Organizers of popular cycling race series that makes stops in Minneapolis and St. Paul are making a last-minute plea to sponsors as they try to launch the event for a 16th year.
With three months to go until the event's scheduled start, planners of the North Star Bicycle Festival — formerly called the Nature Valley Grand Prix — were almost ready to pull the plug on the series because of a lack of funds.
In a meeting Monday evening, the festival's board debated the future of the event and ultimately decided to go ahead with their plans — though they'll still need to come up with an additional $60,000.
David LaPorte, the event director, said North Star was facing an uphill battle two years after former sponsor General Mills pulled out of the race. The company's Nature Valley brand was the title sponsor of the event for most of its 15-year history, and also served as a sponsor of other cycling, skiing, volleyball and golf events.
Nature Valley opted to break its ties to those sporting events after it shifted its brand and sponsorship activities to nature enthusiasts, rather than athletes. Last year, the North Star event made do with help from smaller sponsors and by spending its cash reserves.
LaPorte said organizers have made progress, securing sponsors willing to help with small amounts and hiring a new agency to find sponsors, but so far it is not enough.
"We don't have as much money as we need to put on the event we want to put on," he said. "Even if we decide to go ahead, we're still going to be in fundraising mode, and you really don't like to be there in March for a June event."
The eight-day event, which attracts about 50,000 people, is scheduled to begin June 11 with the Minnesota Fixed Gear Classic at the National Sports Center Velodrome in Blaine. The festival describes the event as featuring riders competing "head-to-head on a steeply banked track" using bicycles with one gear and no brakes.
The event picks up again June 17 with racing in downtown St. Paul, followed the next day by a road race in Cannon Falls and a Friday race in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood. The final two days of the event include a road race in Menomonie, Wis., and short-course race in Stillwater.
The races feature competitors from around the world, and LaPorte said the event has helped put Minnesota on the map as a cycling destination.
But in an increasingly crowded market for sports events, finding a company with deep pockets willing to back a smaller event has become more of a challenge. LaPorte said the festival may require a larger group of smaller sponsors.
"We're also competing with the NFL, with the Vikings, the Timberwolves, the Twins, the Lynx," he said. "Marketers will spend dollars in any way that will most advance their business and their phones are ringing off the hook."