The 13th annual DICK’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions (ToC), dubbed as the national championships for the sport of lacrosse, is once again scheduled to be played in Wesley Chapel at the end of the month.
However, the once-friendly relationship between host Pasco County and Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE), LLC, which puts on the event, has become a little bit frosty, as the county is claiming KSE is not holding up its end of a deal the parties agreed to in 2016.
As a result, the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners voted on Dec. 12 to reduce the amount of money the county pays the tournament organizers from $90,000 to $20,000.
According to a letter sent to KSE’s Stephen Stienker, the county is claiming that KSE agreed to promote Pasco County in exchange for the $90,000 annual rights fee the county previously paid to KSE each year.
Administered by the Pasco County Tourist Development Council (TDC) and collected from a local-option tourist development tax on transient lodging like hotels, motels and campgrounds, the $90,000 is roughly half of the county’s budget for sports event sponsorships.
Adam Thomas, who replaced Ed Caum as the Pasco County director of tourism in September, said that as a new employee, he was going through various contracts and checking to make sure the deliverables were being met. After some research, Thomas determined that was not happening in KSE’s case.
“None of the agreement was being met,’’ Thomas says.
That included displaying the county’s name or “Visit Pasco” slogan and logo on the websites of 60-plus qualifying tournaments in 22 different states for the DICK’s ToC, as well as in newsletters, backdrop banners, apparel, mentions in news and press releases and on trophies.
Thomas said that when he visited the websites of the qualifying tournaments, many weren’t even active, and on the ones that were still active, he says there was not a single mention of Pasco.
Videos were supposed to be created by KSE as well, promoting the DICK’s ToC and Pasco County.
“It is a long laundry list of deliverables and obligations that weren’t being done,” Thomas says.
According to Florida Statute 125.0104, any money from the Tourist Development Tax earmarked for promotion has to be spent on promotion.
“I do want to see the audit of 2016,’’ Thomas says. “If that money is being spent on something else, like operations or salaries, that’s a bigger problem.”
Thomas said this year’s DICK’s ToC, scheduled to be played Dec. 29-31 at Wesley Chapel District Park on Boyette Rd. and Wesley Chapel High on Wells Rd., will still go on, but the letter to KSE says it will take whatever legal remedies are necessary, from withholding payment or even terminating the agreement.
This is the second year of the two-year deal — with an option for a third year — Pasco County signed with KSE in May of 2016.
“We don’t want the tournament to cancel,” Thomas says. “It brings a lot of people and fresh dollars to our economy. I just want the return on investment from the agreement that was signed by KSE and the county. I don’t want them to cancel the tournament at all.”
The ToC website, at NDPLacrosse.com, has made some changes and is currently referencing Pasco County twice, while also displaying a large bright yellow “Visit Pasco” logo.
The DICK’s ToC started in 2006, and has been held in Wesley Chapel every year since 2008. Hosted by the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association (WCAA), the county says the tournament has an estimated annual economic impact of about $3 million.
As many as 115 teams have competed in the ToC, although in recent years, those numbers have declined. In 2015, there were 73 teams participating, and last year’s event attracted only 53 teams.
Tj Fitzsimons, the Wiregrass Ranch High lacrosse coach who has coached some of the Pasco Lions teams from the WCAA at the tournament in the past, said he was told just under 70 teams are slated for this year’s event.
Teams earn bids at regional qualifying tournaments to compete for the DICK’s national championship across five divisions – Rising Stars (graduation years of 2019, 2020 and 2021), Elite (2018-2021) and 9U-10U through 15U.
One of those qualifiers, the Derek Pieper Memorial Cup, is held in Wesley Chapel every year in mid-November.
Game times each day will be held from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, visit NDPlacrosse.com/Default.aspx?tabid=493987.