- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - People across the Richmond area are asking two questions as the countdown clock for the start of the UCI Road World Championships ticks down: How many people are coming? When will they get here?

The answer to those questions is both simple and complicated.

Organizers have estimated that about 450,000 spectators are expected to watch the races over the nine days next month. But crowds will ebb and flow throughout the week, with the largest number of spectators packing into the city the final three days.

“For a long time we’ve been trying to make clear what the number is and what the number is not,” Lee Kallman, vice president of marketing and business development for Richmond 2015, said on Aug. 11.

“What it’s not is 450,000 Belgians showing up on our doorstep September 19 and staying for nine days. The 450,000 number is a total spectator count over nine days.

“It includes locals. It includes people from the other side of the country. It includes people from the other side of the world.”

The world championships, which will be in the U.S. for only the second time in nearly 30 years, from Sept. 19 to 27, is one of the largest and most important competitions in professional cycling and is expected to draw about 300 million television viewers worldwide.

In Richmond, the number of people coming out to watch the races will vary greatly throughout the event.

Organizers expect large crowds to come out for the Team Time Trials on the first day of racing, Sunday, Sept. 20. Those races features some of the best trade teams in the world and will bring race fans from out of town to join locals who are expected to turn out in large numbers for the inaugural race.

But as the world championships moves into Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the crowds will thin considerably. While there will be spikes for some events - the Men’s and Women’s Elite Individual Time Trials - midweek, crowds will remain relatively small compared with what’s expected during the weekend.

At the world championships in Spain last year, it was mostly residents, workers and schoolchildren, along with a few out-of-towners, who lined the barricades before they returned to their regular lives.

Organizers have estimated crowd sizes for each day but are not making the information public.

Friday, Sept. 25, which follows an off day for training, is when Richmond will begin to see a major transformation.

Large numbers of people will begin to descend on the city for some early road races and for Friday night’s Conquer the Cobbles - a fan event that allows amateurs to ride the courses ahead of the Elite riders.

Those crowds are expected to grow during the next two days. The number of fans lining the 10-mile course for the Women’s Elite Road Circuit on Saturday and the Men’s Elite Road Circuit on Sunday could top 100,000 each of the two days, which would account for almost half the estimated 450,000 spectators.

“Saturday and Sunday are just going to be huge,” Kallman said.

But Kallman said that even if the number of spectators doesn’t match the projections, the event still will be a success if hoteliers are happy, tax revenue grows and the city shines in the international spotlight.

“At the end of the day, it is estimates because there’s no turnstile. This isn’t a ticketed event,” he said.

“When you’ve got an event in a stadium, you can say with great accuracy how many people are there because everybody walked through a turnstile and you took a ticket from everyone. Here, it will be a combination of factors that go into that analysis.”

The spectator count, which is used for planning the event and is touted by organizers, comes from a study completed in 2012 by the Richmond-based research firm Chmura Economics & Analytics.

The number is based on attendance at the world championships in Hamilton, Canada, in 2003, the last time the event was held in North America.

“As you may have known, the majority of the cycling races are held in Europe, and the public interest in the race there would be higher than here. That is the reason we chose to use a survey at the most recent race in North America as a basis to come up with the estimate,” said Xiaobing Shuai, a senior economist at Chmura and the primary researcher on the study.

“We felt there are some similarities. Hamilton is a midsized city not too far from Toronto. Public interests may be different, but Canada is closer in their way of life to us here than to European countries.”

According to a 2003 news release from event organizers, the Worlds in Hamilton drew about 230,000 spectators over six days. (Spectators are counted each time they attend a race. For example, a family of four who comes out to watch the races three times will count as 12 total spectators.)

To come up with an estimate of attendees for Richmond, Chmura relied on the 2003 Hamilton Study that found 3.6 percent of residents living within 25 miles of Hamilton attended races while the world championships were in town; 0.1 percent of residents living between 25 and 50 miles attended; 0.3 percent between 50 and 200 miles of Hamilton attended; and 0.1 percent of residents more than 200 miles away attended.

Richmond 2015, the race organizer, says on its website that Richmond is half a day’s drive from half the U.S. population.

Chmura applied those Hamilton percentages and accounted for the three extra days of the event, fans coming from farther distances, international attendees, and the U.S. population living within 500 miles of Richmond to come up with its estimate: 452,580 spectators.

Shuai said the firm’s approach is common for estimating the number of spectators attending large events and “that tourism literature consistently found that population base is one of the key determining factors for the number of visitors.”

“Four years ago, we were basically using past events to make a future projection, just like any economic projections will do,” Shuai said on Aug. 11.

“While the basic drivers are the population base and public interest, many unforeseeable events can affect the actual numbers as well,” Shuai added, citing the global economy, exchange rate, traffic, parking, marketing and outreach.

___

Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com

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