Two leading Tauranga multisport events, the Tinman Triathlon and the Kaimai Classic, are close to going under because of the struggle to attract sponsorship.
Sport Bay of Plenty chief executive Wayne Werder told city councillors that the events were "very, very close to not happening".
He said the recession was hitting sports clubs and events organisers because of the increasing difficulty trying to find sponsors.
Mr Werder's comments last week were made three days before last Sunday's Kaimai Classic, a 67km race that included running, kayaking and cycling.
The Tinman, raced at Mount Maunganui in December, was a 1500m swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run.
Mr Werder said the council should not underestimate how much a small contribution could support events. He said it did not always have to be financial support but "even just a pat on the back".
A lot of opportunities were being lost in Tauranga and the wider Western Bay, and a clear strategy was needed for events.
Mr Werder said there was confusion among volunteers about the council's attitude to events.
His comments followed controversy last year when the council's events support subcommittee cut or watered down applications from nearly all the city's flagship cultural and sports festivals.
Western Bay's Events Strategy has also had a rough passage through the Tauranga and Western Bay councils.
It received a lukewarm response from politicians last year and then came under attack in February from leading sports and business agencies for being focused on "business as usual" rather than encouraging high-quality events.
Although the Tinman Triathlon and Kaimai Classic were not flagship events, Mr Werder said that sport and recreation were core business for the council, whose events policy did not suit the needs of event operators and needed a lot of work.
The Tinman and Kaimai Classic were at the point of going from events that could be managed by volunteers to events that were professionally managed, supported by volunteer help.
Mr Werder said the size of events that brought economic returns to the community needed professional event managers.
Councillor Hayden Evans said the Tinman and Kaimai Classic had come before the events subcommittee looking for funding. "Why can't these two events pay their own way," he asked.
Mr Werder said the entry fee for the Kaimai Classic was $220 and the Tinman had ramped up its fee and was becoming quite expensive.
He defended professional event organisers, saying they put in a huge of amount of effort for not much return.
On a general note, he said council's investment of $252,000 into Sport BOP was greatly appreciated and he urged council to continue with this support over the next three years.
Mr Werder said Tauranga seemed to be following the national trend of work patterns, lifestyle habits and lack of support structures being barriers to increased sport and physical activity.