Thousands of foodies packed Downtown in mid-November to check out the World Food Championships. It was unlike our city’s many other food festivals in one important way: ease of accessibility. Spectators watched 500 professional and amateur chefs battle it out on Fremont Street for free, and even the ticketed events were reasonably priced.
The popular series started on the Strip in 2012 and moved Downtown in 2013, and WFC President and CEO Mike McCloud called this year’s version “the best event we’ve produced in Las Vegas so far.”
So why is he moving it to Kissimmee, Florida, next year?
“Survival,” McCloud says. “We haven’t been able to make money in Las Vegas.” And he squarely blames local tourism organizations and businesses for that fact. “We love the foodies,” he insists. “We even love the craziness of the environment at times.” But McCloud says the City of Las Vegas failed to provide two basic ingredients that the event, which costs $1 million to produce, needed to thrive: financial support and logistical support.
When it comes to logistics, McCloud says Downtown is like “a whole lot of people sitting at the poker table and no one [has] a trump card” (apparently confusing poker for bridge). He says other cities where WFC stages competitions appoint a person to negotiate for all of the businesses that are affected by the event. In Las Vegas, he expected the Fremont Street Experience, a collective that represents eight Downtown casinos, to fill that role, but says that didn’t happen.
“The Fremont Street Experience is supposed to represent [the casinos] as a collective,” he says. “But when one of them tells us, ‘You need to move your operations back 30 feet because you’re blocking my view of Third Street Stage,’ I can’t even get them to back us up. We had approved plans that the Fremont Street Experience signed off on and the City signed off on. Imagine how frustrating that is, how expensive that is.” That’s just one of several examples McCloud cites where the Fremont Street Experience failed to negotiate on his behalf.
Tom Bruny, the Fremont Street Experience’s marketing manager, says McCloud’s expectations of the group were unreasonable. “Let me make it clear: The casino-hotels are our bosses,” he says. “They don’t report to the Fremont Street Experience.”
While the logistical problems were frustrating, McCloud’s decision to leave Las Vegas was also financially driven. His group had hoped to partner with local businesses through which he could secure paid sponsorships, but that never materialized. He also hoped to get significant financial support from local tourist organizations such as the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Fremont Street Experience. While McCloud says he received minimal funds from such sources, he also says that amount paled in comparison to what he’s received in cities where WFC hosted some “super-regional” second-tier competitions.
Bruny says McCloud asked the Fremont Street Experience for $250,000 in cash annually for the next three years, a request the group’s board turned down. He points out, however, that the Fremont Street Experience this year provided $75,000 in free “in-kind” services, such as lights, sound and security. Unfortunately, Bruny says, “The World Food Championships placed a value on their event higher than we were willing to pay for the future.” (The LVCVA failed to respond to repeated requests for an interview about the World Food Championships or its overall policies in promoting tourist events.)
For his part, McCloud concedes his event may not be big enough to get the respect he’s seeking in Las Vegas. “We’re kind of a small fish in a big pond in Las Vegas,” he admits. “When we take our events to a Kissimmee or a Scottsdale or a Nashville, we are a big-time event. So those cities are a lot more interested in helping bring us to town and support us financially.”