By KURT NAGL
- Well-known locals, business moguls to compete in race
- Bell’s Brewery entering eighth year as title sponsor with plans to extend
- Race adds six more sponsors this year
The Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race is heading into its 94th year with more sponsors, a pool of competitors including Michigan business luminaries and expectations to attract more than 75,000 spectators to Port Huron and Mackinac Island for the popular annual sailboat race.
Sixteen monetary sponsors and seven in-kind partners will support the event scheduled for July 14, race chair Gary Shoemaker said. Hosted by Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit since its inception, the event includes two races with routes that trace the Lake Huron coast from Port Huron to Mackinac Island. About 2,500 people and more than 200 boats are expected to compete.
Revenue from corporate sponsors increased about 5 percent from last year, when there were 10 sponsors. Shoemaker declined to give a dollar amount but said it accounts for more than half of what the race costs to produce, which is around $500,000.
New sponsors include Connecticut-based sail maker North Sails, Grand Rapids-based Legal Copy Services Inc. and Plymouth-based Vortexx Pressure Washers. Comstock-based Bell’s Brewery Inc. is returning for its eighth year as title sponsor of the event. Brewery owner Larry Bell had been a staunch supporter of the race for many years before signing on as its largest sponsor.
“From the time I’ve been in Michigan and known about it, I’ve always thought it was one of the great, iconic events in the state of Michigan,” he said. “It celebrates the Great Lakes, it celebrates good boating skill — it’s not for the faint of heart — and it drives tourism.”
Bell’s contract with the race runs through next year, at which point he intends to continue an “excellent” relationship “long into the future.” He declined to say how much the sponsorship is worth each year but said it is a “good six-figure number.”
Competitors set sail in Port Huron, where a send-off party is planned for thousands of spectators. The Bell’s Oasis tent will feature live music, swag giveaways and plenty of Michigan-made beer. Corporate signs will cover tents and activations on shore, and buoys are marked with Bell’s logos. Boats are outfitted with modest stickers of the Bell’s race logo, but vessels are otherwise without sponsor markings, per governing body World Sailing. At Mackinac Island, more festivities are planned for when boats cross the finish line, including a party for sponsors at the Grand Hotel.
Sponsors also have their names on the race’s website, email updates and race tracking website, which allows users to follow boats in real time.
The race has an economic impact of between $30 million and $59 million, depending on weather conditions, according to a study conducted by David Littmann, senior economist with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, on behalf of race organizers. The assessment includes direct spending on lodging, fuel, food and shopping.
The structure of the races will remain the same this year. The Short Course covers 204 nautical miles and the Long Course is 259 nautical miles. Both start and end at the same point, but the Long Course stretches wide into Canadian waters and to Cove Island before returning to Michigan’s shore. It typically takes 40-60 hours to complete the race, depending on weather, but a record 26-hour race was achieved last year.
All sailors are amateur athletes, and there is no prize money; trophies are awarded to winners. Among the competitors will be several notable locals and business moguls. The DeVos family — longtime participants of the race — will be represented by Doug DeVos, president of Ada-based Amway, and his son, Dalton. Bloomfield Hills businessman and philanthropist Stephen Polk is also expected to take part. Larry Bell will be competing as well. He’s won twice and said the event provides good brand exposure for his brewery.
Bell also plans to bring out the Bell’s Beer Barrel Barge Bella — an 18-foot boat that will wave Bell’s Brewery flags for another brand boost during race festivities. “Imagine you and your buddies had a bunch of empty kegs and wanted to build a pontoon boat,” is how Bell described it.
This year, the race is supporting Setsail for Autism and Alliance for the Great Lakes with donations of $1,500 to each nonprofit, according to a news release.
Shoemaker said sailing is one of the greenest things that can be done and that the race has far-reaching benefits for the state.
“It’s important from a competitor standpoint, but it’s important for the state to keep awareness of the purity of the Great Lakes,” he said. “We want to keep peoples’ focus on preserving these assets for many years to come.”