Special Olympics International Named El Tour de Tucson Title Sponsor

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

By David B. Pittman

And so, El Tour de Tucson has come alive.

More than 8,000 riders make their way around Tucson each El Tour. Ed Tunstall Photo

More than 8,000 riders make their way around
Tucson each El Tour. Ed Tunstall Photo

Thanks to Special Olympics International, El Tour de Tucson – the largest bicycle ride in Arizona and a huge contributor to Tucson’s economy – will usher in a new era for cyclists and cycling enthusiasts.

Special Olympics International’s three-year agreement was announced on May 29 at a news conference at Casino Del Sol Resort hosted by Perimeter Bicycling of America, Inc. The event – now known as the Special Olympics 32nd El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino Del Sol Resort – will be Nov. 22, 2014.

“It’s like a dream I never had but if I did, this is the way I would want it to be,” said Richard J. DeBernardis, the founder and president of El Tour de Tucson.

DeBernardis called the partnership ideal. It’ll help broaden the scope and reach of El Tour.

“I’ll tell you, I had been on pins and needles until this contract was signed,” DeBernardis said. “Now that we have a title sponsor, I am confident El Tour de Tucson will be around for a long, long time.”

Kelli Seely, chief development officer for Special Olympics International, said the organization is “incredibly pleased” to be the primary sponsor and premier title sponsor of El Tour de Tucson.

“Wow, to say we’re thrilled is an understatement,” Seely said. “The funds raised by the cyclists will make a tremendous impact on our ability to enhance the programs we are able to offer Special Olympics athletes, 4 million of them worldwide and 16,000 of them here in Arizona “If we were to try to put on an event like this ourselves, it would be extremely expensive,” Seely added. “We are very fortunate that there was an existing, successful event that we could partner with.”

The Visit Tucson website lists El Tour, held annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, as having an economic impact ranging from $13-$20 million in the Tucson-area on just that weekend.

A study done by the University of Arizona Eller College of Management estimated the annual year-round impact of cycling tourism to the Tucson community at about $70 million.

The amount is more than any other Tucson event except the Gem Show, which is a three-week event that is estimated to bring in $100 million.

Still, El Tour de Tucson, for more than three decades, has been a major player in the local cycling scene bringing novices and experienced riders, alike – with Tucson being ranked by numerous national publications as one of the top cycling cities in the United States.

Last year, despite inclement weather, El Tour de Tucson had participation from more than 8,000 cyclists, 25,000 spectators and secured widespread news coverage. A near-record number of participants were expected in 2013 before the rain came. It was the first time the event experienced rain.

In addition to being the premier title sponsor of El Tour, Special Olympics will also serve as the primary beneficiary. In 2013, El Tour raised $4.2 million for more than 35 charitable organizations. Over the past 31 years, El Tour, the seventh largest cycling event in the United States, has raised more than $38 million for various charities.

Since the first El Tour event held in 1983, there have been a total of 11 title sponsors. Last year was the first year there was not a title sponsor in the history of the event.

Jim Burns, CEO Casino Del Sol Resort, and Kelli Seely, chief development officer for Special Olympics.

Jim Burns, CEO Casino Del Sol Resort, and Kelli Seely,
chief development officer for Special Olympics.

DeBernardis and others say the sponsorship with Special Olympics will do more than just help one of Tucson’s biggest and most important event, but officials expect it to help grow El Tour significantly.

“I think we’ve done an exceptional job with the resources we have, but if we’re going to grow and if we want to keep El Tour vibrant, we have to go to the next level,” DeBernardis said. “Special Olympics has the skills, knowledge and resources to not only increase our impact on a national level, but also on an international level. Special Olympics has operations in 180 countries and has a strong organizational structure. So, it can help attract many more foreign cyclists, bring new tourism to our community and spread the name of El Tour de Tucson around the world.”

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said landing Special Olympics was “quite a coup”, adding the organization would bring “great visibility and prestige” to El Tour de Tucson.

“We look forward to making sure their experience is a very positive one,” Rothschild said. “Tucson and amateur sports are a natural fit and we would love to host the Special Olympics USA Games someday.”

“We are a small nonprofit group with just 14 staff members, while Special Olympics is a sophisticated, international organization that is known and respected throughout the world,” DeBernardis said. “We don’t have those ties to large, multinational businesses, but we know working with Special Olympics gives us an opportunity to build potential partnerships with their network of partner organizations.

Special Olympics will replace Tu Nidito Children and Family Services as El Tour’s primary charitable beneficiary. However, Tu Nidito will continue to be among the dozens of charities that benefit from the event.

“We are excited to see where this ride is going to go and the positive effect it has on Tucson,” said Jim Burns, CEO of the resort. “El Tour de Tucson is a one-of-a-kind event in Arizona. It helps put Tucson on the map and has a wonderful economic benefit for all of Tucson.”

Special Olympics was established in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver to change lives through the power of sport by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities, promoting acceptance for all, and fostering communities of understanding and respect worldwide. The Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than 4 million athletes in all regions of the world, providing year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programs.

Perimeter Bicycling Association of America is a nonprofit organization based in Tucson with two primary functions: to promote bicycling as a means of good mental and physical health and to raise money for nonprofit charitable organizations. Perimeter Bicycling produces four major cycling activities each year:  El Tour de Tucson, Cochise County Cycling Classic, El Tour de Mesa and the soon-to-be announced “Viva Bike Vegas.” El Tour also produced the first El Tour de Mt. Fuji, which is now operated by the Japan Bicycling Association.

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