City officials have recommended disbanding the Sacramento Sports Commission following the agency's default on a $400,000 loan, a stunning fall for the organization responsible for marketing the region to the world of sports.
City Manager John Shirey has asked the City Council to abolish the 24-year-old commission at its Tuesday meeting and consolidate its marketing and event management duties into the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. In a rare move, Shirey's request was deemed urgent, bypassing a council subcommittee that typically debates changes to the city code before forwarding recommendations to the full City Council.
Shirey's recommendation follows an internal auditor's report from September that determined that a foundation operated by the sports commission had failed to repay a $400,000 loan it secured from the city to help put on last year's World Masters Athletics Championships. The loan, plus interest, was supposed to be paid back by Oct. 1, 2011.
That audit also found it was impossible to verify whether the loan had actually been used on the masters event or on other sports commission operations. The examination also discovered that the sports foundation's annual spending had exceeded revenue for several years.
"(The loan default) simply exposed to me that what we have in place is a model for promoting and marketing sports events for Sacramento that doesn't work," Shirey said. "What we have now is a CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) that is sustainable and that is perfectly capable of absorbing the sports marketing function."
For the past 19 years, the sports commission has been run by John McCasey, 66, who for a time put Sacramento on the national sports map by landing events such as the Olympic Trials in track and field and the NCAA men's basketball tournament, but who has hit a dry spell in recent years. McCasey is paid about $230,000 a year, including benefits.
Shirey said he hasn't lost confidence in the sports commission or McCasey, but that he's more comfortable with the visitors bureau and its larger budget and staff handling the promotion and operation of major sporting events.
City officials have recommended that the visitors bureau since it would be taking over the sports commission's duties also be responsible for repaying the $400,000 to the city.
The convention bureau is funded mostly by assessments hotel owners place on themselves, but also receives some funding from the city and Sacramento County.
The proposed change would make sports spending more transparent. While the sports commission was not required to report to city officials how it spent its money, the bureau would report annually on its sports marketing expenses and keep a separate budget for those operations.
The sports commission collects funding from both the city and Sacramento County, as well as private donations. The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss cutting off the commission in January.
The city budgeted $141,600 for the sports commission in the current fiscal year, most of it from taxes collected on hotel occupancy. That money would be transferred to the visitors bureau if Shirey's recommendation is approved by the council.
McCasey said he supports the recommendation to disband the commission. As part of the move, McCasey's contract with the commission would be terminated at the end of the year.
"I'm not upset at all," he said. "I'm available to help them make this thing successful."
The sports commission has struggled in recent years to attract significant events. After hosting the Olympic Trials in track and field in 2000 and 2004, that event was moved to Eugene, Ore. Other high-profile tournaments, including NCAA women's basketball and volleyball championships, also have left the city; and Sacramento learned this week that its bid to host the NCAA men's basketball tournament an event held here four times has been denied.
Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership and a sports commissioner, said it's essential that the region keep competing for large-scale sporting events.
"John (McCasey) has worked in a very competitive environment and has given us some real credibility in the sports field," Ault said. "Are these events still worth going after? That's a no-brainer."
City Council members expressed support for Shirey's recommendation. "It's come to its final run," Councilman Darrell Fong said of the sports commission. "We need to have somebody out there bringing events to the city. It's important. I just think it was tough in their structure to be accountable."
Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said that she supports consolidating the sports commission's duties with agencies already tasked with sports marketing, such as the visitors bureau. "We need to remedy the current situation and find a balance that allows for savings, oversight and still provides Sacramento an opportunity to host large-scale sporting events," she said.