Dueling RWO/SBI Races in Key West: Is It Feasible?

Dueling RWO/SBI Races in Key West: Is It Feasible?

Key West city commissioners on Tuesday officially voted 7-0 to authorize a contract with Race World Offshore to conduct the World Championship Race Week through 2023, clearing the way for the Coast Guard to issue a permit.

At the meeting, an attorney representing Super Boat International objected to the move, complaining that RWO had violated SBI’s “intellectual property” with respect to site coordinates, event nomenclature and registered trademarks, as well as other alleged infringements. SBI legal counsel Albert Kelley also insisted that the longtime racing organization would be mounting its own National Championships in Key West during the same dates (Nov. 6-8, plus Nov. 10).

However, City Attorney Shawn Smith said, “In talking to [RWO] staff, they said they took great care to insure that they didn’t infringe upon any of the issues that Mr. Kelley indicated earlier.” Smith later added that he did not believe that the matter of “intellectual property” would be a consideration for the city.

At Tuesday night’s City Commissioner’s meeting, City Manager Jim Scholl stated that there would only be one race supported by the Navy, under the relationship that the Navy has with the city. “We have one annual powerboat race event that we can do in conjunction with the Navy and the Outer Mole and the Navy property. So that’s the only a powerboat race event that we are going to support going forward, is with Race World Offshore, the organization we have a contract with,” he said. (Key West’s Outer Mole is 580-foot-long deep-berth pier.)

Clarifying his statements in an interview with Powerboat Nation, Scholl said: “The city of Key West only has one promoter that will do the one powerboat race a year that we are allowed to do in conjunction with the United States Navy base down here. We have a license agreement that we have with the Navy that allows us to use that Navy property. We schedule it every year, and it’s been going on for 30 years or more.”

Key West’s contract with Super Boat International expired last year. “We informed them that we were going to go out for request for proposals to see if there were any other interest in parties and perhaps a better financial situation for the city, which is obviously in the city’s best interest. And we did that.” Race World Offshore was recommended as the new organization to mount the race, and the city voted to approve that recommendation.

Super Boat International’s astonishing news that it would mount a race at the same time as Race World Offshore’s event came on the heels of SBI postponing its only previously scheduled race of the year, in Kenner, LA, due to what they claimed were dangerous water conditions. In a press release posted to its website, SBI said that its “11th Annual Clearwater Super Boat National Championship is moving to Key West in November. The Super Boat National Championship will take place in Key West during the 39th Annual Key West World Champion Race. The move from Clearwater to Key West comes after Super Boat International recently canceled their agreement with the city of Clearwater after a ten-year run.”

No mention was made of how or if racers would be expected to take part in both events at the same time. Moreover, the release failed to address the fact that Race World Offshore would be the sanctioning body selected by the City of Key West to operate the event, and did not attempt to clarify why SBI decided to schedule the National Championships during the World Championship event.

Asked about the feasibility of holding two races simultaneously in Key West, City Manager Scholl seemed to dismiss the possibility, unless the two organizations joined forces to create some kind of expanded mutual event.

“If they want to have sort of a race within a race, and call it their National Championship for SBI, I think RWO President Larry Bliel would support that,” he said. “It would just be more participants in the race down here.”
But as far as SBI doing an event on their own, Scholl doubted that could or would happen.

“If SBI has some other interests down here in the Florida Keys, somewhere off Key West, and they have a private on-shore provider to support them, and it doesn’t use the Truman Waterfront harbor or the Navy Base, that’ll be up to the Coast Guard to determine whether that would be an appropriate additional powerboat race to happen. I can’t speak for the Coast Guard, but certainly I would find it difficult to believe that they would approve two races at the same time,” he said, adding: “I would say the probability is very close to zero, because their resources will be tied up supporting a similar event at the same time in a different location. So I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”

For his part, RWO’s Bliel told Powerboat Nation that he saw Tuesday night’s meeting as the green-light for his company to move forward independently, and without any competition. “I’m glad the process is over and I’m happy now to move forward and put the best races on in Key West that they’ve ever had,” Bliel said.