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Hoping to Catch Wave, Hawaii Seals Sports Tourism Marketing Deal

7 Sep, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Hawai’i is hoping to catch the sports tourism wave.

Recently, it was announced that the Hawai’i Tourism Authority (HTA) awarded a one-year, $200,000 sports marketing contract to the Ascendent Sports Group earlier this month. An article, published in Travel Weekly, noted that HTA is retaining the option to extend the contract up to as many as four years.

The new deal, which empowers the New York City-based firm to provide sports marketing services on behalf of the state of Hawai’i, includes an option for the HTA to extend the contract up to as many as four years.

Recently, the islands have seen two high-level sports disappointments. The destination was unable to convince the NFL to hold the 2017 Pro Bowl in Honolulu, and the U.S. women's national soccer team canceled an exhibition match at Honolulu's Aloha Stadium due to safety concerns about the field's condition.

Leslie Dance, HTA’s vice president of marketing and product development, told Sports Destination Management the destination hopes to continue to capitalize on all that is positive about the area, and that athletic activity is a major part of the image.

“As a marketing platform, sports have always been part of our brand management plan. We have the Ironman Triathlon and the Honolulu Marathon every year, and we just finished with Duke’s OceanFest [a multi-sport festival capitalizing on the Polynesian culture, with events including surfing, SUP and outrigger canoe racing]. There are a lot of sports that are tied to our legacy and our culture.”

While Hawai’i has no problems with its traditional sports, it wants to bring in more events from the mainland and Dance says Ascendant can help with this.

The marketing firm’s responsibilities will include sourcing sports-related opportunities, help with application and selection processes for events and competitions, assistance with contract negotiations while also working to prioritize opportunities appealing to travelers from Hawai’i's major visitor markets.

“They can hear about our overall strategy, and provide evaluation tools,” notes Dance. “We think sports is and will continue to be a very important tool in our marketing toolbox.”

Ascendent was co-founded by Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, and Matt Higgins, the team's vice chairman.

“Ascendant has a lot of big brands,” says Dance, “and they have a lot of great strategies. We are looking forward to finding out what helps us meet our objectives while embracing the communities here.”

And, she adds, it’s essential to think outside the box – or in this case, the island – to excite the public. Following the success of rugby in the Olympics, for example, Dance would like to bring that sport to the islands.

“Maybe we could bring the [New Zealand] All Blacks to Hawai’I,” she adds.

The island is capable of hosting traditional sports, such as baseball, football, basketball and tennis, according to Dance, and it has become a haven for golf.

“We have beautiful courses that would challenge a PGA pro. We’ll continue to keep golf in Hawai’i and we’re continuing to expand our relationship with the LPGA.”

Women’s golf is growing in Asia, she adds, and the islands are a convenient destination for that area. In addition, the islands are continuing to promote golf tourism in various campaigns, with Dance noting that many courses "could challenge any pro."

Another area of sports growth in Hawai’i is XTERRA, the off-road sports syndicate, with mountain biking, trail running and triathlon events. The XTERRA World Championship, in fact, is held on Maui in October.

And Dance hasn’t ruled out another relationship with the NFL someday.

“We’re still good friends with the NFL,” she says. “We would love to work with them again. But moving the Pro Bowl game is part of a very distinct strategy. More people can drive to see the Pro Bowl in Florida than can drive to Hawai’i.”

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