MEREDITH — Simmering out of sight for some time, the rift between Anne Deli, president of Laconia Harley-Davidson, and the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association (LMWA) boiled over this week when Deli told the Board of Selectmen that the town was wasting its money by paying dues to the association.
Deli appeared before the board to speak against a proposal to levy licensing fee on transient vendors to defray municipal expenses incurred during the annual rally, which is centered at Weirs Beach. Urging the board to reject the proposal, she asked "does Meredith really want to put one more nail in the coffin of Motorcycle Week."
Her remarked prompted Nate Torr, chairman of the board, to ask if the town was wasting money by paying $5,000 in annual dues to belong to the LMWA, which Deli earlier had described as "insolvent".
Deli replied that Laconia Harley-Davidson left the association last year and this year, for the first time since she and her husband acquired the dealership in 2008, did not place an advertisement in the Rally News, the magazine published twice each year by the LMWA to promote the rally. She explained that the company received no significant return from either its membership in the association or advertising in the magazine.
Selectman Bev Lapham asked Deli if she could quantify the return on the investment in the LMWA and Rally News. "Yes," she replied, "based on sales and number of people (who visit their property)."
She said that she had spoken to Jeff Rose, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) about whether the rally is important to the state. "Everybody says yeah, yeah, yeah, but it's going down like that," she said, dropping her hand toward the floor.
Deli told the board that her staff counted about 40,000 visitors to the dealership during the rally and estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 attended the rally in 2015 — "a lot less than what's reported". When Jonathan James suggested that an aging demographic has contributed to the diminishing crowds, Deli replied "people come if there are things to do. There are not enough things to do."
Deli said that this year 1.2 million were drawn to the 75th Black Hills Motorcycle Classic in Sturgis, South Dakota, adding that a friend who attended told her what he loved about the rally was "organized chaos and people watching. The less there is to do, the less people there are, the less people watching there is. It's just a spiral." .
Ray Moritz wondered why if Deli is concerned by shrinking attendance, she left the organization formed to promote the rally. "A different marketing strategy should be put forth," she responded. "The magazine is probably not the right vehicle anymore." She explained that Laconia Harley-Davidson has pursued a digital marketing campaign, using an e-mail list of more than 20,000 addresses.
Reacting to Deli's remarks, Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the LMWA, recalled in 2008, when Deli and husband Steve, bought the dealership, they tried to take control of the Rally News. "She didn't think it was the wrong vehicle then," he said. This year, the first since the Deli's left the association and dropped their advertising, St. Clair before and after the rally he regularly fielded calls from employees of dealership asking for copies of the Rally News. "That's a fact," he insisted.
St. Clair noted that when Herb and Linda Johnson owned what was then called Meredith Harley-Davidson they not only belonged to LMWA but also contributed $20,000 a year as a corporate sponsor of the rally. The Delis, he noted, have never sponsored the event. "We listen to our major sponsors like Progresive Insurance, Sysco, Budweiser , Pepsi, Hot Leathers, Bank of New Hampshire and Amsoil," he noted. "They love the magazine."
Cynthia Makris of the Naswa Resort, president of the LMWA, told The Daily Sun didn't at all agree with what "she (Deli) has to say about us". She recalled that last December, Deli invited some 40 Motorcycle Week "stakeholders" to a meeting at Church Landing in Meredith in an attempt to wrest control of the rally from the association. No one from the LMWA or The Weirs was invited and only Mayor Ed Engler and Vicki Routhier from the Bank of New Hampshire attended from Laconia, she said.
Engler said yesterday that about 20 people attended the meeting. He said that there was no consensus support for forming a new organization to displace the LMWA and promote the rally. Likewise, a proposal to take a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the association — specifically St. Clair and Jennifer Anderson, the director of the LMWA — also died for lack of consensus.
Makris, whose family has taken part in 80 of the 92 rallies, said "I'm very proud of the LMWA and the work Charlie and Jenn do." Calling the Rally News "a signature piece of Bike Week," she said it provides a program and schedule of all the events during the rally in a readily accessible format"
Makris resented suggestions that the association is insolvent and said that financial issues facing the association have been addressed. "We're turning things around and have begun planning for the 95th and even begun thinking about 100th," she said.