the Delaware Wine and Ale Trail.
And, Small added, the Delaware State Fair, with its own musical attractions, will be in full swing in Harrington while Firefly is rocking up the road in Dover.
Tomorrow: If Firefly is successful, what’s next for the event, the venue and Delaware?.