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Iditarod No Longer in the Red

May 28, 1999

WASILLA, Alaska (AP) _ A half-dozen years ago, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race faced major money problems as pressure from animal rights groups caused two national sponsors to withdraw.

Now, the race is turning a profit and the purse this year was more than $500,000 _ the biggest ever.

Alaska’s own business community stepped in when Timberland Co. and Iams Co., a specialty dog food maker, dropped sponsorships that represented about a quarter of the Iditarod’s budget.

``The race really depicts a lot of the state, especially in wintertime when there is a special beauty,″ said Dick Westlund, a vice president of General Communications Inc., an Alaska telephone and cable company that put more than $50,000 into the race this year. ``And when you take a step back, it helps support the state economy because of the focus that Alaska gets.″

Alaska businesses provide most of the sponsorship cash and ``in-kind″ help that ranges from trail food to raffle prizes. There are also national sponsors.

``We’re proud of our relationship with the Iditarod,″ said Joe Arterburn of Cabela’s Inc., a Nebraska clothing retailer which came up with more than $150,000 in cash and gear for the race this year.

``We do a lot of business in Alaska. The Iditarod represents a lot of tradition and pride _ it’s something we understand and appreciate.″

Sponsors put up more than $650,000 last year in cash and nearly $1.3 million in merchandise and services. That’s well above 1994′s figure, the last year that Timberland and Iams were included.

The cash figure still lags, though. In 1994, sponsorship cash totaled $712,104, including $218,200 from Timberland and $150,000 from Iams.

A change is financial strategy is largely responsible for freeing the Iditarod from its dependence on a few big sponsors.

Sponsorships now provide only about a fourth of the total cash revenues of nearly $2.4 million. Raffles now bring in about the same amount, and the ``Iditarider″ program raised $97,000 during this year’s race.

Iditariders purchase seats in mushers’ sleds for the ceremonial start in Anchorage. The program has attracted celebrities, including soap opera star Susan Lucci and actor Gary Collins.

Other fund-raising efforts have fizzled, though.

The Alaska Legislature approved special legislation to allow a lottery based on the Iditarod, but the program lost $60,000 for the race in 1997 and was dropped.

The race’s financial low point was 1997, when lottery losses, low merchandise sales and a purse increase sent the race $110,000 into the red. The Iditarod considered mortgaging its headquarters building that year, but eventually got a line of credit. And the board tightened its belt.

``It looks like were going to be in the black this year,″ said John Handeland of Nome, a longtime Iditarod board member. ``We’ve had some new sponsors come on board, and the board has looked at expenses more carefully. The combination of both has resulted in a much healthier organization.″

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