El Tour de Tucson 2018

El Tour’s traditional ridership fell more than 30% over the past decade as sponsorships declined, with a concurrent drop in revenue from rider registration fees.

Banner-University Medicine has come to the rescue of El Tour de Tucson’s financially-strapped operator.

The health care firm has agreed to serve as title sponsor for the 37th annual El Tour cycling race this fall — the first time since 2016 the event has been able to secure such funding.

Banner will provide $175,000 to help pay for the upcoming race, said attorney Pat Lopez, board chairman for Perimeter Bicycling Association of America, the Tucson nonprofit that runs El Tour.

In return, the Banner name will be prominently featured on posters, jerseys and other race paraphernalia, and Diamond Children’s Medical Center, which is located at Banner-University Medical Center Tucson, will be the primary beneficiary of this year’s El Tour fundraising.

“El Tour de Tucson is more than just a bike ride, it is a Tucson and surrounding community commitment to health, wellness and safety,” Dr. Samuel M. Keim of Banner said in a news release. Keim is a cyclist, emergency-room physician and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Arizona.

Lopez said Banner’s health-care mission “is an especially good fit,” for El Tour, which works to encourage healthier lifestyles. The Banner money will go a long way toward ensuring this year’s race is fully-funded, he said.

“There is still more (fundraising) to do but this is a huge step forward.”

The Banner contribution is a bit less than El Tour has received from title sponsors in years past. Historically, such sponsorships have been in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. Perimeter is in a rebuilding phase after several years of double-digit losses that imperiled the future of the decades-old event.

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Traditional El Tour ridership fell by more than 30% over the last 10 years, with a concurrent drop in revenue from rider registration fees, the Arizona Daily Star found in an analysis of annual event results from 2008 and 2018.

Earlier this year, Perimeter faced a lawsuit threat from Pima County over an unpaid bill for $180,000 worth of traffic barricades the county procured for last year’s race. The bill has since been paid. El Tour founder and longtime CEO Richard DeBernardis stepped down earlier this year when the organization’s financial problems became public. A new CEO, Charlene Grabowski, was installed last week as DeBernardis’ replacement.

Meanwhile, DeBernardis said in an email to the Star he intends to leave Tucson and has put his Catalina Foothills home up for sale. He did not respond to a return email seeking comment on his future plans.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or calaimo@tucson.com. On Twitter: @AZStarConsumer


Carol Ann has been with the Star since 1999, but has been an investigative reporter for more than 30 years. She's won numerous awards in the U.S. and Canada. In 2003, she was a war correspondent in Iraq and was a Knight-Wallace Fellow in Michigan in 2008.