‘What a great showcase.’ Strongman competition puts Bradenton on world stage
It takes a lot of fuel to keep the world’s strongest men up and running, and apparently it’s the same for their fans who opened their wallets to local businesses over the weekend.
Most businesses within the area of competition reported a stellar weekend, ranging from downtown Bradenton, where the competition kicked off on Thursday, to Anna Maria Island, where the competition concluded on Sunday in dramatic fashion with American Martins Licis winning his first world championship.
“Thursday and Friday were both very busy days,” said Cassie Bunch, an employee at Robin’s Downtown Cafe. “We saw a lot of people coming in from the competition itself.”
Robin’s is a breakfast and lunch cafe, so how did the event affect businesses that are open late?
“People were here a lot longer than normal,” said Lou Thomey, of Bad Ass Cafe. “Our kitchen was still cranking out food all the way up to midnight. We had a really good Thursday and Friday was wonderful.”
Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Elliott Falcione briefed the Manatee County Tourist Development Council on Monday, telling officials that it was a marketing opportunity the area could not afford to miss.
“When the train comes by we have to jump on it or miss it,” Falcione said.
The World’s Strongest Man was late in making the announcement that it would be coming to Bradenton. The official notification went out at the end of May and some businesses wished there had been more notice.
“Honestly, we didn’t see much of a difference at all,” said Kaitlind Lawrence, a bartender at the Anchor Inn on Anna Maria Island. “I personally didn’t know anything about it until it was happening so I wish we would have had more notice and maybe we could have thought of something to get more people in.”
Lawrence said the Anchor Inn is largely a local favorite, however — unlike the Wicked Cantina in Bradenton Beach.
“We rarely even see Floridians,” Wicked Cantina employee Taylor Marlow said. “Our customers are typically from all over the world anyway, so it’s hard to say if they were here for the strongman, but you also can’t argue with numbers. Business was definitely up through the weekend and we were slammed. Strong man was a hit and business was booming.”
The TDC put up $75,000 for television advertising, but the biggest marketing will come when the competition airs on June 30 on CBS and airs at a later date in the United Kingdom.
“It was great exposure for our area,” said TDC chairwoman Carol Whitmore, calling the competitors “gentle giants.”
Whitmore, too, acknowledged the quick turnaround from the time the county became aware it was coming until the event took place.
“It came on us all of a sudden,” she said.
IMG Academy is credited with getting the competition to Bradenton and one of the main reasons for the lack of notification is that the location where the competition was originally going to be held fell through.
What’s bad for that location was great for Manatee County.
“We were very busy,” said Ed Payette, an employee at the AMI Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach, where the final two days of the competition was held.
“They were good days for us from 7 a.m. until closing,” he said.
Payette said there was no doubt the increase in business was due to the strong man competition. He said he spoke with customers from all over the world who had come to see their favorite athlete perform.
“There were people from Scotland, England, Finland, Sweden, Australia — I mean from everywhere,” Payette said. “And from Iceland.”
Iceland is the home of one of the sport’s fan favorites, Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, who played the final “Mountain” character in HBO’s mega hit “Game of Thrones.”
The grueling four-day competition rarely creates rivalries, as fans time and again told the Bradenton Herald on each day that they have a favorite, but love all the athletes. Bjornsson showed why their fans have so much respect for them, not only in the competitive arena, but out.
Bjornsson, the defending world champion, was the first to congratulate Licis on his win, with one giant bear hugging the other.
Bjornsson still had room to celebrate, taking the stand with a third place finish, while Poland’s Matecusz Kieliszkowski took second.
Americans had a good competition besides winning the grand prize. Brian Shaw finished sixth and Trey Mitchell finished eighth.
Thomey said the cool thing is that it not only brought a lot of different people into the Bradenton area, but it also brought back a lot of familiar faces some local businesses haven’t seen around for a while.
“We saw a lot of local faces back in downtown,” Thomey said. “That’s really nice.”