Soap Box Derby's financial wheels wobbly but still rolling

soap box derbyThe All-American Soap Box Derby organization is scrambling to reverse a downhill slide in its finances. The Akron Beacon Journal reports that Summit County, Ohio, home of the derby, is going to audit the books of the not -for -profit -- at AASBD's request. Bill Evans, the chairman of the AASBD's board, told me this is a good thing.

The AASBD has been traveling a rough road. In 2008, expenses outstripped revenue by over $400,000 after it lost its most recent title sponsor, Levi Strauss Co. The city of Akron recently stepped in to guarantee $623,000 of debt, which convinced FirstMerit Bank to drop a lawsuit it had filed to recover $580,000 owed by the Derby. The Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce is also pitching in with fund raising and business planning. The organization has not to date been successful in signing a title sponsor. In the past, Chevrolet, Levi's, Home Depot, Goodyear and other companies have sponsored the race.

Now, however, Evans sees several things coming together to improve the AASBD's prospects. One of them is a movie star.
Corbin Bernsen (who starred in another northern-Ohio-based film, Major League) read about the Derby's plight in a USA Today story and concluded that he could do a film about a young boy who saves the Derby from economic collapse. With the help of the AASBD, over $750,000 in local money has been raised to cover production costs for the script Bernsen has written, 25 Hill. GEICO has signed on as a sponsor of the film.

Evans explained in a phone interview that the audit is intended to add transparency to the organization's operations, a necessary step in making the AASBD more appealing to prospective title sponsors. He was, in fact, very upbeat about the prospects of finding such a sponsor in the near future. He pointed out that this is not the only organization to struggle for sponsors during the recession.

The Soap Box Derby has been challenging youth since its beginnings back in 1934. Those who envision cars designed and built at home from scrap lumber haven't seen the modern Derby, though. Today beginner participants are required to buy a standardized kit for over $500 ($445 for the car kit, $110 for wheels). A kit for the masters class runs $610 without wheels. In 2009, 603 boys and girls took part in the Akron event, while the organization also sanctions local races around the country.

This year's Derby commences in Akron, Ohio on Monday, July 19 with the wrap-up and awards ceremony on Saturday, July 24.
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