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Follow the Leaders: Who’s Who in Sports Destinations

23 May, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Everyone has a go-to person – that one friend who can always be counted on to provide advice, guidance and honest conversation. It’s good to know in the sports destination world, there are likewise the best possible people who stand ready to provide the support, professionalism and expertise to help elevate events to an art form.

On these pages, we present to you some of those people in our industry. They are leaders in their current destinations and when it comes to putting on successful events, they have a proven track record. If you’re going to be looking for a new home for your event, and a new partner, we’re providing this information as a jumping-off point. Who knows? You might gain a new home base, not to mention a new go-to person.

Bentonville, Arkansas: Kalene Griffith

When Kalene Griffith, CEO of Visit Bentonville, attended her first sports conference a decade ago, she was impressed by the partnerships cities had with their state to promote their sports facilities as a cohesive brand.  She immediately returned to Bentonville, Arkansas, her home, and began crafting a proposal to create what is known today as Arkansas Sports. Kalene pitched the idea to the state tourism office and convinced tourism leaders that if cities with the best sports facilities came together and partnered to bring in sports planners, the entire state would benefit.

Fast-forward 11 years, and Arkansas Sports is now a major brand that attracts sports managers from across the country. The brand represented by various Arkansas cities now attends most if not all sports conferences. Planners find when they meet with Arkansas Sports and the city they are speaking with does not have a particular facility, Arkansas Sports is quick to connect the planner with the city that does. Kalene’ s ability to bring city leaders together to promote tourism throughout the state was recently validated when she was appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson to the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation, and Travel Commission. 

Fresno, California: Scott Van Meter

Scott Van Meter, director of sales, is a sports enthusiast. He started as an intern with the Fresno/Clovis Convention & Visitors Bureau during his final semester at Fresno State University. Upon graduation with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Marketing, Scott was hired to become the sports sales manager in 2013.

During his time at Fresno State, Scott was an assistant for the Bulldog football team. He was able to learn a vast amount about Division I athletics at a major university. Scott’s passion for sports has allowed him to communicate and understand the competitive sports market. His experience growing up and playing at the local sports venues has given him an inside track to understanding his clients’ needs, making him a valuable resource for the Fresno/Clovis CVB.

Scott is more than excited to share what the FCCVB can do to support sports planners who are hosting their next tournament in Fresno. He strives to grow partnerships with local organizations and venues like Veterans Memorial Stadium, which is one of the finest high school stadiums in the country. Fresno/Clovis has seen tremendous growth in new sports planners and Scott is very excited to see what the future has for this hidden gem in sports.

Morgan Hill, California: Jeff Dixon

Jeff Dixon is the President of the Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance (MHYSA), operator of the Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center (OSC). Dedicated to getting More Kids in More Sports, Jeff’s team began running the OSC in 2010 as a means to make the facility available to local teams while raising money to support local kids.

The effort took on a bigger meaning as Jeff and OSC GM Dave Payne began to understand the value of the facility and what it could mean to their community. “Sports tourism as an economic engine became apparent as we completed our first year”, remarks Dixon. “Being in the oldest wine-making region in California, we always realized the value of tourism, but as we diversified the sports groups using the facility and began working together with regional partners, the financial impact became significant.”

A long time Bay Area resident, Jeff and his family moved to Morgan Hill in 2002. Running MHYSA and the OSC is a perfect fit for Dixon who spent 25 years in the high-tech industry before moving into sports management. “Morgan Hill is a perfect place for sports and family. I invite everyone to come discover it for themselves.”

Hamilton County, Indiana: William Knox, CSEE

William R. Knox was born in Gary, Indiana. After becoming a four-sport letterman at Gary West Side High School, he went on to receive his B.S. in sports marketing with a minor in business from Indiana University in 1999. After completing his undergraduate career, he accepted a position as the director of sports marketing with the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau. Later, he became the director of the Hoosier Sports Corporation.

William is now the director of sports development for Hamilton County Tourism Inc., where he also serves as Director of the Hamilton County Sports Authority. This division of the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau oversees marketing, development, sales and management for sporting events that come to the county (2008-present).

Currently, William serves in a variety of leadership positions relating to his work. He serves as the past president of Sports Indiana, the state’s collaborative sports development organization. He is also a past board member of the National Association of Sports Commissioners (NASC) and served on the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host committee.

William has completed the Certified Sports Event Executive program through the NASC and he is in the process of completing his Destination Management Executive leadership certification through Destination Marketing Association International.

Elizabethtown, Kentucky: Janna Clark, CSEE

Janna Clark, CSEE, is the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. She joined the convention and visitors bureau in 2009 to create and lead a sports tourism program for the Elizabethtown area. In this role, Janna managed the design, construction and launch of the Elizabethtown Sports Park, which opened in July 2012. Previously, Janna worked for Host Communications, a sports marketing and association management firm based in Lexington, Kentucky. She has over 20 years of experience in event planning, fundraising, marketing and association management. 

Janna obtained her M.A. in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication and a B.A. in Speech Communication from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

Janna was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC) in 2015 for a three-year term. She also appointed by the governor of Kentucky to the Board of Directors for the Kentucky Sports Authority in 2011 and currently serves in that capacity. Locally, Janna is a board member for Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana and can often be found volunteering at her sons’ school, St. James Catholic School. Janna is married to Mitch and they have two sons, Jackson and Will.

Grand Rapids, Michigan: Mike Guswiler

Mike Guswiler is president of the West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC), where he oversees commission operations, the signature Meijer State Games of Michigan, and the new championship-caliber Art Van Sports Complex. Mike has led the WMSC since its inception in 2007 – first as executive director, and then as president in 2013. Under his leadership, the commission has booked 383 sporting events and tournaments that attracted 550,000 athletes and visitors, generating almost $150 million in direct visitor spending over its seven-year history. Mike was recently named a 2014 “Newsmaker of the Year” by the Grand Rapids Business Journal for his leadership in promoting the region as a premier venue for hosting youth and amateur sports, and in managing the construction and operation of the Art Van Sports Complex that opened in 2014. Mike can be contacted at MGuswiler@westmisports.com.

Raleigh, North Carolina: Scott Dupree

Scott Dupree is executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance (GRSA), a division of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. In 2015, the GRSA was named Sports Tourism Organization of the Year by the National Association of Sports Commissions.

Dupree is responsible for promoting Greater Raleigh as a premier destination for sporting events. Over the past five years, the GRSA has helped bring more than 340 sporting events to Greater Raleigh, resulting in more than 540,000 hotel room nights and $180 million in direct visitor spending.

Dupree recently served as chair of Raleigh’s 2016 NCAA Basketball local organizing committee, a position he also held for the 2014 NCAA tournament. He served as co-chair of the local organizing committee for the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend, which was rated by many observers as the most successful All-Star Weekend in league history. Recently, Dupree directed the city’s successful efforts to bring both the Ironman 70.3 series and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series to Raleigh.

Dupree worked for 11 years in collegiate athletics at Arizona State University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina. He has worked at numerous ACC Tournaments, NCAA basketball and baseball regionals, college bowl games, the College World Series and the Final Four.

Atlantic City, New Jersey: Daniel Gallagher

Daniel Gallagher joined the Meet AC team in August 2014 as national sales manager with a concentration in the sports segment. He was previously with The Chelsea Hotel located in Atlantic City, as the director of corporate sales. He is a 2011 graduate of Villanova University with Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and a minor in psychology. Gallagher has been a true sports enthusiast from a young age, participating in a variety of sports growing up in Absecon, New Jersey, approximately nine miles from Atlantic City, where he currently resides. During his high school years at Holy Spirit, he was a four-sport athlete, competing in soccer, track and field, basketball and wrestling. During his time at Villanova, Gallagher was an active member in a multitude of intramural sports, and was a three-year athlete for the up-and-coming game, Kronum, which has appeared on ESPN several times.  Since Meet AC’s inception of the Atlantic City Sports Commission in January of 2015, Gallagher has since assisted in landing premier events such as TEAMS, Ironman 70.3, Redbull Global Rallycross, Pro Watercross, USA National Armwrestling and many more.

Lake Erie Shores & Islands, Ohio: Amanda Smith Rasnick, CMP

Since 2009, Amanda Smith Rasnick, CMP, has been the group sales manager for the Lake Erie Shores & Islands CVB located in Northern Ohio. She leads a team of professionals, each with a distinct market focus. Under Amanda’s leadership, the team secured 114 definite bookings, producing over 48,000 room nights last year. Amanda’s core markets are corporate, association and sports.

What makes Lake Erie Shores & Islands a unique sports location are miles of freshwater beaches, beautiful scenery, access to water and fun attractions. Lake Erie Shores & Islands is fortunate to have picturesque roads, challenging fields and open parks to attract event organizers.

Since targeting sports groups, Amanda has secured the Adrenaline Sports Management Santa Hustle, The Color Run and several fishing tournaments as well as assisting in the Challenge Cedar Point Triathlon, Roller Coaster Rumble Lacrosse Tournament and more. Amanda is a member of Meeting Professionals International, where she serves as director of professional development for the Ohio Chapter. She received her CMP designation in 2013 and is an active member in the National Association of Sports Commission.

Sports events directors looking for a spectacular venue and destination with professional, helpful service can contact Amanda at amanda@shoresandislands.com.

Eugene, Oregon: Joey Jewell

Joey Jewell is the director of sports sales & development with the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission in Eugene, Oregon. Jewell, a native of Austin, Texas, received his Bachelor’s Degree in Sport Management at the University of Texas at Austin. During his time in Austin, Jewell managed multiple sport events including Texas high school football combines and international swimming and diving events such as the 2008 US Masters Nationals Swim Meet.

It wasn’t until Jewell earned his graduate degree in Sport Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia that he developed an interest for sports tourism. After spending time with the Harris County-Houston Sport Authority as volunteer coordinator and event intern for the 2011 Pan American and Parapan American Games U.S. Team Processing, Jewell quickly identified his calling. Since then, Jewell has worked with a number of high profile sports entities executing camp management, game day and grass roots marketing, public relations, and sales.

Before joining the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission, Joey worked for the National Governing Body of Bowling where he advised and educated industry members on best practices for growing youth participation as well as managing the 2015 Youth Open. Those seeking more information can connect with Joey.

Sevierville, Tennessee: Tony Funderburg

Tony Funderburg joined the Sevierville Convention & Visitors Bureau as Director of Sales and Advertising in April 2016. 

He brings nearly 20 years of tourism industry experience in group sales and marketing to the position and will be responsible for Sevierville’s advertising placement, group sales programs and youth sports marketing initiatives. Tony is an avid golfer and hiker, and he and his wife, Kay, spend weekends traveling to cheer on their two daughter’s basketball games.

As a former coach and father of two young ladies who have played AAU travel basketball for the past eight years, Tony understands the needs of the coaches, families and players involved in youth sports.

Funderburg was most recently the director of sales and marketing for the Edgewater Hotel and Convention Center in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Prior to that, he served as vice president of sales and marketing for GroupConnect, the American Bus Association and Ontario Motor Coach Association’s online marketing and advertising arm, and as the national sales and marketing director for International Motor Coach Group.

Tony can be reached at tfunderburg@scoc.org, 865-453-6411 or 865-919-5384.

Bryan College Station, Texas: Kindra Fry

Kindra Fry got her start in the hospitality industry 13 years ago with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) headquartered in Kansas City. While in Kansas City, she worked with the Olathe Sport Commission to increase the number of sports events that were taking place in Olathe, Kansas.

In Kansas, Kindra met her husband, Matt Fry, Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of ’96. They got to Aggieland as quickly as they could where Matt took a job with Texas A&M University and Kindra joined the Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau as the director of sports. After eight years with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Kindra is now the vice president of sales and marketing where she oversees the day to day operations of sales team and continues to work with event planning for locally hosted events. She works tirelessly to bring visitors to the community for meetings, conventions and sports events.

Kindra loves being in College Station, loves college sports and most of all, loves spending time with her husband and their two children, Riley, 4 and Ethan, 1.

Frisco, Texas: Chuck Brakes

Originally from Chicago and raised in France, Chuck Brakes lives, breathes and speaks sports. As a collegiate and professional basketball alum, his competitive and driven attitude brings him continuous success when it comes to expanding Frisco’s existing sports markets.

Formerly with the Dallas Cowboys organization, Chuck joined the Frisco Convention & Visitors Bureau as the sports sales manager in 2014. Since joining the Frisco CVB, Chuck has secured numerous sports bookings for the destination including NCAA Division II Men’s Elite Eight Championship, Pan-American Wrestling and USA Ultimate. Chuck was also a part of continuing the relationship between Frisco and NCAA Division I, assisting in securing the NCAA Division I FCS National Football Championship in Frisco until 2020. Chuck is a member of NASC and is currently working toward attaining his CSEE.

At home, Chuck is the head coach, as well as on the court for AAU Youth Basketball in Frisco. He enjoys spending time with family, traveling, music and fast cars. With a driven attitude and focus on customer service, Chuck continues to succeed in bringing many more events to Frisco. For more information, contact Chuck at 972-292-5262 or at CBrakes@VisitFrisco.com. www.visitfrisco.com.

Lewisville, Texas: Carlos Hernandez

Carlos Hernandez was born and raised in New York City and also lived in Mexico City where he started his hotel career while earning a bachelor's degree from the Mexican Tourism School.

Carlos spent nearly two decades with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, where one of the highlights of his career was being part of the bidding process to bring World Cup Soccer to the city in 1994. He joined the Lewisville Convention and Visitors Bureau in order to focus on sports tourism and he understands what sports like soccer and baseball can mean as an economic impact generator to cities of all sizes.

According to Carlos, if any city has the right infrastructure for sports tourism, meaning the combination of hotels, restaurants, right size and amount of sports venues and accessibility, there is the potential for pursuing the sports tourism market. In addition, he notes, the human element is key, and that can result in a greatly unique and memorable experience to everyone.

Lewisville, between Dallas and Ft Worth and just a few minutes DFW International Airport, has more than 2,400 hotel rooms, over 150 restaurants and outstanding indoor and outdoor sports facilities. Go to www.visitlewisville.com and click on “Sports Tourism.”

Midland, Texas: Stephanie Martin

Stephanie Martin, a native Texan, is the director of sales for the Midland, Texas, Convention & Visitors Bureau and administers the Sports & Entertainment Association. Prior to her current position, she served as the director of programs and events at the Midland Chamber of Commerce for six years.

Sports have always been a big part of Stephanie’s life beginning with her commitment as an elite gymnast. After competing, she coached gymnastics and received the Meet Director Certification with USA Gymnastics. She continues to help shape young athletes and now coaches her son’s soccer team.

Stephanie’s background as a competitive gymnast has imbued her with a strong sense of passion and ambition for sports. Her unique blend of experience and determination adds value to all areas of the Midland CVB. Since making Midland her home in 2008 she has served as the Leadership Midland Cook-Off & Car Show Chairman, Midland County Fair Committee Member, Star Spangled Salute Committee Member, H-E-B Feast of Sharing Volunteer, Leadership Midland facilitator, Midland Soccer Association coach and currently serves as the chairman for Senior Corps Advisory Council.

Round Rock, Texas: Nancy Yawn, CSEE, CDME

As the director of the Round Rock, Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau, Nancy Yawn delivers a world-class experience with every tournament that is played in her dynamic community. As a partner to the teams she hosts, she is fully invested in their success. Responsible for starting the sports marketing effort in Round Rock and launching the region’s Sports Capital of Texas brand, these efforts helped create a premier destination for sporting events.

With Nancy’s continued dedication to the Sports Capital of Texas brand, Round Rock is on the map as a top destination in Texas for youth and amateur sports. Round Rock has played host to such events as the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association National Championship, the Super Series World Series 2015, Tour of Texas Power League Volleyball Qualifier, Heart of Texas Wrestling Nationals and Ultimate High School State Championship.

Nancy was awarded the Certified Sports Events Executive designation through the National Association of Sports Commissions, of which she is a former board member. She also received the Destination Management Association International’s designation of Certified Destination Marketing Executive, one of the highest certifications in the tourism industry. In 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2015 Sports Events Magazine named her as one of the top 50 planners in the U.S.

Virginia Beach, Virginia: Dani Timm, CSEE

Having grown up devoted to sports as both a player and a fan, Dani Timm takes full advantage of life near the coast in Virginia Beach – by way of Wyoming, Iowa, Florida and Texas. When not on the field, in the stands or behind the scenes of a Virginia Beach sporting event, you’ll find her in the water, camping or working on her personal goal of learning something new every day.

With a dozen years of experience in the industry, including three with Virginia Beach Sports Marketing, this Iowa graduate and fired-up Hawkeye credits teamwork and creative thinking for the success of events she’s helped recruit, plan and run. Dani’s tireless enthusiasm makes her a valuable collaborator on the Virginia Beach team, working with a team of facility, city and event staff members to keep things running perfectly.

A member of the National Association of Sports Commissions for 11 years, Sports Virginia for three years and a Certified Sports Event Executive, Dani balances work by relaxing with friends and family, soaking up the sun at the beach or enjoying happy hour. Always one to see the bright side, Dani meets every challenge with characteristic good humor and determination.

Snohomish County, Washington: Tammy Dunn, CSEE

As the Sports Development Director of the Snohomish County Sports Commission, Tammy Dunn is passionate about sports tourism and delivers a ‘red carpet’ experience with each tournament that is held in Snohomish County. 

Her passion and dedication over the last 11 years has highlighted Snohomish County as a premier sports destination for amateur sports.  Snohomish County is playing host in 2016 to Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC) Men’s & Women’s Basketball Championships, Pacific Rim Gymnastics, USA Badminton Junior Nationals, Supra Boats Pro Wakeboard Tour, Kohl’s American Cup and Bubble Run.  USA Curling Nationals is coming in February 2017.

A graduate of the Certified Sports Events Executive through the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC).  Tammy is active within her community by being a member of the Economic Alliance Snohomish County, Rotary Club of Everett and serves on the board of the Seattle Officials Women’s Basketball Board of Directors. Tammy served a term on the NASC Board of Directors (2012-2015). She received the 2015 NASC Game Changer Award and was honored in 2015 with Women in Sports Tourism, awarded to the top women in sports tourism.

Snohomish County Sports Commission received the 2015 Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism from Sports Destination Management.

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