Local Biker Rally Stays Optimistic Despite Economy

By: Andrea Brown

Motorcycle rallies nationwide have been affected by the country’s poor financial state in recent years, but Bikes, Blues & BBQ has yet to see a decline in attendance, a BBB official said.

“We keep hearing from Sturgis and Daytona that their numbers have been down, so we keep expecting to see those drops, and to prepare for them,” Burns said. “But every year, we still increase a little bit.”

The first BBB rally in 2000 brought in more than 300 riders, according to the website. By 2005, roughly 2225,000 bikers came to Fayetteville and last year approximately 400,000 bikers attended, Burns said.

However, other bike rallies haven’t been as fortunate as BBB. Attendance at the Sturgis Motorcycle rally has declined in the past several years. In 2000, an estimated 633,000 bikers participated, in 2005 an estimated 525, 250 bikers attended, and last year, more than 466,7000 bikers attended, according to the website.

The economy has affected Motorcycle Week in Laconia, N.H., as well, said Jennifer Anderson, one of the event directors.

“Motorcyclists represent a true cross-section of society, so our visitors that need to spend extra money to heat their homes in the winter and put gas in their cars all year, end up taking that money from their vacation funds,” Anderson said.

Although attendance has decreased since 2004 when there was an estimated 375,000 bikers at Laconia, the last three years have been stable, averaging 250,000 people over the course of the nine-day rally, she said.

Besides being a fun weekend getaway for bikers across the country, BBB also is a fundraiser for area charities. In 2008, however, BBB wasn’t able to raise money for charity.

“We had some one-time expenses that year, and we were not able to give any money away,” Burns said.

In 2009, BBB made a strong return and more than $80,000 was raised for local charities, and last year, approximately $150,000 was raised, he said.

The economy has not really hurt BBB, from a non-profit standpoint, Burns said. People have gotten more creative, rather than a hotel room, they’ll stay at a campground, or other things of that nature, he said.

“Honestly, we’ve been expecting that if it’s going to hurt us, this would be the year,” Burns said.

From a vendor’s standpoint, people aren’t spending as much money as they did three years ago, Burns said. Visitors are walking around looking for that one thing to buy, rather than those three or four things, he said.

“We still have the same amount of vendors,” Burns said. “We had about 150 last year and we have just over 150 this year, so that’s all holding steady.”

One major adjustment to BBB is expansion. The Washington County Fairgrounds are now used as camping space for bikers during the rally. Also, Arena Cross Races take place at the Springdale Rodeo grounds.

“Now there are more things to do, and it’s not very expensive,” Burns said.

Tickets to the Arena Cross Races are $12 at the door and the majority of visitors can afford that, Burns said. It’s something else creative to do, and something that’s not going to cost anyone considerably, he said.

“We don’t want to detract from the future, so we have to keep these rallies evolving,” Burns said. “So [the expansion] is one way that we’re trying to take a stab at that.”

There are some changes that have put a small strain on the rally, such as the additional cost of paying for trash pick-up. BBB has always had their trash sponsored, Burns said.

“Last year it was Waste Management, and they were happy to do it [for free] but times are tough for everybody,” he said. “They came to us and explained that they were not able to do that for us feasibly, and we understood.”

BBB directors asked for proposals, and Waste Management came back with the best numbers, Burns said. Waste Management gave them a discount, and tried to help them in every way possible, he said.

“We pay Kiwanis $5,000, the Fayetteville Band Boosters $5,000, and the Farmington Athletic Boosters $1,000,” Burns said. “[Paying for trash] is probably our biggest hit. It’s a necessary evil, and that’s just one of those things from the [bad] economy.”

“When you work with a non-profit [organization] and everything’s donated, you learn to roll with those punches and just kind of deal with what you’re able to have there,” Burns said.

Food vendors now have to pay a 2 percent HMR (Hotel/Motel/Restaurant) tax, Burns said. Although BBB has been operating for 12 years, there are still a lot of new elements to the rally, he said.

“That might have something to do with the economy, but in all honesty that is something that really should’ve been part of it all along,” Burns said.

The city probably was unaware of how big BBB was going to get, he said. With all of the food vendors the rally brings in, it’s only right that some of the money goes to the local economy, he said.

“We’re not at all upset about that. It’s a little bit more of a strain to the food vendors, of course,” Burns said, “but there are 2 things that will always survive in even the lowest of economies and that’s food and alcohol, so they’re going to be okay.”