BIRMINGHAM – The Birmingham City Council voted to fork out $5 million to cover the $14 million owed by the World Games to private vendors and other businesses.

Last week, World Games 2022 CEO Nick Sellers released a statement addressing the deficit. He said he was working with both public and private partners to satisfy the event's debts. 

The World Games began on July 7 and concluded on July 17 with a celebration at Protective Stadium. It hosted 3,459 athletes from 99 different countries who competed in 34 sports.

According to Sellers, the event cost was $65 million. Though corporate sponsorships paid for most of it, Birmingham already contributed $3 million in 2022, combined with $2.7 million for police overtime.

On the first day of the games, the Birmingham City Council gave emergency spending authority to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. The city asked Gov. Kay Ivey to declare a state of emergency to authorize emergency expenditures, but Ivey's office declined.

As for the $14 million deficit, Sellers blamed the recent COVID-19 spike and the bad economy.

After long deliberation, the council decided to give the $5 million to the World Games by a seven to two vote. Valerie Abbott of the 3rd District and Carol Clarke of the 8th District were the only members of the council who voted against handing over the money right away. 

In return, the World Games Organizing Committee offered professional services and consulting to the city of Birmingham in an agreement.

World Games defends itself

Before the vote, multiple representatives from the World Games 2022 spoke to the council, including Sellers, who said that he had an idea in May that the World Games might not make as much money as they initially thought. He apologized for keeping the council in the dark.

"It became clear in May when we lost some sponsors, and there was still international COVID restrictions in places until mid-June, and we didn't expect that, that 200,000 tickets we expected to sell, many of which were international, didn't materialize," Sellers said. 

Sellers said he communicated the change of expectations to his board, constituents and the public.

"There were news accounts stating that we were going to have a gap," Sellers said.

Sellers said the World Games were still a success, and he and the other representatives outlined what the games were said to accomplish.

"The games brought together more regional cooperation than any other event in recent history," said Jonathan Porter, the Chairman of the World Games Operating Committee.

Porter also said the event created economic development and improved Birmingham's reputation on the world stage.

Economic impact

The World Games 2022 was expected to generate $256 million in economic impact for the Birmingham area.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was at the meeting and said that though there are no hard numbers yet, he is confident there will be definitive numbers by the end of September, and they will be positive.

"We expect a strong economic impact when numbers are finalized," Woodfin said in a statement following the vote. "There are multiple economic development leads based on the World Games. You can't put a dollar amount on the boost to civic pride and positive coverage of Birmingham worldwide due to the games."

Woodfin said that leveraging the data and expertise of the Organizing Committee and ensuring that the World Games and its vendors "finish out on a positive note" is "critical to maintaining the momentum we have experienced."

Woodfin also said that previous World Games events relied almost entirely on government funding, but the World Games 2022 relied more heavily on private funding from sponsors, which was more than all other host cities combined.

Disappointment in communication

Many of the city council members were upset at the lack of communication between the World Games and the council.

"I don't think that we were shared the most accurate information at the time," said councilor Clinton Wood of the 1st District. "Nobody ever came back behind that and said things have changed. Things have shifted."

Woods initially proposed delaying the decision on whether to pay the $5 million but changed his mind after Woodfin urged the council to make a decision today.

Abbott said that though she enjoyed the World Games, she felt disrespected because the council was not informed that there were problems leading up to them.

"Somebody knew ahead of time that we didn't raise enough money to put the World Games on, but the body that has to approve the excess spending is us, and we were left in the darkness," Abbott said.

Citizens speak out

Ronald Jackson, the executive director of Citizens for Better Schools and Sustainable Communities, attended the meeting and said he was disinterested when Birmingham first decided to host the World Games. However, he wanted to advise the council to vote to delay their decision before they audit the World Games.

"What's the rush?" Jackson asked. "Haste makes waste. The Bible says, 'Measure twice to cut once.' That's somewhere in Proverbs. Mayor Woodfin, [the city council]… They need to go read it."

Jackson has been outspoken about his opposition to Birmingham putting forth the money and said he had had run-ins with the council before.

"How can they be so incompetent when Alabama Power and Nick Sellers, somebody turned their back, closed their eyes, and they knew it was a deficit before they even got here?" Jackson asked.

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